I have a theory!

Ahhh – help! What happened there? That’s not quite how I meant it to go, but it’ll do. Check out the video first, then read this bit. (Please)

My theory is this, hem hem, and this is what it is.

I reckon that we’re the most inexperienced generation of parents there has ever been. Very often, the first baby we hold is our own. Since our mothers were more or less able to control their fertility, we often come from neat families with children ranged at two-year intervals over a six year period, rather than a child a year over a 25 year period, as in the bad old days. All this means that we don’t get the practice in – and our view of pregnancy, childbirth and parenting is not grounded in reality, but derived from Gone With The Wind and Hello! magazine. Added to this is the fact that we’re often distant from our families, so have no access to their support and know-how.

Not that we’d probably accept it anyway. We’ve been coached to be good little consumers because we now believe that parenting is an ‘-ology’ rather than anything instinctive, and would sooner rely on research and the dogmas of ‘experts’ who dispense on-size-fits-all solutions to childcare, rather than try methods that aren’t evidence-based, no matter how time-honoured.

Looking around, all our friends are at pretty much the same stage as us, so no opportunity to practise there either. We inhabit a child-free, career ghetto until we decide to move into nappy valley. And then It’s a whole new world – but never mind the nitty gritty – the accessories are GREAT!

Two generations ago, it was a success if all the children had all their limbs and the mother survived to bear down another day. But it’s very different now. Once we make that decision, to start a family, we expect everything to go to plan. After all, that’s what we’re used to. Products of a self-help culture, we assume we can – and should – solve any problems for ourselves by either working a little harder or throwing some money at it. They baby becomes a project – take the vitamins, do the classes, read the books and everything is bound to come good. The first moment you realise, at 3am, that having an MBA isn’t going to help you get your baby to sleep, that’s your wake-up call – literally – to the fact that it might not quite be what you were imagining!

What you make of it from then on depends very much on your temperament, I reckon. But the tidal wave of conflicting advice from experts, all with a product to sell, often ends up fuelling (or even creating) the anxiety it purports to assuage. And anxious parents are vulnerable parents – easy prey for the marketing people, circling us like sharks.

It’s enough to make you turn quite green. And that is why, I reckon, it may be safer to stick to theories about dinosaurs … unless, of course, that dinosaur happens to be purple!


19 thoughts on “I have a theory!

  1. That is a truly excellent theory and slots neatly into my own theory about unscrupulous types turning parenting into a commodity. I can’t believe the artificial rules they keep coming up with to scare mothers (and it is mostly mothers) into buying their books, ‘educational’ gear (Baby Mozart: wtf?) and courses.

    It starts before you’re even pregnant these days and it continues hopefully only until you have a subsequent child and have realised that these rules mean diddly-squat compared to applying instinct,hard work and a sense of enjoyment to your parenting.

    Here endeth the lesson.

    Oh, and your lesson too: brilliant!!! (but I couldn’t get the video to work)


  2. oh dear – if the video don’t work then some of that post will make no sense at all. here’s the link:

    hope you can retrieve it …
    i’m so glad i missed all that baby mozart and baby signing (for gawd’s sake!). i just know i’d have got sucked into it, in the interests of tweaking my end products. mind you, having twins is excellent proof that it’s 97 per cent nature and 3 per cent (if that!) nurture!

  3. Oh you’re so right! I drove myself crazy reading all of those baby books the first year – co-sleep v. no co-sleeping; bottle v. breast; pacifier v. thumb; spanking v. time-outs – just trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. In the end, you toss them all aside and just do what comes naturally, but I’m sure I wouldn’t have believed that if I’d read it in a book first!

  4. Oh no, not dreaded, creepy BARNEY! Thanks for a thought provoking, relief providing, I-can-so-relate-to-her post. And thanks for your continued comments/visits. Still diggin’ your blog.

  5. Ooooohhhhhh, yes!!! Mad Muthas you are totally right…

    The one I can’t bear is the little book of baby calm. It must be wonderful to dole out advice to mothers with new babies when a) you’ve never had one of your own and b)you can walk away at 2am.

    Having four babies you’d have thought I had the sleep thing sussed by no 4 – WRONG!!!

    no 1 – beautiful babe who obediently ate every 4hours on demand, and slept through at 12 weeks, after which she barely troubled me at night.

    We thought we were soooo clever until no 2 arrived who ate every 2 hours, then not properly, needed constant winding and used to wake regularly three times a night forever. Even when she slept through she was still up horribly early. How she survived her babyhood without me throwing her out of the window, I will never know.

    No 3 arrived and was like no 1, but spookily BETTER… she barely opened her mouth to make a sound till she was about three.

    And then…

    there was no 4

    Who slept even worse then no 2 and who kept me in a permanent state of exhaustion for the first two years.

    It’s nothing you do. Period.

    It’s what they do….

    If Gina Wotsit had come to my house preaching about baby calming I might have been tempted to commit murder…

    love Janex

  6. So agree with you about the level of inexperience and the subsequent culture shock when you get a real live baby of your own, sans personalised instruction manual.
    And part of you wonders why no-one told you beforehand that it could be so confusing or isolating or just bewilderingly different from your former life.
    And then I think maybe they did, maybe I was just too self-involved to listen.

    Also really agree with how you need the experience of one child before you can make much sense of all those bloody child-rearing theories. Solids at 4 or 6 months. Back-sleeping or side-sleeping. Like Jane said, all babies come out different!

  7. Thank god I’ve had my babies… how ON EARTH are you supposed to breastfeed for six months and not give solids till then. I think I would definitely be in jail for mass murder if I hadn’t fed my babies solids at three months when they were all so hungry milk just didn’t suffice!


  8. Yes, I feel the pressure all the time to be perfect in my parenting. Don’t scold! Don’t take time for yourself! Make sure the kids never are bored or watch TV!

    I don’t think I can do motherhood in that form. I try not to let on to too many acquaintances that I’m winging it more than we’re allowed to admit!

  9. I think the distance that often separates us from the women of our immediate families limits our learning. My mom lives 3,000 miles away from me… my granny – 600 miles, my aunt – 1,000. Too effing far.

  10. HA! I have twins (boy girl) too and an older girl and yes: it’s absolute proof of the triumph of nature over nurture. And everything Jane Henry said about sleep and behaviour too.

    And everything everyone else said.

    So, if WE can all see it, how come the collective ‘we’ of motherhood keeps falling for the idea that there is a perfect, controlled way of doing things, if ‘we’ just buy this book, watch this dvd, read this magazine, pay for this Baby Whisperer (ugh)?

    Thanks Meg! Or was it Annie?

  11. After reading the above post I am wondering if only the cool, grounded realist moms are bloggers?

    Are the Stepford wife/mummy lot not reading (and learning) these notions because they are too busy performing interpretative dance routines to explain photosynthesis to their 18 month olds?

  12. YOW! This is exactly what I was thinking (but better phrased) as I staggering in the door yesterday, drenched and with two drenched children. We are all of us reinventing the wheel. We have no idea.

    Oh and that Baby Book of Calm? The writer should be SHOT! By uncalm babies!

    The disintegration of the extended family and by extension, the village, means that we are all of us in this first (ha!) world, completely ignorant of children and all that goes along with them until we have them and then we try and apply our lovely, rational, age of bloody enlightenment skills to parenting which is a messy, hormonal, blood and milk sort of game.

    It’s madness. I feel roaring solidarity with all of you who see it. Now what? I’ll carry the flag over the ramparts.

  13. You are incontestably correct. I think you can promote your theory to a law.

    Weirdly not only are we unused to birth we are unused to death. I’m 40 and have never seen a dead body. Back in Dublin as a child my mother dragged past an open coffin once a month or so as another member of her enormous extended family popped their ancestral clogs.

  14. I have a related theory – that the tide of unsolicited baby advice received by all first-time-moms-to-be comes from that frustrated desire to actually use the experience we gain the first time around. The learning curve is so steep that no sooner have we figured out how to burp the baby properly, then suddenly we’re having to puzzle our way through toilet training. At least in the old days we’d know that what we learn the first time around will come in really handy when babies 2 thru 12 come along.

  15. You are so right on here. I think the smaller the famlies get, the more green we become. I know my mom grew up helping to change diapers, feed toddlers, take temperatures, etc. Me? Nothing of the sort. The first diaper I ever changed was in the hospital after my daughter was born.

    Your point about the spread out extended family is also so accurate. My mother had every aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent butting in on her life as she was rearing us kids. They helped too, but they also gave varying perspectives as to what to do, how to do it, what was best and all. I don’t really have the same extended support system.

    I also agree with Budandpie. Knowing I am not going to have another child, I often feel that need to put my newfound baby smarts to use in other places, even when I am not asked!

  16. I think that’s a sound theory. I also think with so little information at our disposals about what it’s REALLY like, those of us who feel our childhoods were lacking somehow, go WAAAAY overboard on the finding-all-the-perfect-information-so-as-to-do-it-right-the-way-I-never-had thing…

  17. Amen sister!

    If only I’d read this before I had Hailey it might have made me feel a little less alone when I entered nappy valley.

  18. “…anxious parents are vulnerable parents…” Couldn’t of said it better myself. It’s the fear factor. Keep people feeling vulnerable and ‘under-knowledged’ and you can sell them anything. As an advocate of “slow motherhood” we need to stop and trust that instinctual voice inside our heads. But it’s trying to be heard over the top of all that consumerist babble. It is there. 🙂 This fear factor is what powers the desire for gun ownership (especially in the US) but we won’t go there will we?

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