Parenting in the 21st century is not easy. We are accused of overprotecting, overindulging and overparenting our kids. Our children are apparently overpraised, overscheduled and overdiagnosed. Everywhere you look, parents are being warned of the "dangers" of overdoing something. It's little wonder parents are overwhelmed with doubt and worry.
It's a natural instinct to want the best for your children. Every parent hopes to raise well-rounded, happy and resilient children. And yet, as parents we seem to get blamed for everything under the sun. Parenting is tough. It's demanding, exhausting and emotionally draining. And it's also very confusing. But are we overthinking it?
As a mother to three young children, I constantly assess my approach to mothering in my quest to 'do the right thing' by my children. I arm myself with the latest parenting resources, read expert articles, keep up with new trends and form opinions based on evidence-based research, but I sometimes wonder if ignorance would be bliss.
There are so many conflicting messages about parenting. Every week, a new book is released arguing a better way to raise our children; a new study contradicts the findings of a previous study. The information available is often confusing and inconsistent.
I often reflect on my initiation into motherhood and tackling the all-important nose-to-nipple test. Having endured a 34-hour labour, and suffering from 48 hours of sleeplessness, my body was inert. The lovely midwife suggested that I lie down to breastfeed. She could see I was in no state to sit, let alone master the ultimate "latch." I lay on the bed and she helped secure my baby, who fed without fuss.
When the next midwife arrived on shift and saw my 'technique," she was quick to admonish me. "What on earth are you doing?" she said irately. "Sit up, that's no way to feed your baby!" I felt like a child being chastised for terrible behavior, and I quickly did as I was told. Every midwife on the maternity ward dispensed conflicting advice. "You're baby is starving -- you must feed on demand," "Your baby has wind, what have you been eating?" From the accusatory to the compassionate, the contradictions continued.
The conflicting breastfeeding advice analogy is one that pervades the entire journey of motherhood. Everyone has an opinion on your parenting methods. The advice comes at us from medical professionals, friends, family and even strangers on the street. We are exposed more than ever before to more information, but also more evaluation and more judgment. The level of judgment runs deep and typically, it's not very sympathetic.
Many of my friends are experiencing the avalanche of advice that punctuates first-time motherhood. Fears of formula, sleeping arrangements, settling techniques and establishing 'bad routines' are overwhelming their experiences, impacting their enjoyment. How are we meant to maintain self-confidence as mothers when our decisions are under such scrutiny?
I wonder if perhaps we have professionalized parenting. In our endless pursuit to create fulfilling lives for our children, we are over-thinking parenting and forgetting to enjoy it. We seem to have lost our parenting compass. We are afraid of not doing enough, and of doing too little. Whilst exposure to a wide reach of parenting guidance and support is useful, we should not forfeit our own judgement. And we look outside of ourselves -- to Google, and to experts -- rather than looking within first. There is no universal formula for raising children and this is what makes parenting exciting. We each need to find our own way and remember that parenting is a journey of discovery and it's OK not to have all the answers.
While no parent should completely ignore expert, evidence-based advice, we need to balance this information with our own instincts and feel confident to modify the parenting rules and ignore the scrutiny and judgment. There is an unreasonable pressure directed at mothers, and we must learn to be the protagonists' of our own parenting stories, not spectators or the bystanders.
Mothering in the modern day is not easy. The pressure to be perfect is enormous. I try to be intuitive with my kids; I also allow myself the leeway to adapt the rules -- to make mistakes -- and to ignore the critics. I know that bribery is frowned upon, but if the incentive of ice cream means that all the veggies get eaten, then I'm comfortable with that!
Let's not be afraid of intuitive parenting. Make use of the good information available but remember there is no single right way to parent. Dr Spock was onto something when he said: "Don't be overawed by what the experts say. Don't be afraid to trust your common sense."
Motherhood is the ultimate learning curve, the ultimate stretch, but it pays the ultimate reward. Don't over-think it, or over-analyze it but by all means, "over-enjoy" it. That's an accusation I can live with...