I think we all set out on the parenting journey with certain ideas in our heads as to the sort of parent we would like to be. Some of those ideals stand strong and become a steadfast part of our approach as parents, and others fall by the way side. I'm in no doubt that there are right ways to parent and wrong ways to parent... I can do both in the space of a normal day, but on the most part I own it, I take the rough with the smooth, I accept that I'm making this up as I go along most of the time, I learn from my mistakes and I move on.
I kind of thought every single parent on the planet thought like that too.
But apparently not...
I met a fellow mummy at a baby group recently who really made me wonder about a lot of things I take for granted as a parent; about the way I choose to raise my children, the way other people may choose to raise theirs, and where these decisions come from.
And what, you might ask, prompted this sudden analysis of my role as "mummy": one simple question...
"So what parenting approach have you used with your children?"
It's not often I'm left at a loss for words, but I think I stared at her a little thunderstruck and confused for more than a few seconds. It was that kind of awkward silence where you just will your brain to come up with an answer... any answer; I settled on laughing it off and saying "I just make it up as I go along." But she pressed me, asked whether I had read up on any specific techniques, and not in a nasty way I am sure, generally made me feel like I'd turned up to school without my homework. And I am not that girl at all, I do the reading, I do my research, I plan and organise... was I wrong to be, in affect, winging it when it comes to my precious offspring?
As the conversation continued, I started to really worry... she had targeted that question at me specifically. Why? Was it because I was at the group as a breastfeeding peer supporter and she was looking to me as a more experienced mother, for advice? Was it because I had both children in tow with me, and she meant it as a complement because she thought my children were utterly delightful and wanted to raise hers to be the same? Or worse, was she asking because she thought they were being little terrors, and she wanted to avoid my techniques like the plague? And then I worried some more, as the extent of this lady's research became apparent. Her bedtime reading appeared to be parenting manuals, I was snuggling up with some nice young adult fiction at night. Eeeeek!
The conversation moved on, I tried not to worry about whether I was being judged for my lackadaisical approach to parenting. But in truth it weighed on my mind as I drove home, and for the rest of the day.
Generally I don't really question my parenting, and I feel like a pretty confident and with-it kind of mummy. I go with my gut, I trust my instincts, and I fall back on plenty of experience working with children for as long as I can remember. But I still have times when being a parent leaves me totally and utterly stumped. Days when I wish with every fibre of my being that my children had come with a manual, or a reset button, or some kind of training day to prepare me.
I wonder if all the parenting help books are really a help or maybe just a way of making parents doubt themselves even more. Truth be told, I would have loved a definitive plan of action that I could have followed when I first brought my first born home, and if someone had offered to write me a timetable and a strategy for every eventuality, then I'd have followed it to the letter. But I'm not sure I'd have really learned how to be a parent if they had. Being clueless made me hone those instincts, and fast.
Honestly? I don't know if I'm getting it right or wrong. Sometimes I feel like a total utter rockstar when it comes to being a mummy, and then in the blink of an eye I feel like a total failure. In the space of one day I can flit between a hundred different techniques and roles when it comes to raising my children. In my time as a mummy I have been an attachment parent, a co-sleeping parent, a cry-it-out parent, a helicopter parent, a Gina Ford parent, a breastfeeding parent, a puree weaning parent, a baby-led weaning parent, a friendly parent, a teacher parent, an authoritative parent, a permissive parent, a completely lovey-dovey-my-child-is-the-best-child-ever-to-walk-the-earth parent, and a get-on-with-it-yourself-I'm-not-going-to-hold-your-hand-forever parent. Good cop, bad cop, good mummy, bad mummy... I've worn all those hats.
And I'm going to put my neck on the line, and say I've worn all those hats with pride. And that I would, and probably will, wear most of those hats again at some point. Because if learning to trust my instincts has taught me anything, it's that even if there was some magical parenting manual with all the answers in, our children wouldn't have read it. Techniques, approaches, parenting books are all great to dip into, to get ideas from, to shed possible light on certain things. But ultimately children are all different, as different as the parents that they come from, and thats okay, thats good in fact. But why then would we assume that any technique would be one size fits all.
And with the added experience that having a second child brings, I can also testify that whatever the genes, the environment, the seeming similarity of two children; that what works for one child, invariably doesn't work for another. The rule book I thought I had nailed first time around, went out the window within minutes of them handing me my second beautiful little bundle. They are totally different creatures, with different desires, different attributes... and they both need totally different things from me. I am a different parent to them both, I treat them both fairly, I treat them both with love, but I treat them both differently because thats what they need.
But with one notable exception.... Love! And for all my other failings and triumphs as a parent I can guarantee you that both my children have that in absolute droves. So I can't be doing all bad. And that little nugget of a parenting technique wasn't one I got from a book either.
Photos courtesy of the lovely Marie Donn.