Parenting: The Rules

It is Maternal Mental Health week – though every week at Suffolk Babies is Mental Health week, as that’s what we are all about: helping to improve parents’ mental health. Something that we have noticed time and again that keeps getting parents down is anxiety about trying to get a baby or toddler to live by a set of rules or timescales, especially when they are not doing something by a certain time. Have you ever worried that your baby should be sleeping through by 6 months, or ought to be weaned off a dummy by 1 year, or merrily skipping into preschool without a backwards glance by 3?

Many of us have a fear of getting it wrong when it comes to bringing up our children. After all, what a responsibility parenthood is! This often starts in pregnancy, when we look to others to tell us what to do to ensure that our precious baby is as safe as possible. From being an independent woman, with a career and a life in which you are expected to make decisions and be responsible for yourself, you now find yourself being told what to do more than you ever have in your adult life. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion on what you should be doing, in every aspect of your life. This reliance on others to tell us what to do can carry over into parenting too.

The wonderful thing, and the terrifying thing, about bringing up a child is that there is no rule book. OK, so there are safety guidelines, and laws around things like car seats, but actually there are fewer rules than you might think, especially given that people constantly talk as if there are rules around every aspect of child development.

Here at Suffolk Babies we are huge believers in the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you are rocking your baby to sleep every night, and this works for you, keep doing it. There is no rule that says a baby has to be lying in a cot, drowsy but awake, before they are “allowed” to go to sleep. Someone made that up. It will not affect your child’s sleep when they are 4, 7 or 15 years old.

If rocking works, keep rocking! Who says you are not allowed to rock your baby to sleep? Has the person who says this actually researched the long term impact of rocking a baby to sleep? Unlikely.

Often, childcare “experts”, are people who have lots of experience of managing children’s behaviour, and they might have developed techniques that work for them, but this is just their opinion.  If you read something and want to give it a try, by all means do – but if it feels wrong, or seems to be causing your child distress, maybe it’s not for you. You don’t have to continue with something that isn’t working.

I am often asked at what age should a child be potty trained? At what age should they move from a cot into a bed? At what age should they be dropping naps? My honest answer is “I don’t know.” There’s no “should” about it. There is such a wide spectrum of normal behaviour. Every family is different, every child is different. My eldest was 3.5 when we finally potty trained him. My youngest trained herself when she turned 2.

It’s the same with moving from a cot to a bed. My oldest was nearly 3 when we got him a big bed, mainly because we needed the cot for the new baby. My youngest got a big bed at 18 months, because she needed someone to lie with her to go to sleep, and the cot really wasn’t working for us. The key is being flexible and doing what works for you. If what you are doing now works, then keep doing it. If it’s not, then try something different.

A tiny person in a big bed – better than a cot for us!

If you are feeling under pressure from friends, family or so-called “experts” to change something, but you know in your heart your little one isn’t ready, just say to yourself, let’s give it another couple of weeks. Give your baby a bit more time. They will surprise you and change all by themselves. Potty training, for example, is really easy if your child is ready and willing. If they aren’t, it’s a nightmare of bodily fluids everywhere.

Babies change so fast. At 3 months they are a completely different person to when they were born, and at 2 years old there’s so much you have already forgotten about those newborn days. Both my babies went through phases of being difficult in one way or another, and those phases seemed to go on forever at the time. It’s in those times when you are exhausted and tearing your hair out that you do question yourself and wonder what you are doing wrong. Then you turn to others for advice – who will happily tell you what to do, but don’t forget that what works for one baby may not work for another.

In those times when you are looking for another way you are NOT a failure and it is NOT the case that everyone else is better at this than you. It’s either that they have already stumbled upon what works for their baby, or they just happen to be going through an easier phase at the moment. Give it time, give it a few weeks, and see how different things are. Hang in there!

I keep seeing social media posts about parenting saying you must “enjoy it now as you’ll miss this when it’s gone.” I think this only makes you feel worse about yourself if you are not enjoying your newborn baby or tantrumming toddler. Maybe you will miss aspects of it, but not all of it! One thing that you are “allowed” to do is you are allowed not to enjoy every minute of your parenting journey. It’s ok to admit that you’re not loving this phase. It’s perfectly normal to feel like you are winging this parenting thing and to feel totally overwhelmed at times. Give it time, cuddle your baby, and follow your heart.

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