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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A foolproof child-raising formula

I was standing in an 'alternative' supermarket the other day waiting for a friend, watching the people go by. As shoppers go, I've got to say these people were intense. They inspected, then they were decisive. They carefully selected their organic vegies, their spelt flour, their echinacea tablets, their no-added-anything almond paste, their herbal supplements and heaven only knows what else; I failed to even recognise many of the products on display.  

These people didn't need to ask questions. They knew what they wanted and where everything was kept. They were long-term disciples of their chosen path to good health.

Of course, there's no guarantee that any of these people won't develop cancer or muscular dystrophy or some other dire disease tomorrow. They hope that what they're doing will work- some of them truly believe that it will work- but really, they don't know. They're just clutching at straws, because they want to defy death as long as possible.

To me, they didn't look much different from anyone else on the street. Maybe their skin was a little clearer. Maybe less of them were obese. Yes, they're probably improving their chances by eating less rubbish than most of us, but honestly- I felt like I was in church. Their formula for health seemed almost like a religion.

Nobody was smiling. I thought that was sad.

And hello, if anyone really knew the answer to defying death, we'd all be doing it. Just the other day, I posted a link on my Facebook page that debunked the popular doctrine that sugar is poisonous. Dr Atkins is reported to have been obese when he died, despite his famous diet advice. I've had two older friends die of breast cancer, despite them taking extreme measures to modify their diet and detox their system.

Fads, methods, beliefs. There aren't any guarantees, no matter how hard you try.

And of course, that got me thinking about raising children. Because again, despite all your reading of books and blogs and articles, and despite scientific research, and despite what everyone around you seems to be doing successfully, you can't be sure what will work for you and your child. There are too many variables- personality, life circumstances, twists of fate, genetics, environment- for anybody to be able to perfect a formula for raising a child perfectly.

I was a 'Dr Spock' baby- but when I started bashing my head on the floor and screaming to express my displeasure, my mother had to just give up on 'methods' and let me finish expressing myself.  Is that called 'cry it out'?
(I can assure you I don't have brain damage.)

I mean, look at all the 'experts' out there. At one end of the scale we've got the Pearls (shudder), and at the other we've got Dr Sears. In the middle we've got Magda Gerber, Dr Spock, Jo Frost, Christopher Green, Penelope Leach and heaven knows how many others. Meanwhile back at home base, where the real work of parenting is happening, the parents squabble and proclaim and sometimes even weep, trying to work out who's got it right.

People? NOBODY has it completely, 100% right for your child. And that's because your child isn't a clone or a robot or a branded glove puppet being manufactured by the millions. Your child is the product of dozens upon dozens of variables. Your child is one of a kind, and if you try to follow a rigid formula in a vain quest for perfection, you are not paying attention to what really matters.

And so when mums or dads get hot under the collar and start a war on Facebook about who is the best disciple of Dr Sears, or when a parent gets upset because their baby is still crying and they feel they're somehow not measuring up to one of these 'recipes' for raising the perfect child, I sometimes feel like sticking my head right down the router and wailing "PAY ATTENTION!"

My boy wouldn't even let me hold his
hand when we went walking; as a
baby he couldn't bear to be wrapped
tightly, or even to wear a bonnet.
Heaven knows what might have
happened if I'd been told I had to
wear him in a sling. Carnage! And yes,
he is still very attached to me.
Pay attention to your child. If he screams every time you put him in a sling, maybe baby-wearing is wrong for him. (Not necessarily for others; just him.)

If you've done everything the book suggests and she's still crying, maybe she just needs to have a cry right now, while you hold her and stop trying to shoosh her.

If he's not responding to time out, or smacking, or withdrawal of privileges- even if your pastor or your own parent or your best friend recommends exactly that- stop doing it. Because that's the definition of insanity, isn't it- doing the same thing and expecting a different result? 

Instead, take a deep breath and look at your child as an individual.

And pay attention to your instincts. If the advice that you're being offered seems extreme, it probably is. If following the 'formula' is making your insides weep, don't do what it says. If the book's recommendations aren't working for you, maybe that book is wrong for your child, right now, in this particular situation.

And please, don't believe everything you read. Writers aren't gods, and child-rearing is big business. Authors can make a lot of money by grabbing your attention with something new, by making rash promises, by making startling or extreme statements.  The diet industry provides ample evidence of this, and childcare is not far behind that benchmark- because it presses your emotional buttons so beautifully, just as being the 'wrong' size does.

The internet's no better. Bloggers and websites get a kick out of lots of 'hits' achieved with sensational 'hooks'. If somebody cites 'scientific research' and you haven't read the original research article, be very wary about jumping to conclusions based on what some online 'expert' tells you. For example, if occasional crying jags gave your baby brain damage, the human race would have died out long ago- that is NOT what the research paper says!! (Oh, and I would be brain dead, given the amount of hysterical crying I did as a baby...)

People want right answers, people want certainty, people aspire to perfection. It's a mirage. You can't make parenting simple; it's not a join-the-dots or a paint-by-numbers. Get that book or that method or that advice out from between you and your child, unless it works for you. And please, don't assume it works for anyone else, let alone everyone else.

Here is the only foolproof child-raising formula. I told you before.

PAY ATTENTION. Pay attention to your child, and what that child is telling you. Pay attention to your instincts, and what those instincts are telling you.

And please, try not to take yourself as seriously as those shoppers I saw in the health food supermarket. If your parenting journey makes you tight-lipped and angry with other people- if it doesn't make you smile, and sometimes laugh, and sometimes laugh at yourself... well, you're really missing out on the joy of the experience. So get your nose out of that 'method' and smell the roses, hey?


  1. This is what I comment whenever someone links to a controversial article (unless it's about spanking, which I can't abide). I used to judge, I used to think but not say nasty things, but then my second child was born and I realized that my first child was simply a well-behaved angel who loved to please. My toddler will not sleep.

    I purchased a used copy of Elizabeth Pantley's No Cry Sleep Solution, and by the end of it I was chuckling to myself, because all she tells you to do is use the scientific method and try different things until something works. Still, it did reinforce my confidence that I was doing what I could.

    And my older daughter was like your son; she couldn't stand being wrapped up or confined, and she learned to take off her sun hat when she was less than two months old (I finally got hats back on her later when she discovered they could be pretty). As long as she was free, she would just curl up and fall asleep when she got tired. Once I learned that, everything was roses.

    1. Mag, those are perfect examples of what I'm talking about. Thanks for sharing them.

    2. A good friend of mine was an incredibly judgemental parent for 7 years. People just weren't trying, they weren't sticking to routine, weren't consistent etc etc. She knew the right way to do it all.

      She had the most laid back, co-operative little angel of a boy (just like his dad - honestly, I've never met a nicer kid, even as a teenager he's great!). Then she had two gorgeous, strong-willed little girls - full of personality, their own ideas and the determination to follow them (just like mum).

      Now she's a little more accepting of other parents' issues - and openly admits "I was the perfect parent until I had these two!"...funnily enough I think her struggles with the twins have made her a much better parent to all three kids.

  2. I agree that no one can give you 100% formula about anything in life, but some pointers at intervals help you to find new things to try when everythingelse has failed.

    1. Pointers- yes, absolutely! Dogma that stops you observing your child and thinking for yourself- no, no, NO. :)


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