"How's Sam going?" I asked when I saw Dave recently. Sam had looked pretty confident when I last saw her, but maybe things were less serene behind the scenes; her family is far away, so she's been a bit short of support.
|Animals have incredible parenting |
instincts. Can we rely on instinct
in our parenting too?
Dave had a point. There's just SO much information out there that it's very hard for a new mum looking for advice to make sense of it all. How can you tell what's an informed point of view, versus the ramblings of some self-appointed guru with an opinion and an agenda? It's easy to conclude that you can only go with what feels right to you.
I wish it was that simple. But the complex truth is that in some cases, what feels right to you isn't necessarily the best thing for your children.
That's because what feels right is so dependent on our personal experiences. There's a danger that we'll either copy our parents' model of parenthood exactly, regardless of how ineffective some of their parenting was, or reject their methods so completely that we fall over backwards and make the opposite mistake.
I did a lot of copying as a new mother. I considered I'd been parented very well. I lived to regret some of the things I copied!
|Wash up? Huh? I have to practise|
Result: I had to learn to deal with regular chores the hard way- and a generation later, so did my son. Not ideal. (Think 'depressing chaos' followed by 'overwhelming workload'.)
|Human families are a little more|
complex than animal families!
Those are minor glitches, but some 'instincts' can lead us to dangerous places. Take spanking. (Please, take it- as far away as possible.)
Let's look at three different 'feels right' scenarios. NB: not everyone will fit neatly into one of these pigeonholes- they are just scenarios- but let's just see if we can look at what 'feels right' from some different perspectives.
1. Smacking is normal
If you were smacked as a child pretty much whenever you did the wrong thing, you will very likely feel that spanking is a normal method of disciplining your own child.
You'll call on that experience of how to parent, as modelled by your own parents; you'll defend that method, and you'll copy it with your own kids- probably without doing a whole lot of deep thinking about how or why (or even if) it worked. It will feel right and comfortable to you, in a deep place that you might well mistake for 'instinct'.
|Turkey mums will instinctively|
peck at chicks that aren't their own,
sometimes killing or maiming them.
Still happy to rely on instinct?
Does that feel right? Is that how your relationship with your parents evolved, too?
Does that make you sad?
If so, feels right has failed you.
2. Discipline is cruelty
Maybe you weren't 'spanked' as a child. Maybe instead you had the bones thrashed out of you for tiny misdemeanours, maybe even when you hadn't done anything wrong at all. Maybe you still bear the emotional scars, and have been in therapy because of your parents' violence towards you.
You'll have a different feels right from the parent number 1. You'll probably call on your personal experience of how not to parent, as modelled by your own parents, and run very fast in the opposite direction- maybe to a place where your own children have no boundaries at all. Boundaries bring back memories of violence.
And at some point, you may realise that having no discipline imposed hasn't magically made your children feel more loved. They're out of control, and you don't know what to do.
Feels right has failed you. The gut feeling has led you astray.
3. Smacking means I lost control
Maybe you came from a family where spanking was used so rarely that you can actually remember the two or three occasions when it happened. The rest of the time, you had things explained to you, or you suffered the natural consequences of your misbehaviour.
To you, boundaries without violence will feel right. You'll find it reasonably easy not to smack, and you'll find other ways to give those boundaries. You'll be shocked by other parents who smack regularly without seeming to think about it. You may judge them harshly.
If you lose your way once or twice and smack your child in the heat of the moment, you'll think back to the few times your parents smacked you and be able to forgive them- because now you understand how tough peaceful parenting can be. You'll feel bad for failing. You'll be able to apologise to your child for that, without approving the behaviour you wanted to correct.
|This alpaca instinctively stood still|
and waited for her wobbly baby to latch on.
That baby's just lucky that mum's
instincts were good- mum inherited them
from the baby's grandmother.
You were just lucky.
* * * * * *
So, you see, it's not enough just to be guided by the magic we call 'instinct'. Sometimes instinct is actually what feels familiar, or what kicks you in the guts with bad memories.
You do have to read and discuss issues with other parents, because that takes you outside your own experience and makes you think.
You have to analyse as well; you have to think hard thoughts about your own experience of being parented and learn from what's happened to you, not just reproduce what feels right. Taking an honest look at your own 'triggers' is a wonderful investment in your children's welfare.
Take some time to think about it.
What parenting behaviours have you simply reproduced without thinking?
How did that parenting impact on you, when you were on the receiving end?
How did you feel about it?
What were the long-term effects?
Should you perhaps replace some of your 'instincts' with a more reflective approach to parenting?