Since becoming a mother, I have spent many hours on Google seeking answers to the problems I have encountered. My search history reveals a myriad of anxious thoughts about the health and well-being of my children with questions, such as “Does my son have reflux?”, “Is my daughter getting enough sleep?”, and “When will my son learn to walk?” all featuring heavily amongst the far too many hits on Amazon and eBay. Many of these questions have been answered through the numerous parenting forums that can be found on the information superhighway. These forums give parents an opportunity to share their experiences and knowledge. As a result, in this age of social media and the Internet, parents today have access to vast swathes of information about child health and development.
I am very thankful to all of the Mums and Dads who have shared their experiences online, often providing me with reassurance in the middle of the night when I have been confronted with an inconsolable baby. Sadly, however, not everyone is supportive. The anonymity that the Internet provides allows many people to feel confident in criticising users about their parenting styles in a way that most people would never dream of in a face-to-face situation.
Parenting has, in some ways, always been a bit of a competition. Parents compare their children to others and get a sense of satisfaction from knowing that their child excels at x subject far more than their neighbour’s child. But in recent years, a plethora of parenting styles have been created, and this has created even greater competition, fuelled by the anonymous posters online who fervently declare that their chosen style is best and anyone who chooses to parent differently surely must be failing their child. Instead of just parenting, we now have “Attachment Parenting”, “Crunchy Parenting”, “Tiger Parenting”, and even “Free Range Parenting”. Whatever happened to just being a parent?
The competition begins before the child has even been born. If you choose an all-natural home birth without pain relief then you are either a saint to be admired or a special snowflake who is putting their baby at risk. If you have medical interventions then you are either very brave and strong, or you have somehow failed to have a “proper birth”.
Once your child is here the competition intensifies. Breast versus formula. Co-sleeping versus Cot sleeping. Cry It Out versus Gradual Withdrawal. Baby Led Weaning versus Purees. There are milestones to meet, questions on how much screen time your child gets, how much sugar they consume. Then school starts and we question reading levels, test scores, and how often our child is picked for the sports teams. This list is endless – there is always something to make us question if we are doing the right thing, or the wrong thing, or not enough of something or too much of something.
The Perfect Post
The idea of a perfect parent is driven further by social media. Our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds are filled with images angelic looking children engaging in arts and crafts, or baking, or taking a stroll in the countryside. These pictures are chosen to be published precisely because they are perfect. They don’t show the previous moments where the child was throwing glitter across the room, attempting to whack their sibling with a wooden spoon, or throwing a huge tantrum because they want to watch cartoons and not play outside. We publish posts about how wonderful parenthood is and how blessed we are by our funny, cute, intelligent children. We don’t publish posts about how we sit in the dark crying at 3am because the baby will not settle, or about how many times we have used the naughty step in the last hour, or about how our children spent the whole day watching cartoons because, frankly, we just didn’t have the energy to entertain them today.
We are faced with a barrage of perfect looking families on social media and a myriad of divisive opinions on what is best for our children on parenting websites. What does this leave us with? A perpetual feeling of guilt and the fear that we are not good enough, that we are somehow failing our children. In some cases, this can have devastating effects. Postnatal Depression already affects one in ten mothers, and certainly in my own experience, and those of mothers I have spoken to, these feelings of guilt and inadequacy have been a factor in developing PND.
Facebook might show us those perfect family moments, and I won’t deny that my children have brought me a great deal of happiness. However, if I’m honest, a significant proportion of being a parent to my two young children involves getting through the day without snapping at one of them, calling my husband in tears, or drowning my frustrations in chocolate. And, that’s ok, because as long as my children are safe, happy, and healthy, then I’m doing a good job.
It’s time to banish the guilt and the competition, and celebrate our differences instead. If your child is safe, happy, and healthy then it doesn’t matter if you are an “attachment parent”, a “tiger parent”, or a “whatever else is currently in vogue parent”. None of it matters.
It doesn’t matter if you had a natural birth at home or a c-section in hospital if your child is safe, happy, and healthy. Being born is best.
It doesn’t matter if you breastfeed or formula feed if your child is safe, happy, and healthy. Being fed is best.
It doesn’t matter if you used baby led weaning or purees if your child is safe, happy, and healthy. Being weaned is best.
It doesn’t matter if you co-sleep or use a cot if your child is safe, happy, and healthy. Getting enough sleep is best.
If your child spent all day today watching cartoons because you were up half the night with them and you now feel guilty about screen time then don’t. The very fact that you feel this way shows that you care. Your child is loved and this is the most important parenting style of all. So forget about being a “type” of parent, and just be a parent. The limited time we have with our children is far, far too precious to spend it worrying about achieving some sort of parenting ideal. Being there for your child, keeping them safe and healthy, and making sure they feel loved is the best parenting style of all.