Catherine Cameron's Take on Rules and the Reality of Parenting
A lot of people make a list of hypothetical ‘rules’ before becoming parents. These rules are usually based around assumptions on what it is like to raise a baby, or on observations formed through watching the parenting styles of others. Unfortunately, this is also a form of unconscious judgement as these ‘rule makers’ see weakness in parents who are forced to break their hypothetical ‘rules’ in the reality of parenting.
Before becoming a mother I made a few rules of my own. Although these weren’t extremist in their nature, they were designed to make my life easier. However, as soon as my bundle of joy arrived, these rules quickly disintegrated as a screaming baby, sleep deprivation and a cup of cold reality quickly brought me to my senses.
And I’m sorry dear ‘rule makers’ of the non parenting world, this cup of reality will most likely bring you to yours to.
‘Parenting was so much easier when I raised my non-existent children hypothetically’ - Anon
My baby will not need, nor have a dummy.
This rule was one of my own, before becoming a parent. Now before you all start throwing your dummies out of the cot at me – let me give you my reasoning. My rule had nothing to do with dummies affecting my baby’s mouth, or the battle that would come when it was time to hand the dummy over to the ‘dummy fairy’. My fear was ‘dummy runs’. Those in the middle of the night dashes to pop the dummy back in your awake baby’s mouth.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Dummy runs suck. They really suck. But they are worth it. So bloody worth it. Why? Because the moment my baby took a dummy, my life got dramatically easier. My baby gave me moments in the car where she would stop screaming in her capsule, because of the dummy. My baby’s wind pains started to ease as she sucked. My baby would stop screaming after hours and hours of rocking, burping and comforting, because the dummy eased her silent reflux. My baby started sleeping for long stretches of time. My baby was easier to send off to sleep, as the dummy brought her comfort and familiarity, using it as a tool to self soothe.
And so, dear dummy, I worship you. I worship how you have soothed my baby and brought her comfort when in pain. If I could bath my baby in a pond full of dummies like Scrooge Macduck does in gold coins, I would.
My baby will follow a routine I read in a book (that is proven to help her sleep through the night!
Again, this is a rule I was guilty of making myself. I spent a good part of pregnancy highlighting and bookmarking baby books, learning a range of routines proven to make my baby sleep through the night. Personally, I love the predictability of routines. Surely if I taught my baby a simple routine from the start, she would follow it and make my life easier, right?
Sure, if she was a Police dog or a robot. I was overloaded with day and night routines all promising a baby that would sleep through the night and nap for two hours at time in her bed during the day.
The first routine I failed to follow focussed on limiting my baby’s awake time at night. It allowed me a mere thirty minutes to feed, burp and change her in a dark room. Following this routine promised to teach my baby that night time is for sleeping, not feeding or playing.
During the first precious weeks of my baby’s life, nights consisted of hour-long feeds, dodging baby bowel explosions (my husband would literally wear a towel around his neck like a ‘front cape’ while changing her nappy), hours of rocking, burping in every position under the sun, and, not a lot of sleeping. There was no pick up and put down in under thirty minutes to it. And there was certainly no keeping my baby ‘half asleep’ throughout this ordeal. Everything in her nursery became that much more exciting at night, and I would catch her staring around in wonder, even in the dimmest of lighting. I would watch the clock in fear, as her allocated thirty minutes would stretch to two hours. And then I would think of that stupid book, and feel like an absolute failure.
Worse still were the routines that ordered me to follow strict intervals between my baby’s daytime feeds. Routines that were so limiting in their nature, I would need to call my entire contact list in my phone to announce that I would never be leaving the house again.
It wasn’t long before I declared war on baby books that dictated my baby’s behaviour. Soon it was clear to me that a ‘once size fits all’ routine is about as effective as a ‘one size fits all’ maternity bra. I quickly learnt to tune into my baby. To follow her lead. To allow time to simply stare into her eyes, and not into the clock. To feed her whenever she was hungry – whether that was three hourly, or half hourly. To let her sleep when she yawned. To accept that all of those books were not written specifically for my baby.
Today we do follow a routine. But this routine was born through observing my baby’s unique patterns throughout the day, and by figuring out what helps my baby to be well rested, well fed, and most importantly, happy.
And that suits me just fine.
My baby will effortlessly fit into my fabulous my life
Now this rule is one that I didn't take much notice of before having a baby. I'd often hear friends talk about how when they became parents, their babies would fit around their already established lives. These babies would sleep when and where the parents wanted to socialise, bringing minimal change. Now I think it's perfectly normal to have this mindset. A baby shouldn't come into your life and see you throwing your own identity out of the window. However, your routine, selfishness and high heel shoes will certainly gather some serious dust.
I'm not talking about finding balance, in caring for your baby and ensuring you still find precious windows to care for yourself. I’m talking about the ‘rule makers’ who dig their heels in the sand and boast that their newborn baby will travel the World with them, take three hour naps in their pram at the salon, and fall asleep in a basket at a party in the corner. Hypothetically, wouldn't that just be fabulous?
Now I'd like to address why these ‘rule makers’ have been allowed to think this way. I believe, they have all been exposed to what I call a ‘unicorn baby’. We all know one. That baby that sleeps through the night at six weeks, naps in its bed for two hours at a stretch, and enjoys long rides in the car. But these babies are the exception. Not the rule. And while it is possible you will give birth to a ‘unicorn baby’ (call me if you do and tell me your secrets), the reality is that you will most likely give birth to a baby who needs you to put your salon visits and vineyard touring on hold.
The truth is, most babies are unpredictable. They are unique little beings that behave and respond to the World around them in their own special ways. Babies make the rules, not you. You cannot tell a baby to be quiet and sleep in a basket in a corner when they are not able to link their sleep cycles, only sleeping thirty minutes at a time. You cannot tell a baby in the car 'we are almost there!' as they scream in discomfort at the awkward angle of their capsule. You cannot ask your baby 'do you mind sleeping in tomorrow morning so Mummy can have a late night with her bottle of Pinot Noir?' You cannot keep your baby awake all day in the hope 'a tired baby will surely sleep better!' It's quite the opposite actually. (An over tired baby is harder to settle than an under tired one – seriously.)
And so, dear ‘rule makers’- please be aware that it is very easy to make rules about your hypothetical baby when you have had eight hours of sleep, and are able to eat your dinner while it is still warm. When you are a mother, you will have neither of those.
By all means, make as many hypothetical rules as you feel necessary. But be sensitive when flinging these around in the faces of exhausted parents, who are simply doing their best. Your elaborate declarations of basket sleeping, dummy hating, wine loving, routine following, World-traveling babies make us feel like we are doing something wrong.
It has taken me four months to realise that all you really need to take with you into your journey of parenthood are your natural instincts. No rules, books, or hypothetical unicorn baby baskets required.
Oh, but you will need a giant sack of spare dummies to carry with you wherever you go.
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