Mother knows best ... or does she?

Do we ask too much of grandparents these days?
Do we ask too much of grandparents these days? Photo: Getty Images

There’s an age old saying that claims ‘mother knows best’, but is it the case when it comes to our own parenting skills? Do we turn to our own mums for advice as much as previous generations did, or does the wealth of information available to us in today’s society override this need?

Well, if you were to ask the grandmothers, they may well state the latter is true. According to a recent UK study, more than a third felt that books, manuals, and the advice received from baby 'gurus' had taken away from their daughters relying on them as a source of information. 

Unlike back in their day, when most said they took advice from their own mother or mother-in-law, many grandmothers have acknowledged a shift in their own children. Almost 50 per cent said their daughters relied on either books by baby experts, or turned to blogs and websites for parenting guidance. Interestingly enough, 84 per cent of grandmothers do not believe that these guides are helpful.

Karen Ghidella, a mum of twin boys, would disagree. 

When it came to raising her sons, Ghidella strictly and obsessively abided by the routine set by Tizzy Hall in her book Save Our Sleep, and wouldn’t have done it any other way.

“My opinions on bedtime, schedules, feeding and discipline were - and still are - very different to those of both my mum and dad,” says Ghidella. “I was very structured in the boys’ routine from day one. I know that Mum and Dad always thought I was too strict about it, but I needed something that worked for me.”

As well as butting heads when it came to sleep, Ghidella and her parents also disagreed as far as discipline, food and breastfeeding were concerned. But she does acknowledge that her parents’ concern only came from a place of love and believes that it has not been detrimental to their relationship, particularly that which she has with her mother.

“In the early days I think she was upset by it, and we had a bit of a rough patch because we had quite different opinions about things, but she’s fine with it now. I think the reason it’s easier for her to accept is that I’m not going to another person, it’s people who are holding themselves out to be professionals in a certain area, such as authors or articles online.”

Eugenie Pepper’s approach to raising her children is much the same as Ghidella's, in that she hasn’t relied on advice from her mum either. Instead, has turned to books and the internet.

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“Although my mum is fabulous with my kids, and a very loving grandmother, I would not rely on her for advice,” explains Pepper. “So much has changed since she had young children. For example, babies slept on their tummies not on their backs to prevent SIDS, we were left in cars while our parents did the grocery shopping, and we all took peanut butter sandwiches to school.”

“I would much prefer to know the latest way to do things and rely on current research rather than what was the thing to do in the 1970s.”

Of course, not everybody feels the same, and there are certainly those who do still rely on their mums. Rhonda Maxwell is one of them.

“I ask Mum for advice pretty much everyday and about everything,” says Maxwell. “That’s not to say that I can't get on without her, as I am very confident in my parenting skills, but I always feel I need and want Mum’s opinion on everything before I make a definite decision.”

While Maxwell does admit that there has been the odd occasion when she has resorted to the internet or other sources for advice, it has always been done in conjunction with her mum. 

“Mum has actually learnt a lot from the self-learning and research I've done since having my daughter, and notices many differences in how it compares to everything she was told and what she knew when she was raising us.” 

As far as Maxwell is concerned, having her mum by her side to be bounce ideas off can only ever be a positive. 

“I believe there is so much information out there that you can be pretty much bombarded with it.  I think Mum is a better source in a way because she knows me, she knows my daughter, and what I want for her and her future. To me she is the best person possible to help me out with anything, and particularly compared to an 'expert' who is generally using information based on the majority.” 

Marise Butler, who recently fostered two young girls, echoes Maxwell’s sentiments. In fact, Butler believes that it has been the invaluable advice offered by her parents that has made the whole fostering experience less terrifying for her. 

“My Mum’s natural love for me and my kids, her sense of humour, her capacity for forgiveness and kindness when I make mistakes, and all the fun she injects into parenting makes her a much better source of advice than any manual.”

Butler explains that she gets benefit not only from her mum’s advice, but also from watching her as a grandmother and the way that she handles the children so effectively. “I find myself modelling my behaviour on my mum's and getting good results,” she says. “She has a lot of handy tricks up her sleeve I can emulate!”

Kathy Walker, Director at Early Life Foundations, believes  there are a number of reasons why today’s parents are turning to alternative resources.

“We are in an information and knowledge society, and so many of us are turning to social media, chat lines, blogs and texts to access quick and easy information,” she says. “Technology has also become a great way of sharing our parenting challenges with a wider network.”

However, Walker also notes that many people do not live in the same region or state as their own parents, so skills are not being passed on through generations as easily as they may have been in the past.

While Walker acknowledges the positives that technology and other resources can provide new parents, she is also aware of the negatives.

“Not all information can be appropriate for every parent or situation as parenting involves context, values and culture,” she says. “It can also suggest a one-size-fits-all mentality, which doesn't work either, and can lead to a sense of isolation and disconnection if that is the only way parents are accessing information.”

Walker states that what is most important for both parents and grandparents to remember is that openness and understanding is key, and that each generation will take up the challenge of parenting with their own values.

“Sometimes grandparents may feel their advice is ignored and they may well feel offended. Other times their advice will be embraced and appreciated. That is life.”

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