Before I had kids, I read as much about child rearing as I could get my hands on, all in preparation for the day I would have my own baby. As the years went on, I became familiar with many of the experts and their particular dogma.
Now, of course, I cringe when remembering how I lectured my poor pregnant friends on the methods of whichever expert was my flavour of the month at that particular time. Dear friends, I would like to take this opportunity to offer a wholehearted apology. I'm sorry; I thought I was doing the right thing.
And the experts were many and varied. There were your old school, often doctor-authored books hailing from the '40s and '50s, advocating a strict approach to parenting; the new wave of attachment theory experts, whose advice included co-sleeping, elimination communication and extended breastfeeding; the self-anointed sleep experts, whose rigid routines claim to have a baby ‘sleeping through’ from six weeks. Then there were the nutrition experts, the experts in baby sign language, the toddler tamers, the celebrity experts, the experts on raising boys, the experts on raising girls, the experts who became expert via reality television … It seems there’s an expert for every minute aspect of parenting, and I spent years reading almost nothing else. In fact, it was my avid reading about anything child, pregnancy or birth-related that first drew me to Essential Baby many moons ago.
But since having my twin boys, I haven’t picked up a single parenting book. I admit to the odd google search, but the books have been given the flick in favour of trusting my own instinct, and listening to the wisdom – and then either taking or leaving it – of the parents around me. Real experience, I’ve found, is worth so much more than rigid routines, diets and methods espoused by many of the so-called professionals.
But the experts are increasingly difficult to evade. It's easy to make a choice about not reading books or particular websites, but trying to avoid expert advice in my day-to-day life is verging on impossible.
When you’re surrounded by other ‘clueless’ first timers, it can make sense to seek out the advice of experts. But does it actually help?
First it was at mothers' group. What started as coffee and a chat turned into a weekly self-help session, with different speakers invited along to tell us what we were doing wrong. And I’ve had to pick my days at playgroup in order to avoid the weekly expert session, which can cover anything from sleep training to swimming.
I sat through a few of these relatively harmless presentations (but let’s face it, they never go particularly well when the room is full of attention-seeking toddlers), until a speech from a nutritionist with extreme ideas and a rigid ‘my way or the highway’ attitude really angered me. When she left, the conversation centred on how the parents felt guilt they weren’t following the expert’s 100% organic, premium-food only diet for their children.
Of course, it's not just the nutritionist that engenders guilt in the first-time parent. Your 17-month-old can't get themselves to the side of a pool yet? You're just negligent, said the swimming instructor. Still not sleeping through the night? So sad, clucked the sleep trainer – but for a substantial fee she’ll come and show you how you should be doing things.
Being a parent can be isolating, particularly when it’s your first time. When you’re surrounded by other ‘clueless’ first timers, it can make sense to seek out the advice of experts. But does it actually help, or just add another layer of guilt and frustration to a process that ideally should be natural and instinctive?
For me, I’m glad I’ve thrown the experts aside in favour of listening to my internal directions. It has made parenting – especially twins – a much more enjoyable experience. Rather than treating it like an exam, studying up every night and forcing my boys into rigid expert-defined ideals, we’re just going at our own pace … and loving it.
Do you follow the experts' advice, or stick to following your own instincts? Have your say in the Essential Baby forum or comment below.