I have mum friends who feel guilty. Smart, caring, capable women who blame themselves for problems that their kids are having.
Several of them have told me that maybe if they hadn’t gone out to work, maybe if they’d spent the pre-school years at home with their kids, those kids wouldn’t be having problems. They’d be happier and less anxious.
There’s a lot of guilt out there.
A few days ago, a friend posted an article by Heather Abel in The Paris Review about how so many mums of our generation have been sold the idea of attachment parenting. The idea, promoted by Dr William Sears and his wife Martha, is that years of baby-wearing, bed-sharing and breastfeeding will create a happy child. In fact, that is the way to create a happy child.
LISTEN: A boy used his pocket money to start a racketeering business in the playground. Post continues after audio.
Abel says this is what Sears tells parents: that studies suggest the attachment-parented child is “more trusting, competent, sensitive, and empathic; she’s better organised, smarter, healthier, easier to discipline, and more bonded to people than to things; she grows better, feels right, acts right, learns language more easily, establishes healthy independence, and learns to give and receive love”.
Then it hit me. That’s exactly what my kids are supposed to be like. I breastfed both of them for years, co-slept (safely) for years, carried them everywhere in a sling.
And yet… my kids aren’t like that. I wish I could say that they were. I wish I could say they’re model children, perfect in every way, but they’re not.
Loving? Yes. Oh yes. Very loving. Always hugging, always snuggling. And they certainly can be sensitive and empathetic, when they’re not kicking each other in the head. But I wouldn’t use a lot of the other words to describe them. Organised? No. Healthily independent? Not particularly. Easy to discipline? Ha. Ha.
It’s the same reaction I had when my friends told me that maybe their kids would be happier and less anxious if they’d spent years at home with them. Well… not necessarily.
There is no guaranteed way to create a perfect child. There is not even any guaranteed way to create a happy child. There are studies. There are books. There are plenty of experts. But there are no guarantees.
I breastfed for years because it worked for me and was simpler than organising a bottle. I co-slept because it meant I didn’t have to get up at night, and I liked it. I carried my babies everywhere in a sling because it kept them calm and it meant I had my hands free.
I didn’t do it because an expert had promised it would result in model children. Lucky, hey?
I’m completely happy with the way I brought up my kids. I’m also completely happy with them – as loving, disorganised, overly dependent, hard to discipline, wacky and hilarious as they are. (Kids, if you ever read this, I love you to bits. You know that.)
LISTEN: The Nailed and Failed of Parenting – On this special episode of This Glorious Mess, our podcast about family life, our listeners share all the moments they got right or wrong in parenting.