When I decided to have a baby, I had no experience of babies. Most of what I knew came from my 1990’s Child Development GCSE. In hindsight, I can confirm it was not very good preparation. While the details are vague now, it certainly left me with the impression that when I had a baby I would instinctively know what to do. I prepared for parenthood by attending a 1 day antenatal course at the hospital which frankly was no preparation at all. After Boy Child was born I was somewhat shocked to discover I had no parenting instincts whatsoever and had no idea how to look after him.
The first time he filled his nappy (with that lovely black tar they start with) I had to ask the midwife to show me how to change him. When we put him in his car seat to take him home, he started to cry. We had no idea what to do until eventually a passing cleaner came over and said “Just get him in the car and he’ll be fine”. I was used to knowing what I was doing so this was new territory for me.
Being a librarian, my first thought was to find a book about it.
The trouble was, the books all seemed to give me conflicting advice. Like most new mums, I was obsessed with working out how to get the baby to sleep. I read Gina Ford, the Baby Whisperer, the Baby Sleep Book, The No Cry Sleep Solution and tons of others. Unsurprisingly, they left me more confused than ever. Should I rock my baby to sleep? Leave him to cry? Start feeding him solids at 4 months? I had no idea. I even tried reading novels about becoming a mother to see if that helped and while some of these helped me feel less alone, they weren’t much help on the practical front.
My next solution was retail therapy
I bought slings, rocking cribs, special pillows, noise machines, teddies. Both of them were colicky babies, screaming solidly from 5pm to 10pm every night. I bought infacol, gripe water, convinced the Doctor to prescribe Colief. They cried when there were in the buggy so I bought books to hang on it and pretend steering wheels for them to drive. Each time I would be convinced I had found to solution, only to have it fail miserably. It seems throwing money at baby problems does not solve them.
When you have no parenting instincts, the internet is a dangerous place
In addition to the endless conflicting advice, there are people everywhere telling you to “follow your instincts” and “you know what’s best for your baby”. If people are asking for help then they clearly don’t know what’s best for their baby. Thank god I wasn’t on social media in those days and only had parenting forums judging me, Facebook may have pushed me over the edge. I spent hours googling different search terms, convinced that if I could find the right combination of words, the solution would be there.
My final port of call was my own mother
Surely she could help me, she’d been a mother for 30 odd years, she must know what to do. Nope. It seems that by the time Mums become grandmothers, they have forgotten how to parent. Neither my Mum or my Mother in law seemed to be able to remember anything useful form their days of looking after babies who didn’t sleep and screamed all the time.
I was lost and confused and felt guilty and just wanted someone to, please, for the love of god, tell me what to do.
I found my way through the early years, but I Still Have No Parenting Instincts
It was messy, and I like things to be organised, but we managed. We found routine and that was my saviour. Eventually, they learnt to sleep through the night. The colic, very gradually, improved.
Unfortunately I can’t say my instincts have improved. I still have no parenting instincts. When they go through difficult phases (and it seems like there’s a new one every week), I still go running off to Amazon to find a book about it. I still start searching the internet for other people in the same boat. With experience I have become better at judging what might work for our family and what won’t, which I suppose shows a bit of instinct. The other thing that has changed is that I no longer berate myself for not knowing what to do. I’ve accepted that some people find parenting easy and some people don’t and that’s ok.
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I am 11 years older than my sister so I just did what I did or saw my mom did back then… Including cloth diapers !
Daydreams of a Mum says
I cannot tell you how much I love this post. I relate hard!! I was the first of all my friends to have babies , my own mum had passed away , I was only 20 and I didn’t have a clue. Like you , as a bookworm I did what I always do in a crisi turned to books but like you say there’s so much conflictijng advice!! I was and still am defintely a make it up as i go along mum!!
Congratualtions , someone loved this post so much they added it to our #blogcrush linky
So hard when you’re the first of your friends, means you’re totally unprepared and no one really gets what you’re going through!
Mama Foodie says
I totally felt like that first time around! I think even if your only instinct is to keep them alive and do the right thing then that’s a bloomin good start. It was only with my 3rd child I felt I knew what to do but it was still really hard!
Crummy Mummy says
Yes, it’s definitely ok not to be ok! #itsok
Jacqui Bester says
“Just go with the flow,” I say, even if it is UPSTREAM for 18 years 🙂 … Total load of bollocks this parenting instinct is!!! itsok linky
Noleen Miller says
I promise you it happens to all of us. Also take advise with a pitch of salt – do what is best for you and your baby and in most cases trial and error is the best way to learn #itsok
Jo (A Rose Tinted World) says
This is all so true! I like you also turned to google for some of the answers. Only to find that all children are difficult and you have to work your own out yourself! Being a logical scientific type of person, motherhood is so illogical and random compared to what I know. All I will say is that we have learnt some new skills. Great post! #BlogCrush
Yep, I think that’s it, I like things c,ear and ordered and babies just aren’t!
I think parental instinct is a big miff! I have two children and I still have no idea how to get my youngest to sleep! How to get them to eat. Only this morning I said to my husband I wish someone could tell me the best thing to do about x, y or z! I don’t think there is a “right” way.
There should definitely be a definitive manual shouldn’t there!
Tracey Carr says
I know exactly how you feel Jo, to be honest I’m sure we all can. I think everybody is bluffing it to a degree (even the ones who look completely in control all of the time). I had my sister to help me when I had my babies and I can honestly say that without her I wouldn’t have had a clue. I will never stop being grateful to her for all the help and advice she gave me. Especially when it came to sleeping and feeding. Now my younger sister is expecting her first baby in May and I want to make sure I give her the sort of help that I got. You’re right – those motherly instincts aren’t always there and we all need as much help as we can get. And there’s nothing wrong with that! #itsok
Thanks Tracey, reassuring to know I’m not the only one!
Gemma - Mummy's Waisted says
Whoop whoop, it wasn’t just me! I was in exactly the same boat as you, thankfully I found that I hadn’t forgotten everything when I had my second, although there were a fair few differences between them. Do what works for you and the baby, and you won’t go far wrong #itsok
I sometimes think I only had a second to make use of what I learnt with the first!
Helen Copson says
I’m with you on the child development GCSE in the 90s! Somehow getting my mum to make a really dodgy looking pair of dungarees and studying my baby cousin for a grand total of about two hours didn’t seem to prepare me much either! And oh my lord, the amount of stuff you buy to try and solve it all. Great post. Thanks for linking up to #ItsOK
When I wasn’t shopping for “miracle cures” I was on eBay selling the ones that didn’t work!