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. 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 that ever. Should I rock my baby to sleep? Leave him to cry? Start feeding him solids at 4 months? I had no idea.
My next solution for having no parenting instincts 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 30odd 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.
Eventually I found my way through the early years, by trial and error.
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.
If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy The Many Shocks of New Parenthood, where I explain the many things that horrified me when I first had a baby.
The Mum Conundrum