Navigating the Rules of Parenting These Days

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There are so many rules, pressures and expectations put on mothers these days. It’s difficult enough keeping up and trying to do the ‘right’ thing, but everything is made so much harder by the fact that half of the ‘rules’ out there actually contradict each other.

One expert says the best way to teach your baby to sleep on his own is to lovingly let him ‘cry it out’.
Another expert says doing so is traumatic for your baby.
One expert says you can’t spoil a newborn.
Another expert says you must start out teaching the ‘right’ habits from the beginning.
One expert says you should never rock your baby to sleep.
Another expert says it is the most natural and beneficial thing to do.
One expert says you should get your baby used to normal noises while he sleeps.
Another expert says to use white noise to help your baby sleep.
One expert says not to darken the room for day naps.
Another expert says to always darken the room for naps.

Um…

So how are we mamas supposed to deal with this? We feel so much pressure to do the ‘right’ thing, but it’s so hard to know what that is exactly, and then, despite all this, sometimes nothing seems to work anyway! 

We end up wondering why we can’t seem to get it right, when that’s not really the issue at all. 

The fact is, like any topic in life, there are always going to be people (including so-called experts) who have completely opposite opinions (just think about diets, politics, religion, finances, health, education, economics etc). Parenting is no different. With all those other topics, we know it is ok to hear other people’s opinions, but we still always have the right to choose our own way for ourselves. It is the same with our families and how we parent our kids.

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So how do we know what the right thing is to do? We decide for ourselves. We get to choose what is right for our families, not anybody else - no matter how many books they’ve written, no matter how popular they are on Youtube, no matter how bossy they are at mothers’ group, and no matter what degree they have. Parenting is not a science, there is no correct way to do it (and how many scientists disagree with each other anyway). 

Of course, there are health and safety guidelines, which you need to be educated about for the wellbeing of your child. But even the health and safety guidelines are flexible, so you can do what your baby needs. And whatever your baby needs, there are guidelines to help keep your baby safe.

The thing is, babies are not robots. They do not come with manuals. Any time someone tells you a rule or a ‘three step process’ to get your baby to sleep (for example), take it with a grain of salt. Even the ‘expert books’ out there are just one approach, one opinion, and not the only way, despite what they tell you (as with many other topics in life!). If it were that easy, our little ones would not be human. There’s a reason people have been saying forever, ‘babies don’t come with manuals’.

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Personally, I struggled with this for about the first ten weeks as a new mother. I’d read all the books and all the recommended websites. I knew exactly how to raise a perfect, ‘contented’, easy baby who would sleep through the night from six weeks. I knew all the rules.

Except none of it worked! My baby wanted movement. Constant. Movement. There was absolutely no (non-traumatic) way to get my baby to sleep without rocking her (while standing) or putting her in the car or pram. The experts were wrong. But I felt like I was the one who was doing the wrong thing, rocking my baby to sleep, and “creating bad habits for life”.

So how did we get through? With the help of other, experienced mamas! I’ll keep their names anonymous, because this sort of advice is controversial. But I hope I get a few cheers for being brave enough to put this out there. It goes against the 'expert' advice. It goes against everything you’re taught. But it’s what many of us are doing, we just aren’t crazy enough to admit it for public critique. (And of course I’ll include the standard disclaimer: always follow safety guidelines.)

“I put my baby to sleep on his tummy, after breastfeeding him to sleep,” one mum told me.
“My baby slept with a pillow to prop her up a little.”
“My baby slept in her bouncer chair, she hated being in her bassinet.”
“I always cuddled my baby while she slept.”
“I used to drive for hours around town, just so my baby would sleep.”
“I cared about doing the ‘right’ thing with the first one, but by my fourth kid they were all sleeping in bed with us anyway.”
“I just did whatever it took to help my family get sleep, whatever worked.”

That’s when I realised the real experts, if such a think exists, are the everyday mothers who have raised healthy, happy babies. 

If you are having a hard time following the rules, because they just aren’t working, the best place to get helpful advice is from a mama who had the same struggles. How often does that 'expert' advice just make things harder, instead of actually helping? Babies are different, which is why some things work for some and not others. Find a mama who had a baby with the same sorts of preferences, and you’ll find a goldmine of tips and tricks that will actually help.

So how did I get my baby to sleep? I just started doing what she needed, rather than what was ‘right’. I finally realised that doing what is best for your baby is what is right. I decided to make my own rules.

What feels right for your family, is right for your family. There are safety guidelines you can follow no matter what you do, to make sure it’s as safe as possible. One of the benefits of being a mama these days is that we have so much available to us to help - like super sensitive monitors which will beep if your baby holds his breath while he’s sleeping - and more. 

the right way to raise your baby

The only ‘right’ way to raise your baby, is the way that works for you and your family. If you have to do something other than what the ‘experts’ suggest, don’t feel guilty about it. Know that there is another equally qualified expert on the other end of the spectrum who would say you are doing the right thing. And, know that the only real expert for your baby is you now. It might not seem like it, but you know your baby better than anyone else. Babies are not robots, they are not the same, just like kids and teens and adults are not the same. We all like different things, we all need different things, and you are in the best position to learn what your baby wants and needs to be happy and healthy. You and your baby will both be so much happier when you find what works for you both.

You get to make the rules for your family. You get to choose what is right.