In recent weeks I have had cause to look more closely at parenting and how my husband and I parent our nearly two year old daughter. These musing have been brought on by a number of things, firstly our daughter starting to show signs of those troublesome two year old tantrums, as well as deciding that she really doesn’t want to continue being the champion sleeper she has been for the last 12 months. My husband also recently lost his own father, so that got me thinking about the role of fathers – and grandfathers – in ones life both as children and as adults. My father-in-law was probably not considered a typical father of the 1980s, deciding when his boys were still very young and not yet at school that he would take on the main stay-at-home parenting role. Remembering this was way before being a stay-at-home Dad was a concept that people had heard of, let alone accepted, as is starting to happen today. He was as involved as any stay-at-home Mum, taking the boys to playgroup and kinder, being the parent-helper, and even going so far as to bake the spongecake for his wife’s work morning teas.
This all got me thinking – how has parenting changed over the decades and are there some pearls of wisdom that I and others like me can take from years gone by? Like many parents today, I tended to read parenting books to come up with what my husband coined “the latest strategy”. My own mother thinks I read too much, “We never had books like this when you were young” – which is probably very accurate. So, why do modern parents feel this great need to read about parenting, why has it stopped coming naturally to us and why do we lack the confidence in our own abilities as parents that we need reassurance from some so-called expert who has never laid eyes on our particular child? Someone answered this question for me recently by saying that the youngest ‘child’ in her entire extended family was over 30, and so she had not seen ‘parenting’ since it was her being ‘parented’. I think that’s a fair point, our change in lifestyle to one of smaller families and older parents has meant that there is a generation of people now becoming parents who have no recent role models to look to. We all have some abstract ideas of good and bad parenting, based mainly on how our parents did it, but not many of us remember how their own mother or father dealt with toddler tantrums, toilet training or sleep issues.
After reading several of the expert opinions available I came to the conclusion that they really weren’t for me. For me most experts seem to forget about the uniqueness of every child and parent and insist on strict routines or overly complex approaches to bringing up children. So, instead of going with these I started asking others, my parents, grandparents and in-laws and firends how they approached various scenarios. Here are some of the more interesting or quirkier things that came up:
1. A lemonade icypole given when a child has an upset stomach, vomitting or other stomach related illnesses. Not something that I have tried myself, but I think the theory is that it provides much needed fluids and sugar, though I’m sure most doctors would recommend other ways of doing this. This was a common remedy in my childhood and to this day a lemonade icypole brings back lovely memories – maybe its the comfort factor that is more important than any actual healing powers.
2) Start toilet training as early as possible (say at three months old) by holding your child over newspaper or the toilet every hour. This came from my grandmother as something that all mothers did in her time, parenting after the 2nd World War. If you read about toilet training today, most experts say you can’t ‘train’ a child until they are ready and most children don’t use the toilet consistently until between 2 1/2 and 3 years old. When I said this to Nana she was shocked it was so late. I can’t see myself going down this path with such a young baby, but perhaps there is some wisdom in starting earlier – out of nappies quick means less impact on the environment and on the wallet – and I have taken this tact with some success with Miss almost two.
3) Babies/toddlers should be left to cry themselves to sleep. I think every generation has some advocates of this strategy with varying conditions. In the past parents were encouraged to do this from a very young age to teach good sleeping habits, now it is recommended by some once a baby reaches 6 months of age and then for a limited time. I must say I’ve been against this until recently and couldn’t bare to listen to my daughter crying and unattended – my mother-in-law recently told me she tried this for one night when my husband was little and after half an hour of constant crying went in and picked him up and never tried it again. I’ve now come to realise that there is sometimes a place for this ‘strategy’ after starting the transition from cot to bed – there are only so many nights you can share a single bed with a kicking, squirming, heat exuding toddler!
I’m sure everyone who has parents or grandparents has similar memories or have heard stories about how things were done before, which I’d love to hear. I am drawn to the simplicity of some aspects of past parenting styles – though don’t always agree with some of the advice I’ve been given – and I hope that my daughter and any future children will have similar memories of a childhood, parents and grandparents. And while as a history buff, I am drawn to the past, I have to acknowledge some of the great things about being a parent in the 21st Century. Fathers are so much more involved (and perhaps evolved!) with their kids, and mothers are more than just that, despite losing sight of ourselves at times we are still there. I could imagine doing this without my husband doing his share of the good and the bad or with the thought that my whole existence was based on my role as a mother.
Happily, for the most part, I received plenty of praise for what I have found at times a very challenging role. And anyone with any sort of real wisdom on these matters seems to agree that every parents needs to approach the role their own way and not stress about what the experts say…. so for me, its time to lose the books, ask others about how they do things, but most importantly listen to what’s in my own head.