Is it time to ditch the parenting books? (And go online instead!)
New research has shown that parenting 'experts' are, in no small part, responsible for the inadequacies new mums feel. A study of 50 years' worth of self-help advice (from Sir Frederic Truby King, Donald Winnicott, John Bowlby, Dr Spock, Penelope Leach and Gina Ford), and how it has affected mums throughout the generations has concluded this: there is no right or wrong way to do things; and the advice, and the way it is delivered, sets the bar too high.
Angela Davies, from the University of Warwick, who conducted the research, said there was a common theme among parenting books that was detrimental to mums' confidence: "Whatever the message, the advice was given in the form of an order and the authors highlighted extreme consequences if mothers did not follow the methods of child-rearing that they advocated.
Levels of behaviour these childcare manuals set for mothers and babies are often unattainably high, meaning women could be left feeling like failures when these targets were not achieved.
Well, finally! Thank goodness someone has finally come out and officially said it! The study, as it goes, was called Modern Motherhood: Women and Family in England, 1945-2000. I think perhaps it should have been called Mum Knows Best.
I suppose a challenge any self-styled expert author faces is how to sound more authoritative than the next self-styled expert author. But where does that leave inexperienced mums who have Gina Ford in one ear, saying: 'Let them cry it out!' and Penelope Leach in the other saying: 'Leave that child to cry and you'll be damaging their BRAIN!'
Talk about striking fear into our hearts. It makes me feel anxious just thinking about it.
And it's fascinating, don't you think, that of the six best-selling writers considered in Davies' study, four are men and, of the two women, one (Gina Ford) has never had a child. I mean really, how desperate are we?!
I include me in that 'we' of course. I bought some baby bibles when my first daughter was born (I'd pretty much figured it out by the time my second one came along, so they were binned). But I remember even now feeling utterly vexed at the conflicting advice I read, not to mention my frustration when my baby didn't do what she was 'supposed' to do.
That sounds ridiculous, but I bet it's how many other newbie mummies feel up and down the country right now.
In the haze of exhaustion, surrounded by piles of 200-pagers, it can be hard to remember that every baby is an individual, rather than a little machine that comes with a manual.
While our natural insecurities have provided irritatingly colossal cash cows for authors and publishers alike, it's not hard to understand why the books have sold in their millions. Even over the last 50 years, families have become increasingly geographically mobile, so the advice and hands-on help once provided by a close-knit extended family has been lost to an extent. What better and more convenient way to replace that than with a reassuringly confident voice in a reassuringly heavy volume?
But I do think, to an extent, the baby experts' days are numbered – because now we all have somewhere else to go for advice: right here, online, where hundreds of thousands of mums come together to share their tips and experiences. As such, those know-it-alls are facing their biggest challenge yet – once they only had to compete with one another, now they have to compete with a world full of mothers and everything they know. Quite a challenge.
Perhaps this is the very reason Gina Ford has turned her attention elsewhere, with her new Contented Mother's Guidebook. I know millions of mums all over the globe found her child-rearing methods second to none, but one particular piece of mum advice she's proffered has caused something of a stir: new mums, Ms Ford suggests, should start having sexual relations with their partners four to six weeks after giving birth, whether they feel like it or not.
Oh dear, I hate to say it Gina, but I do think, as a non-mother yourself, you might have just lost all credibility with that little gem!
What do you think? Do you follow a baby guru by the book or look to friends, online and off, for advice, reassurance and shared experiences?