Why this will never be a parenting blog: on guilt, guilting and taking it personally

I wanted to blog about the widely reported findings from this study, that apparently “breastfed babies cry more” and are “more challenging”.

Since the overwhelming majority of times I had seen people mention or link to any of the media about this study was in the context of “goodness, this is completely at odds with my experience,” I thought I’d weigh in with some reasons why the reporting is crap, too many confounding variables were not taken into account, and the self-reported measurements were by nature flawed by inherent bias given the groups in question.

I’ve struggled to find a way to word large chunks of what I wanted to say without there being the potential of it sounding like “breastfeeding parents are better parents,” – which I don’t believe. The closest to inoffensive I could think of was “parents who formula feed their babies are used to lots of crying and screaming while they make bottles up for hungry babies, so their ‘normal’ is different.” Which I’m sure could potentially still cause offence, and I just don’t want to go there.

Parents get enough guilt as it is. Guilt about their choices (feeding, sleeping, working, weaning, bathing, you name it), and also guilt about things out of their control (breastfeeding can come into this category) like genetics or the birth experience itself.

For example, a new 6-part BBC series, Call The Midwife started this weekend. For the most part it’s a well written, thoughtful depiction of 1950s Britain based on the true story as told in the book of the same name by Jennifer Worth. At one point, against the odds, a baby survives a premature birth at only 30 weeks gestation. Against all medical advice, the mother insists on staying at home, with the baby, denying the hospital treatment recommended for them both. The midwives muse about what love can do for a child against all odds. Now, that’s nice and all, but does that imply that if your baby doesn’t survive you didn’t love it hard enough? That taking medical advice and letting your premature baby stay in NICU is the opposite of love? Well yes I think it does imply both those things, while clearly they are wrong, and I’m sure the intention was never to insinuate either.

In contrast, How To Be A Good Mother with Sharon Horgan aired on Thursday on Channel 4, just after One Born Every Minute. While I saw someone on Facebook commending the show for it’s non-judgemental stance, just showing the different practices in a factual way, I felt differently. I tweeted that it may as well be called How to be a Patronising Cow with Sharon Horgan. It showed one woman, placenta lady, explaining why she felt that caesarian births inevitably resulted in colder relationships with your children because you haven’t gone through the bonding experience of childbirth. Her proof? The fact that she can’t look her own mother in the eye, having been a caesarian birth herself. What a load of utter tosh! Fine, you have a cack relationship with your mother. I’m pretty certain it’s not because you came out her front not her bottom.

Sometimes I have felt that not taking someone’s advice, or taking a course of action slightly different to what they did, has offended people. As if, by making a different choice, I am insinuating that their choice was wrong. Why should it be like that? Why should my decision NOT to give Polly a bath every day be taken as a personal insult by someone who bathes their babies every day?

We all make different choices as parents. I’m sure we all make bad choices about one thing or another, but the point is we all make our choices for the same reasons. There are as many ways to be a parent as there are children.

It is ridiculous though, there’s so much guilt piled on from every direction, yet I still manage to feel guilty about how my choices and actions and words may be taken by others.

I find that so many people are quick to explain some problem that a parent is experiencing with their child is “because they did x,” so it’s all their fault. “She worries too much,” “She creates problems,” “He never fed the baby so now he won’t settle with him,” “She went out on her own when he was only 2 weeks old,” “They let the baby in their bed,”, “She’s still feeding her,” “He always had gloves on so can’t use his hands properly,” – I could go on for hours.

So I don’t want to talk about breastfeeding. I don’t want to blog about crying it out. I don’t want to sound judgemental.

From now on, the only time I’ll come close to blogging about “parenting” whatever the hell that is, it will be mere anecdote and personal stories. No actual facts. No references. No links to studies. No criticism. Nothing.

Just pictures and evidence of Polly being brilliant despite all the terrible choices we make.

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