Andrew is back from his travels in the sunshine. It is so lovely seeing him and Little J reunite. The biggest change Andrew can see in LJ is his language. I’ve noticed that too…his vocabulary is burgeoning daily and it is really beautiful to hear. We went from repetition of a few very sweet words…app-pull, track-tor, clock…to far too many to list now.
I wonder what he’s going to do with this new found skill…hopefully chatter happily his whole life long. For now it will certainly help him communicate his needs and express his emotions and hopefully alleviate some of the frustration that comes with being a toddler.
Anyway all this chatting got me thinking about language and the way it is used as we grow older, and in particular the way it can be a tool for manipulation and inciting negative feelings or behaviours. In politics and religion this can sadly be very true with devastating results but I’m talking, nay ranting, very specifically here about parenting advice…
After spending some time this week on Dr Google I’ve had a personal epiphany…finally! The language used by parenting experts, particularly concerning sleep, manipulates a vulnerable reader into feeling that they need the advice even more than they already feel as though they do.
A lot of the advice you can find on the internet is not simply put there in a caring sharing sort of way. Instead there is often an agenda…sales and marketing for most (where I think the most damage happens) and guilt and defensiveness for others.
Often the language used is aggressive and patronising, along with manipulative. Now that I’m out of the mire of worrying that I’ll ruin my baby’s development if they don’t sleep at the right time for the right length of time and with the right sleep props (ie none!), I can see how damaging this use of language has been for me and can be for other new parents.
That’s not to say there’s no good advice…in my opinion there are some gems of experts out there that explain their theories, present evidence-based advice, empathise and don’t patronise. I’ll probably get to those another day.
For now I thought I’d list a few of my least favourites phrases that I’ve been introduced to since having a baby. I am hoping that they will serve as a reminder, particularly when feeling vulnerable, to read things more as they are; to counter-research any advice and ultimately to remember that most ‘expertise’ is merely personal opinion dressed up in pound notes and sent out as The Rules.
The premise of this one is that following one approach with your baby one day (or more likely one night) may lead to other behaviours that you may feel the need to respond to.
This phrase doesn’t take into account that in particular moments parenting in one way is the perfect thing to do. Babies change rapidly and what works now for maximum happiness or sleep (as this phrase is most bandied about when talking about sleep) may not work next month or even next week. Yes there may be longer term consequences but that doesn’t mean those consequences are always all negative or that the parents haven’t considered what they might be.
My biggest problem with this phrase, therefore, and where I think it wields the most damage, is that it is startlingly patronising and completely disempowering. It assumes that parents bumble along making mistake after mistake and are left with problems to solve, or problems for the experts to solve. At its most base it is saying to parents ‘you are wrong…you do not know what you are doing or why’.
I think the widespread use of this term can induce guilt in tired, worried parents and, most worryingly, can inhibit them from following their natural ‘in the moment’ instincts.
Disastrous Results…when used to talk about any element of routines, naps, sleep.
It often goes hand in hand with accidental parenting and has made me so nervous in the past. It is so vague and yet so inflammatory. It preys on the fact that, for a lot of new parents, everything does feel like a disaster. It offers no perspective and is entirely subjective. What sort of disaster does it refer to? Are we talking about a grumpy baby at bathtime or bringing up a Kevin (as Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin…my personal worry!).
It is encouraging fear and doubt and worry just at the point when you need reassurance, perspective and kindness.
I’m not sure if my issue here is with the concept rather than the language. This neat little alliterative term sounds fairly innocuous but I don’t think it’s broken down enough by parenting experts and its meaning analysed.
Babies are expected to do so little in the daytime…they can’t feed themselves, talk, walk, manage their bowels, even coordinate their limbs to begin with and yet there is an expectation that babies can learn to self soothe…ie regulate complex emotions enough to calm down and fall asleep alone, with no help. A baby doesn’t even know it has a self to soothe.
It’s madness and consistently emphasising the need for parents to teach babies to self soothe sets up for failure those of us who don’t want to leave our babies crying. And so in our increasingly desperate, sleep deprived state we go on seeking yet more wonky parenting advice.
Sarah Ockwell Smith covers the problem with self soothing in wonderful detail in this article on her website.
Should…in front of almost anything to do with your baby.
Surely ‘should’ is far too precise for anything to do with being a person, let alone a baby. It is symptomatic of the ‘one size fits all’ parenting books that don’t recognise uniqueness or individuality. I don’t sleep, learn or think the same as my sister, let alone someone I don’t know.
I think it is kinder and more realistic to use the word ‘might’ or ‘may’. Your baby might be ‘sleeping through the night’ by 12 months or they might not, or they might sometimes but not always! You may find your baby takes their first steps at ten months, or you may find that your baby is still bottom-shuffling at 18 months. You get the idea!
Ok it’s not often used by parenting experts, but I thought I’d throw it in here anyway..it’s not daddy daycare, it’s parenting.
That’s the end of my rant for now, I hope if you’re tired and irrational this helps a little. I’m going off to have a chat with Little J now, my dispenser of innocent and happy words.