Parenting Woes – Whose Problem Is It Really?

This post has been whirling around my head for more than a year now and I have debated whether it should stay there many a time, why? Because I know this post is going to be contentious, I can only anticipate the comments it will get and the possibility that I might offend many parents is huge. Maybe I’m posting it therefore out of stupidity? Nevertheless I do think it needs to be said so here goes. (I can always delete it later!).

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I’m writing my second book at the moment, called ToddlerCalm (published on October 3rd 2013 – plug over, sorry!), and it’s all about life with 1, 2, 3 and 4 year olds. I’ve just finished up a chapter on brain development, the aim of this chapter being the idea that if parents know what their child is and isn’t neurologically capable of doing and understanding that their expectations will change to something a little more realistic which in turn should hopefully reduce tension for the whole household. My next chapter looks at toddler sleep, again the premise being to myth bust many of the incorrect assumptions we hold in society regarding what a toddler should and shouldn’t be doing sleep wise.

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This then led me to think ‘who really has the problem?‘ Indeed I believe around 90% of what we believe ‘problematic’ when it comes to baby and toddler sleep and behaviour is OUR problem, not theirs. Only somewhere along the line it has morphed into being a problem owned by the child, when and why did this happen?

Is it because we are so ill informed today that we genuinely believe a baby should be sleeping through the night (no longer requiring night feeds) by 6 months? and should be happy to be independent in daycare at 9 months? Do we really believe that two year olds should share, never bite, whine, squeal or hit? Do we really believe that toddlers should understand our logical explanation of why we need them to ‘be good’ and ‘sit nicely’ in a supermarket trolley for an hour?

Incidentally these are ALL myths. In every single scenario I have mentioned above these expectations are incorrect, based on myths and ill informed opinions and NOT current scientifc knowledge. The fact of the matter is that the following are ALL NORMAL behaviours for young human beings:

  • Babies who still take night feeds at 6 months
  • Babies who feed very frequently, particularly in the evenings
  • Babies who wake regularly at night at 12 months
  • Babies who need the security of their parents and don’t go happily to daycare at 9 months
  • Babies who controlled crying or CIO does not work for, short or long term
  • Babies who only sleep when in close proximity to their parents
  • Babies who do not self soothe
  • Toddlers who only sleep when in close proximity to their parents
  • Toddlers who wake early in the morning
  • Toddlers who do not self soothe
  • Toddlers who still wake regularly at night
  • Toddlers who do not share
  • Toddlers who do not listen to you
  • Toddlers who hit/bite/throw/whine/squeal/tantrum
  • Toddlers who do not learn from consequences
  • Toddlers who do not learn from time out/naughty steps/reward charts
  • Toddlers who are not ready to potty train at age two
  • Toddlers who are ‘picky eaters’.

Every single thing on this list is NORMAL for our species, every single thing on this list is HEALTHY AND TO BE EXPECTED for a baby and/or toddler. Nothing on this list is ‘a problem’ in the pathological or developmental sense. I cannot highlight this enough. THESE ARE NORMAL AND HEALTHY BEHAVIOURS OF BABIES AND TODDLERS. They are not problems, at least not problems that belong to the babies and toddlers anyway!

We do however consider all of these problems don’t we? The thing is though these problems therefore do not belong to our children. They belong to US. Let’s not kid ourselves, we have a problem with our baby’s perfectly normal nocturnal sleep patterns, we have a problem with our baby’s needs to be with us beyond our comfort zone, we have a problem with our toddler’s behaviour, we have a problem with our toddler’s communication skills.

So, if the problems belong to us how to fix them? Currently, in our mistaken belief that the problems belong to our offspring, we try to fix them, fix our children that is. Through all manner of methods that have little or no scientific evidence that they are 1) effective, 2) safe – here I’m talking about your ‘Cry it out’, ‘controlled crying’, ‘dream feeds’, early weaning, naughty steps, time out, ignoring the behaviour and covering the child or a chart in reward stickers. Indeed the more antisocial behaviours in my list above indicate an unmet need in the child, why do we not seek to meet this need in order to extinguish the behaviour? Why do we inflict stressful methods on our children to fix a problem that is ours alone?

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None of these resolve the real root of the problem though do they? Because the real root of the problem is us, the adults, the parents. Our incorrect expectations, our misinformed beliefs, our inability or reluctance to modify our lives so that we can cope better with this normal (and transient I might add) behaviour. Our naive following of unqualified child experts. Our lack of proper social and economic support so that we can cope with OUR PROBLEMS.

Personally I find it so wrong that we try to fix our children when they are doing nothing more than the norm for our species, no, indeed the real fixing needs to be done to us and OUR lives. How do we do that? Keep tuned, that post is next on my list!

Sarah

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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