Monday, 31 January 2011

Parenting Style

We don't have a parenting style.  At least, not one that has a name.  Our parenting method, from the very beginning, had three simple steps:

1) read absolutely everyone and everything on the subject
2) watch what the baby actually does
3) mentally put a large cross through everything we've read, and do what the baby seems to need at the time.

For example, when Abigail was about 6 weeks old and we were just coming out the other side of a catalogue of disasters which I will have to blog about later, she began screaming from seven until midnight every night.  We rocked her, sang to her, bounced her, wore her, breastfed her.  At midnight, she would fall asleep, exhausted, and we would put her down in her basket where she would sleep contentedly for at least 4 hours.  We assumed it was colic, since that's what it always is when small babies cry in the evenings.  Colic is code for "we have no idea why they do this".

Then, one evening, just after the screaming had started, I had to do something - I forget what - something like going out to the garage in the snow to get food from the freezer, so I put her down in her basket for the two minutes that it took me to perform this task, and when I got back, she was fast asleep.  I got on with the cooking, assuming that she would soon wake up and scream again.  She didn't.  She slept until 4 in the morning.

It was like the proverbial light coming on.  She didn't have colic - she was just tired.  All our rocking, bouncing, singing interventions had been keeping the poor mite awake, and we had continued to do them because that's what the books we agreed with all said that babies liked.  But Abigail was different.  She didn't like to be held when she went to sleep.  She liked to be left alone in a dark room.  From that night onwards, we started a bedtime routine at seven consisting of bath, story and last feed, and then left her.  She fell asleep within five minutes and it was then that she started sleeping through the night, with only a brief semi-waking for a feed at 4am.  Bingo.

Of course, I am still swatting well-meaning babysitters and friends who say "You're not going to leave her to cry, are you?" at bedtime, while looking at me as if I'm Gina Ford with horns.  What they don't know - and what I patiently have to explain each time to their disbelieving ears - is that even now, at over a year old, if we leave Abigail, she might cry a tired sort of whinge for a maximum of 15 minutes before sleep; if I were in the room with her, she'd be screaming bloody murder and it would go on for hours.  I know it sounds odd, but I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise to me: she is, after all, her mother's daughter, and I can't get to sleep in a car, on a train, or if her daddy is so much as checking his mail on his iPhone lying next to me.  I need dark, still and quiet, too.

I have to remember, though, that this isn't the solution for everyone else's baby.  I did try, once, suggesting to a friend as she paraded her shrieking, obviously tired son up and down the living room: "Why don't you just try putting him down?"  Gina Ford with horns and a tail, this time.  I don't blame her; if anybody had suggested it to me before I worked it out for myself I would have reacted in just the same way.  You have to follow your own baby.  Unfortunately, the benefit of my hindsight will never help anyone else's child.

And that's why parenting manuals don't really work.  Whatever the method is, from baby-led weaning to sleep training, examples are eagerly given of it working and changing someone's life; but you first have to look at your own child and say "Ah, but will it work with this one?"

No comments: