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I’m not a very good parent. I believe it’s important to respect my daughter, but after I’ve explained several times that touching those cakes will cover them with germs so no-one else wants to eat them, I tend to fall back on shouting, “Because I say so, now do as you’re told!”

Still, I do try to approach parenting as a collaboration rather than a battle, and something that happened the other week made me realise how different that is from the way I was raised. My mum came round while A was at nursery, bringing a borrowed carpet cleaner to give the living room carpet a much-needed clean. A had played at cutting up paper, and left the bits scattered on the floor; not knowing which bits she wanted to save, I transferred them all into a margarine tub while my mum tidied up the toys with an obvious home.

She held up a couple of empty crayon packets, and asked whether I was saving them. “I’m not,” I said, “but A might be.” Sighing heavily, she told me I mustn’t encourage her to save every random piece of junk that crosses her path, otherwise she will grow up a hoarder.

But I’m not encouraging her to save junk. Every few weeks, we tidy up her bedroom together, and I explain that there’s only so much space, and perhaps she needs to decide which of her bits and pieces she really needs to hang onto. What I am encouraging her to do is take responsibility for her toys and decide for herself what she wants to keep. I think she stands a better chance of having a healthy attitude to her possessions that way than if I snatch the decisions out of her control.

More importantly, I’m encouraging her to trust me. I want her to go to nursery, secure in the knowledge that I won’t use the time while she’s out of the house to sneak things into the dustbin. I haven’t forgotten how it felt to come home from the shops and find the cardboard box that was my house and my boat sitting on a pile of rubbish at the gate; that’s one thing A will not be going through at my hands. As long as she trusts me and I respect that trust, I don’t really care if she fills her bedroom with crayon packets.

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Carrying my boy

When I read when it was published, I absolutely loved this post, and I often think of it when I’m out and about with R.  Can you guess why?  On that post, and several others on that very excellent blog there is a child, slightly smaller than R but near enough in size to make me think of him, being carried, carried, carried, here, there and everywhere, and that is me.  I carry R anywhere and everywhere. This is at his request.  I do like to carry him, it makes conversations much easier, and means we get to have a cuddle, but I would also sometimes like to spare my aching back and hips and have him walk.  I do occasionally have to put him down before he’s ready, saying I just have to give my back a minute to go back to the shape it should be, and then I’ll pick him up again.

Some readers may already know that I tried to solve this problem (which isn’t really a problem, but you know what I mean) by getting a sling, but that was a complete disaster.  R wants my arms around him, he wants to be at the front, or at the very least at the side, he seems to like having his face really close to mine. So I carry him, and I carry him, and then I carry him some more.  Especially now I have finally given up on pushchairs – the back wheel did finally come off our fourth and final pushchair – either we’re very hard on them or they’re just not that well made – I carry him even more.

Usually he sits on my left hip, and I’ve got pretty good at just holding him with my left hand while I do stuff (pack shopping, pay the bus driver, carry bags etc) with my right hand.  I can do that for quite a long time now, all that carrying must have built up my muscles!

But, for when my right hand is free to hold him too, I have developed a really effective hold that we both like, and that I can keep up for even longer.  He goes at the front, and I lock my fingers together with my palms face up and he just sits on my hands like that.  It’s sort of the position he would be in if he were in a front carry in a baby carrier.  I find I can carry him quite low like that so that I can look over the top of his head most of the time instead of having to try and see around him all the time.  He’s really good about keeping his head out of the way anyway, bless him. He seems more comfortable like this too.  I have a nicely padded belly for him to rest against.  I have no idea what he weighs, but he is a tall 3 year old and this is by far the most comfortable way to carry him without a sling, with the hip carry a close second. The advantage with the front carry is obviously that all the weight isn’t on just one side, and my arms can share his weight, meaning they don’t start to hurt so quickly!  That said, it’s surprising how long you can carry on even after your arm starts hurting.  But with this particular way of carrying him at the front, I haven’t yet had any pain, in my back or my arms or anywhere. It just feels completely natural.

So, we’re happy, and I’ve just got used to carrying him all the time now, I don’t expect anything else.  What surprises by sometimes though, even though I don’t really know why it should, is the response from other people.  Apparently, according to some, R is “too old” to need carrying.  He should be walking everywhere (don’t get me wrong, he does use his legs sometimes!)  Some people think that me carrying him is somehow “spoiling” him, or “giving in” to him, or, that old favourite, “making a rod for my own back”.  But these are the kinds of attitudes we’ve come to expect, I suppose, when we do anything that the majority of parents choose not to do.  It’s such a shame that seeing even tiny babies being carried instead of pushed around in those enormous padded prams is a relatively rare sight.  I saw a woman breastfeeding the other week, she was sitting on a box in the middle of a toy shop and just got on with it; I was not only filled with admiration for her, but it also struck me how little we see this, or at least how little I see it, it might be different for other people.  The last time I saw a women breastfeeding before this was months ago, at a toddler group we went to.  Isn’t it terrible?

To answer those charges:  I don’t think it’s possible to “spoil” a child.  R will never be “too old” for me to carry him, as long as I’m physically able, and I’m not “giving in” because there was no power struggle in the first place for me to “give in” to. I just listen to him asking to be carried, and do my best to accommodate him, in an effort to ensure his continued sense of security and happiness.  I am not “making a rod for my own back” because I am as happy with the arrangement as he is, and I’ve even developed a really effective, comfortable hold that is enjoyable for us both. 🙂

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I’ve heard some people who parent gently say “I don’t need experts, I just trust my instincts”, or “you should never learn parenting from a book”. Well, I don’t entirely agree.

My childhood was abusive. As a result, I had no good model for how to parent, and my “instincts” were shaped in pain and fear. The only instinct I did have was that I didn’t want to parent how my parents did. I knew I didn’t want to smack, ever. I also knew I never wanted my child to cry himself to sleep. Beyond that, I knew nothing.

I even, initially, liked experts like Jo Frost (Supernanny) because she “got the children to behave without ever smacking them”. Given this was a vast improvement on my own childhood, I watched her programme avidly while I was pregnant. Until, once, I saw her really hurt a child by dragging him by the arm to the naughty step. That really upset me and at that point even my dimmed instincts told me “this isn’t quite right”.

I looked to Gina Ford, and her Contented Little Baby Book. The version I had was one of the early ones where she talks about leaving small babies to cry, and about weaning from breastfeeding as soon as possible. The tiny amount of instinct I did have told me this wasn’t an expert I wanted to follow either, and when I learned about her attempting to sue a parenting forum because one or two of its members had said unkind things about her, I knew I wasn’t going to take advice from a bully.

I looked at The Baby Whisperer by the late Tracy Hogg. It seemed gentler, but even then, something about it wasn’t quite right. It was the story of the woman who was “still” breastfeeding her two year old behind her husband’s back. My instinct said “what a horrible man”. Tracy said it was the mother’s fault, and that breastfeeding a toddler was wrong.

It wasn’t until after I’d given birth someone recommended the Sears’ books to me, in particular The Baby Book. Although the heteronormativity, and classism in the book really got to me, the majority of their actual information on babies rang true to what little instinct I had. Being able bodied meant I was able to use a sling, and this stopped my baby’s near constant crying.

Learning that bedsharing was not only okay but might even be a more “instinctive” way to parent was a huge relief to me as I’d been doing it “accidentally” already, and feeling terribly guilty for doing so. My then husband set up a side-car arrangement with the cot fastened onto the bed. Gradually me and the baby ended up sleeping in the spare bedroom together, as things between my then husband and I became strained (various reasons).

I read more books which resonated with how I felt. Unconditional Parenting in particular hit a nerve with me. Of course! Punishments worked in the short term, but in the long term tell the child nothing of the “why not”. Putting a child on a naughty step for hitting, for example, tells a child that hitting is undesirable behaviour, but doesn’t try to understand why the child hit out in the first place, and usually doesn’t attempt to tell the child why hitting is wrong. Extrinsic (external) rewards also don’t teach a child why something is right. A sweet or a star on a chart won’t teach a child why tidying up is a good thing. It may get the child to tidy, but doesn’t explain why (because it’s easier to run about on a clear floor, it’s not right for Mum to have to tidy everything, it’s dangerous to have toys lying around, and so on).

Kohn also argues that children view punishments as withdrawal of love, and rewards as bestowing love, whether or not that is our intention. So in the examples above, we’re saying “I don’t love you when you hit. I love you when you tidy”. We shouldn’t be using love as a bargaining chip.

Kohn’s book, and other similar “experts” resonated well with what I was trying to do; give my child a relatively happy childhood, help develop his internal moral compass, help him to grow into a happy adult and so on. I sought out other books that worked along these lines.

I was starting to learn that I did have instincts after all, but that they’d just been hidden away. Personally speaking, I did need the experts to help me, but only to an extent. My instincts and the right “experts” work in tandem to help me parent.

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