- Aiming to be the perfect parent?
- Or a ‘good-enough’ parent?
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When you have a new baby, the first milestone is surviving the first six weeks; as if by then, you will have become seasoned parenting experts. Or worse, discover that you are failures and abysmal ones at that. Parenting is so full of absolutes, with high expectations brought to bear that are unrealistic and damaging for most parties. Women in particular, are hard on themselves, as if their successes in their working lives confers an expectation that they can manage it all. Even though they have gone on maternity leave or intend to, the shift from competent adult, used to rational and reasonable interactions with others, while at work, will not necessarily equip her well into becoming a new and fledgling mother, where she is less than competent.
Mothering is challenging and confronting and none more so than in the area of perceived competency. Babies however don’t evaluate their mothers on learned competencies, but rather their mother’s rate of responsiveness towards their needs. Other adults are the ones who are highly likely to make judgements on their perception of her competencies, as in: does she pick her baby up the instant he/she cries, or is she a more confident mother that she can let her baby cry a little without seeming to worry about it. Or maybe she is a bad mother after all by letting her cry to the point the listener/observer becomes uncomfortable themselves and so on. All perspective based on another’s experience that may have no basis of reality with the scene unfolding before them. With so many willing and incidental judges of parenting (especially mothering as opposed to fathering), women can be reluctant and adverse to putting a foot wrong.
One of my clients is experiencing difficulty with their baby who cries when put into the car. They were under the erroneous impression that babies love being driven about in cars, and at 16 weeks old, their baby girl is saying no to car trips. This will change in time. Babies are always changing. However, new parents are often fearful to take risks or provoke more change, especially when confronted by uncomfortable behaviour they don’t know how to respond to or fix. The over-caring parent then becomes the submissive, insecure and doubtful parent who doesn’t dare do anything that might make the situation worse. Less sleep, more crying, more anxiety, more self-doubt. All reasonably natural to pursue that course of inaction. But if you wait for baby to lead the way all the time, it’s like watching the weather change from fine to stormy, from night to day. It’s a parent’s job to provide structure, security and safety, love and food to their child. Structure implies a held environment, something of substance and a steadiness of hand. Structure also suggests a building upon, as in what makes up a structure, the forming composition that gives it its shape and form – like parenting. It requires someone to be in charge, and to make mistakes as is expected, in order to learn from mistakes.
The trouble with parenting these days, is that we live in a brand new world that prizes connectivity as an essential must-have, and women see no reason for that to not be a valid part of their mothering experience. And why not. By the same token, women expect to be more because of this connectivity and accessibility to it, that their mothering skills are by default, so much better than prior generations because they are more educated, enjoy more work diversity, expanded career opportunities and have far more freedoms and choices than any other generation in the western world.
All of that expectation means that they often miss out on the simple transactional nature of mothering – holding your baby close for as long as it takes and being completely focussed on that one thing, and not a myriad of things at the one time. Noticing the small responses of your baby and then your responses and stimulus to your baby and being simply in the here and now. Present.
Babies don’t really fit in to our lives; rather we fit ourselves around our babies. Babies don’t get schedules, sometimes night and day can be a mystery to some babies. They get being held, cuddled, fed, comforted, sleeping, talked to, looked at and responded to. When their lack of stimulus (crying in most instances) is not responded to, babies tend to amp up their stimulus output and when ultimately attended to, may be inconsolable for a while.
Babies and smartphones are vile competitors in the same pair of hands. It’s best to put one down while holding the other. Or if it’s too hard to even contemplate, then some mindfulness breathing might be indicated to lessen the attachment and overcome the craving to see whose doing what somewhere or whose saying something somewhere.
Being over-connected tends to get in the way of being present. In one spot, in one breath and still for a moment or more, is a different kind of freedom.
Claire Cleaver is a Birth Educator, counsellor and bodyworker and specialises in pregnancy and postnatal services.
Contact Claire on 0438 216 351
The Healing Practice is located at 129b Balmain Rd (next to the Cupcake Room), Leichhardt NSW 2040