The title above is a quote from Dr Maya Angelou, and it goes a little way to helping relieve the guilt I feel over so many aspects of our parenting of The Princess in the first two years of her little life. But it doesn’t go as far as stopping me from desperately wanting to turn the clock back three and a bit years, to understand all that I now understand about natural and normal sleeping patterns, feeding patterns, baby behaviour, how the early weeks and months of motherhood are difficult and lonely and how most mothers feel the same.
In my pregnant ignorance, I believed motherhood was some kind of dreamy, saccharin amalgam of soft-focus TV adverts and glossy-paged magazine spreads; achieving domestic-goddess perfection by 11am, a six-mile pram-push in the afternoon helping to maintain my pre-pregnancy figure which I, naturally, sprung back into only a week after delivery, leaving the evenings free for The Boyfriend to bond with the baby while I write my best seller.
The contrast between the romantic notions swirling around my head and the reality of motherhood was as stark as the difference between The Care Bears Movie and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Which is funny, because my perineum resembled one of Leatherface’s victims after almost 3 hours of pushing a massive baby with a massive head against a pelvis that was incapable of allowing her through.
After almost eight months of depression, anxiety over leaving the house, fear of someone, everyone, wanting to murder me and my baby, hallucinations, paranoia and sleep deprivation, I finally relented and caved in to sleep-training. I had sought advice from family, from the internet, from friends, from the health visitor and from the GP, who either had no experience of a baby who just refused to sleep, and therefore had no helpful advice, or maintained that the ONLY way to get through the nights of getting 4 hours of very broken sleep was to employ controlled crying. For almost eight months I followed my gut instinct and refused to believe that controlled crying was the answer to anything at all, but then after almost eight months of living with a baby whose idea of a nap was to be walked, danced, rocked and cuddled for two hours while physically fighting the urge to sleep, then sleep for ten minutes but only if she was lying in the arms of an exhausted parent, before twitching her limbs so hard she had no choice but to wake again, and who woke in the night to feed for 30 seconds, before declaring it playtime Every. Sodding. Hour, I had reached the very end of my frazzled, psychotic little tether, and I put my co-sleeping baby into her own cot in her own room and stood next to her while she cried for a cuddle.
Every nerve in my body told me it was the wrong thing to do, but every article I read on the internet said it would work, that it would work quickly and that within a week, we would all be sleeping like…well, you know. The fact that I was due back to work a month later was the deciding factor. If I had had the time to wait it out, I probably would have done, but the thought of having to commute 14 miles each way, to work in a job that requires complete focus, and to achieve that on a total of four hours sleep a night sent me into a state of panic.
I hate that I ignored my gut instincts. I hate that I forced my baby to sleep out of exhaustion of crying, or out of acknowledgement that her cries would only be ignored. I hate that I now know my baby girl was stressed and the reason she slept was because she shut down, not that she had magically learned to self-soothe and had learned the beauty of a full night’s sleep.
I also hate the fact that before her second birthday we had used the well-known technique of the naughty step to demonstrate what was good behaviour and what was bad. This, too, never sat comfortably with me, it felt a lot like dog-training and little like connecting with my daughter, or embracing her feisty and spirited personality. But again, it was touted as a well-used, well-known parenting tool, and it certainly seemed to work for Ms Frost. No-one wants to raise bratty, unruly, selfish kids,like all those delinquents on her TV show before she works her magic, so the naughty step must be the answer.
It wasn’t long, however, before I discovered ‘gentle’ parenting, which felt so much more natural, more ‘us’, more like the kind of parenting I wanted to practice, and helped me to question and shun the Supernanny-esque techniques that we had been practising.
I have no idea when it was that I found the gentle parenting path, what was the first article I read, or who pointed me in this direction, but the more I read the more I discovered how damaging some mainstream parenting techniques can be, and how effective, healthy, and loving, if a little more time-consuming, the gentler techniques are.
Little Pea will only ever know parenting that demonstrates respect, empathy, love and understanding of the child psyche. The Princess on the other hand, although the way The Boyfriend and I parent her this way now, has unfortunately experienced a less than gentle approach, and I worry daily about the damage this has done to her. When she needs extra reassurance, when she is terrified at loud noises, when she is sad but can’t or won’t say why, I worry that I did this to her, that I ignored her, and tried to mould her into someone she was never meant to be, that instead of trying harder to understand and learn about the normal behaviour and psychology of a two year old, I punished her and pushed her away.
But I try not to dwell on the guilt and the sense of failure (not that easy for a Catholic mother with depression, impossibly high expectations and low self-esteem), and turn to Dr Angelou’s words of gentle forgiveness, and now I know better, I am doing better.
If you are embarking on your own gentle parenting journey, I would highly recommend reading some or all of the following: