New parents have a lot of choices to make when their first baby arrives. Whether to breast- or bottle-feed; whether to follow the advice about where baby should sleep, put her straight in a cot in the nursery or bring her into bed with them; whether to follow strict routines, baby, or something in between; whether to use baby wipes and Johnson’s bubble bath, or warm water and cotton wool; whether to wash clothes in non-biological washing products, or go for the dazzling whites and bright colours of the biological…
More choices come up as the new baby moves through the first few months: when to wean and how; when to stop breast-feeding; when to introduce dairy; whether and when to go back to work; who to leave baby with; if and when to start pre-school; when to start potty training; how to deal with unwanted behaviour…
And for almost every one of these decisions, the new parents will need to justify them to at least one person, if not many. The most common people to question parenting choices are the grandparents. So much has changed since they were parents that it is fairly inevitable that some choices will be different to theirs. Many grandparents feel it is criticism of their own parenting choices when their children do something differently, rather than a desire to follow the latest guidance and advice. But they also have many years of child-rearing and parenting behind them and, as we all know, it is only nature to want to give advice and make suggestions; to share one’s own mistakes and successes in the hope that the new parents will gain from our experiences.
And it’s not just grandparents giving the advice. Friends who already have children will shower you with tips and stories of how they did this and that. They will also seem offended when you appear to make a different choice to them. They will wonder why you don’t listen when they tell you to baby really should go to sleep on his own and not be rocked or fed to sleep. They will wonder why you don’t listen when they tell you that baby really needs some porridge or banana at four months, because she’s quite clearly ready for solids. For the most part it is well-meaning, though it rarely feels so to the new parents finding their feet and needing to find their own way of doing things, however many mistakes they make along the way.
And then the second baby comes along. From what I’ve seen (and what I’m experiencing myself now), unless theirs a very large gap between the two, the tendency is to just do things the same way as you did with the first, perhaps trying to alter a few things that didn’t work quite as well as you would have hoped. With first babies you read all the latest advice and studies about all the parenting choices, in an attempt to come up with ones that will suit you, incorporating your gut-feelings, your families’ experiences and what your peers on baby forums or parenting blogs are saying. With second babies you stick with the research from a year ago, three years ago, even five. Which may mean you’re going against the some of the latest research. But it worked for Baby 1 – it will work for Baby 2, as well.
For the record, I breastfed Rosemary; she slept in a crib next to me until she was about seven or eight months, coming in to our bed to feed and quite often to sleep, as well; we followed Rosemary for our routines, having no need to do otherwise (working from home gives ultimate flexibility here); we used warm water and cotton wool to top and tail her and only bathed her about once a week (just in warm water) until she was around about six or seven months and starting to (very messily) eat food; and we used non-biological washing blobs, obsessively (re-washed any clothes that came from shops or friends and relatives, even ones I knew used non-biological powder, anyway).
We did baby-led weaning, letting her help herself to food on our plates from about six months and gradually putting her in her high-chair at the table with offerings of various finger food; I didn’t stop breast-feeding until Rosemary was just over two; she had dairy from as soon as she started eating, but didn’t have cow’s milk until she was a year; I was working within a few days of Rosemary’s birth, though obviously not full-time, gradually adding more and more hours as she got older; my mum came to look after her here until she was about 14 months and then she started going back to her house with her (I didn’t let anyone else push her in her buggy without me until she was six months old, when both grandmothers got to take her out and take turns); she started nursery school at 2 years 3 months and was very ready for it and is starting playgroup in a couple of weeks (we had expected that she wouldn’t go until she was three, but we followed her lead and needs); we also followed her lead with potty-training, taking it as easily and slowly as we could (she’s pretty much potty-trained in the day now, with occasional accidents when overly excited or very tired, though she’s still not mastered night-time); our dealing with unwanted behaviour has not been particularly well planned and we will probably try different approaches next time (we both shouted far too often and didn’t have consistent approaches, in fact we weren’t even consistent on what was unwanted behaviour).
Will we do everything the same way next time? For the most part, yes. But it will be tempered with our experiences, so it’s quite likely that Baby Number 2 will not be rocked or fed to sleep (though I reserve the right to change my mind); there may be a bit more routine, to fit in with Rosemary’s routine (though we’re fortunate that there are two of us at home all the time, so we won’t need to be quite as regimented as others – Chris will be able to take Rosemary to playgroup, while I stay with baby, for example); we’ll probably offer Baby Number 2 more meat when doing the baby-led-weaning; I’ll probably let other people push Baby Number 2 around in the buggy from a much earlier age and hopefully we’ll do better with behaviour management, once the terrible twos come into play again.
Did you feel you had to defend your parenting choices? Did you change them with subsequent children or stick with what worked? Do you feel upset or disapproving when a close friend or relative makes a different parenting choice to you?