Friday, 24 April 2009

Parenting choices

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?


  1. I kept my parenting choices the same with all my babies because i know it works for the whole family. my moto is 'if it isn't broke don't fix it!' so i stay consistant and new baby has slotted right in with our current routine, i will do the same with her as i did with all the others and they have turned out well, they sleep well and are generaly well behaved. It doesn't really bother me if someone makes a different parenting choice to me because every mum is different and we all have to find ways that suit ourselves not what a book,relative or health visitor says. I've always stayed true to my motherly instincts and for now (touch wood) i am doing fine and most of the time they are right so i will keep following them x x

  2. This post is superbly written. I have had to defend my parenting choices on many occasions; predominently in relation to letting babies cry, b/feeding on demand, and BLW, which my MIL thought was tantamount to child abuse. I realised fairly early that whilst Twin 2 was a carbon copy of her big brother, Twin 1 required kid glove handling and I have had to adapt my approach accordingly.

  3. I had done on-demand breast-feeding with baby number 1 (not so much a choice, as what the midwives, NCT and health visitors all said to do). Then Gina Ford wrote her book. When I had baby number 2, I thought routine would be a good thing, so thought I'd try Gina. It lasted about 2 days. There is just no way you can manage it with an older child in the picture, if you haven't had previous practice. You're meant to have got up, expressed milk, and done the first feed by 7.00am, and then put baby down for a nap (if I remember). But if you're exhausted with a broken night, and are having to get up soon after 7.00 with a toddler or preschooler and therefore can't go back to bed when the baby does, it's just a dreadful start to the day.

    In any case, baby number 2 turned out to be a not-very-routiney baby, so I'm not sure it would have worked all that well anyway.

    I was already a muddle-through type of mother, so when number 3 arrived, I wasn't likely to change. I think she would have responded very well to a very fixed routine, but with two older children and no previous practice in the art of routines, that was always going to be hard.

    It takes a while to work out that a second baby is a different person. Somehow, although we know intellectually that of course that's true, in practice we kind of expect them to be the same as the first. It feels frustrating that what worked first time round isn't working this time.

  4. Amy: Good for you! I am constantly amazed at how well you do. You are very right that everyone has to find their own way that is right for them and their children. But even though I know that logically, I still feel secretly pleased when a friend takes up BLW because it worked so well for us, and secretly hurt when a friend doesn't! Silly.

    MTJAM: Thank you. It's an interesting point that it's often necessary to adapt your methods to fit with differing temperaments and the like. I'm hoping that Baby Number 2 inherits my ability to sleep anywhere the second I lie down, rather than Chris' inability to sleep or get back to sleep, which Rosemary has been lumped with.

    Iota: I am definitely a muddle-along mum; as I am a muddle-along everything, really, though I can sometimes bring organisation into my work. I never been much into the idea of routines, but I think Rosemary is actually happier with some kind of routine - at least as far as a fairly definite bedtime and pattern to week days - so I've kind of ended up with a bit of a routine. And, as a bonus, the dog is happier too, because he gets his walk at pretty much exactly the same time every day. Goodness knows how everyone is going to cope in the autumn when a new baby is thrown into the mix!

  5. Interesting. Always interesting Tasha. It's funny - most of the things we tried with baby 1 worked well so we thought baby 2 would be a breeze - everything already tried and tested, etc. But I was so wrong - don't mean to worry you about your second of course! But baby 1 - breastfed, never cried, slept pretty well, etc. Baby 2 - never slept and couldn't breastfeed properly. Loads of other things were different too. And now, even though they are both girls they are so so different in both looks and personality. With baby 2 it's as though I had had no experience at all - might as well not have had a baby before for all the help it was!! You never can tell!

  6. MT: Blimey, you know how to scare a girl, don't you?! I do know, in my head, that there's a good chance that Baby Number 2 will be very different from Rosemary, but I am still hoping that we'll be able to learn from some of our mistakes with her and put them into practice with Number 2. If Number 2 is completely different, though, I imagine it might not apply anyway. I suppose it's just a case of waiting and seeing and adapting to whatever, or whoever, comes our way!

  7. Have two things to say sorry to your for...

    1 - sorry for frightening you!

    2 - Sorry but I tagged you over at mine!!

  8. Both my babies were and are very different, but similar things did work, and if not I picked up new ideas from friends and my sister in law. We had a 4 and a half year gap between our two so while some things came back easily, other things I looked to the latest information for.

    One of my best friends is now pregnant with her first child (I'm so excited), and while I know I'll offer her advice, I told her the best thing she can do is to follow her instincts and do what she feels is best for her baby. As a new parent I had so little confidence in some ways and as Miss E had colic for about 8 months and I was in my final year of an English degree I went for the 'whatever works today' method.

    With Miss M I had lots of plans, but as she couldn't breast feed and struggled to bottle feed at first, in a way I took the pressure off myself from then on and made my own choices. I'm sure the same will happen for you.

  9. I didn't feel the need to defend anything I did with my children as I came from a position of knowledge.
    I read everything I could lay my hands on, spoke to friends with children, watched endless tV shows and probably had baby facts coming out of my ears!
    However, I had two VERY different babies.
    My first was easy peasy. A dream baby. I thought 'what's all this fuss over parenting lark? It's bloody easy'. Then I had my daughter and oh boy did none of my parenting 'tricks' work on her!
    I think everyone should do what is right for them. It's fine to get advice but you don't have to take it if you don't want to.

  10. I have to say my 3 have all been very different. Where I used to live, if you pulled out a bottle, you'd be met with censorious looks but so many of the mums at baby group fretted about the right way to feed, wean, dress, potty train etc. Where I live now, people are asking if I'm STILL b/feeding, which I find odd as he's only 6 months and has about another year to go. What I did do with #3 was to introduce a breastflow bottle early (#2 didn't sleep and wouldn't have a bottle, so the nights, for the first year, could be a killer). With #3 I have trusted my instincts a lot more plus, you are armed with the knowledge that things change so quickly..phases pass, children are tucking into 3 square meals (eventually) and, for the most part, do sleep through....eventually!!

  11. Thank you for your lovely reply I've tagged you on my blog so you can join in with the tagging fever x

  12. Jo: Four and a half years sounds like a huge gap, but actually it must be quite a nice one, because you get the time to give Number 2 much more attention than you might otherwise.

    Tara: I am crossing my fingers that we get the opposite of your situation! I also soaked up everything about babies with Rosemary, but am not doing so much this time round.

    Katherine: I think your last point is very important. Knowing that phases don't last long, I think will make a big difference to coping with them.

    MT and amy: Thank you for the tags!

  13. Hello, found you on british mummy bloggers. LOvely post. My biggest find with number two was that breast feeding on demand when you have another kid to attend too means a lot more breastfeeding at night, my baby boy could often only get a really good long feed in at night, and I think both he, and I cherished that one on one time. My daughter slept al night by three months (not by any imposed routine), my son only slept through by 12 months. I didn't believe in controlled crying type of sleep trainng, still not sure if I do, but I did it, since learned that sheer tiredness will drive you to any solution. Very best of luck with number two, for me it was mainly much easier than the first time around.

  14. Geekymum: Hi there. Nice to hear that it was mostly easier second time round! Hadn't really thought about the difficulties of bf on demand with another little one running around. Chris will just have to do Rosemary duty when necessary, I suppose.