Interested to read this in the Observer yesterday. Academics at Warwick University asked mothers how they felt about parenting manuals and found that for most, they were the opposite of helpful. According to their research, childcare ‘bibles’ left their readers feeling ‘dispirited’ and ‘inadequate’.
The headline made me feel a little defensive, at first. After all, I’ve spent the last five years of my life writing ten parenting manuals of one sort or another, and there’s no way I’d have had any part in that if the end result caused mums to be more bewildered and unhappy than they were before reading them.
The study honed in on six parenting gurus in particular, representing a spectrum of theories that spanned the last century: Frederic Truby King, whose methods caused an outcry when they featured in a Channel 4 reality show Bringing Up Baby, since his rigid schedules and firm approach make Gina Ford look like a total wuss; John Bowlby, a fella I’d never heard of, but having duly looked him up I can tell you he pioneered the attachment theory, so, pretty much the opposite of Truby King, and - by all accounts - no fan of working mothers; Donald Winnicott, mostly famous for coining the phrases ‘transitional object’, aka comfort blanket, and ‘good enough mother’, ie, what we all want to hear it’s ok to be, thus, seems like a reasonable guy to me; Dr Benjamin Spock, the paediatrician who argued it was better to be nice to your kids and then got the blame for permissive parenting (and, of course, not to be confused with Dr Spock of Starship Enterprise fame); Penelope Leach; the touchy-feely psychologist who says babies come first and that’s that; and last but not least, best-selling purveyor of Contented Babies, Gina Ford. I’ll say no more on the subject of Ms Ford because I posted about her a few weeks ago and because I prefer to remain neutral since a) she’s got a hot legal team and b) she does actually have a great many fans among mums who say her methods saved their sanity, and that is not to be sniffed at.
Well, anyhoo, what this academic was saying was that these so-called experts – regardless of their very different messages – were all a bit bossy, and too prescriptive, and set the bar so high for mums that it made them feel like failures.
Fair enough. I suspect that in the case of all these authors, it’s a reasonable charge. What I’d just like to say here, by way of defence, is that NONE OF MY BOOKS ARE BOSSY! My Netmums books are all written round the theory that 'there's no one way to parent'. And my White Ladder Press titles are, likewise, intended to be entirely without presciption - as I aim to point out in the introduction of my latest, the not-published-til-July First Time Mum:
‘…You might notice that my advice is rarely definitive, or prescriptive. There’s a good reason for that: all babies are different, and so are all mums. And if I’ve learned one thing as a writer, and as a mum myself, it’s this: whilst there are very few absolute rights and wrongs in parenting, there are lots of maybes, sort-ofs, and perhapses….’
Does this get me off the hook on the matter? I sure hope so. I would really like to think my books help parents, not hinder them.