Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Labouring in vain?

Just finished my first read relating to pregnancy and child-rearing, at 26 weeks. Child Rearing for Fun by Anne Atkins.

She is fairly annoying: right-wing, evangelical Christian, forthright. But for every 'fact' presented as such because it once appeared in the Daily Telegraph (!) there was an insightful sentence or two.

It's my first 'mummy' book because I studiously avoid most sources of advice. In general, be they online, in print or spoken by acquaintances, these are presented as vital and unequivocal when in fact they are the opinion of one or more people who are much more concerned with justifying their own parenting style than helping you with yours.

And they lead me to feelings of inadequacy, stress and confusion.

Why are we bombarded with attention and words of wisdom once with child? I do appreciate that the task ahead is profound. And that a swollen belly gives people otherwise shy and unsure a great way to connect with you. It can be nice.

But it is more often disconcerting. Strangers suddenly start explaining how you ought to live your life. Or even, in one case, stroking my tummy for about 10 straight seconds. Borderline abuse, really. And quite unsettling when heretofore you have been completely ignored by the world!

My husband would say I am rebellious ... but even the (again, very often conflicting) professional advice is claustrophobic. And I confess one of the ways I have dealt with that is to have eaten most of the foods one is not supposed to eat once or twice, had the occasional drink, carried on exercising in the same vein as before and avoided coming up with a birth plan with great determination. (I wouldn't advise anyone else to do these things, incidentally.)

Going back to the book, a friend whose parenting I respect recommended it. It tries to drag parenting back from the grips of wide-eyed, earnest advisers into the realm of the amateur human-being, for whom this great task can be normal, natural and more-than-likely something they do well and enjoy.

When you push all the well-meaning advice to its limit, I suppose what it is all about is avoiding death. The worst outcome of the 'wrong' choices during pregnancy or parenthood is the death of a child.

This would be inexplicably awful to endure.

And yet .... it lies not within my power to eradicate death from my child's future. I do not say this to advocate carelessness - simply to point out that carefulness is not the final answer.

One of Anne Atkins rather frustrating 'faith' interjections did make me stop and wonder about the source of my own attitude, which seems to be rather laid back and dismissive of those who advocate striving for parental perfection. She says that even death is a temporary separation. That our mortal choices will always be flawed but that if mistakes are made, they and any consequences can and will be redeemed in some wider realm. That human birth and death are only one part of a journey.

I too have this belief running through my veins. And perhaps it alters how I approach childbirth and child-rearing. I think that may be right. I hadn't considered my own stance in that light before.

In any case, now that's done, I'm back to Harry Potter and Doris Lessing.






2 comments:

Dr Danny said...

Unusually, I completely disagree. Why wouldn't you want to take advice on one of the biggest and most important things you have ever done, from people who have been there before? They may have conflicting views and you might not agree with everything they say, but if you've not raised a child, how can you possibly know best? And why make it harder for yourself by reinventing the wheel - people have been there before, why not use them? Surely the intelligent thing is to read what other people say, and ask what other people do, think about their theories, balance them up against each other and then make informed decisions about how to raise your child.

Having a child may be the most natural thing in the world, but there are a lot of messed up human beings in the world as a result of their parents. Isn't arrogant to assume that we will manage to get it right all on our own?

anna p said...

No doubt it is arrogance, in part, that means others' advice stresses me out. Hard to say...

It's more the tone of the delivery and the intent behind what's said than the giving of information that bothers me. (One woman told me at the gym I shouldn't be there and should be looking after my babies better - is she really concerned about my babies or simply enjoying getting on a high horse?) And of course, where friends I know and respect give me tips, that's a totally different kettle of fish.

I have also witnessed more friends getting worked up by all the books, websites and professional advice they've heard than I have by mistakes they make in ignorance. Some of whom ended up in post-natal depression as a result of trying too hard to be perfect.

I also find that it is totally impossible to avoid the information coming at you altogether. Which is no doubt a very good thing. But some effort in that direction means I don't become overwhelmed.