What if you’re not doing it all wrong?

Attempting to watch the news while having my temperature taken by the toddler doctor and making smooching noises at the Christmas Ham (aka the baby – pink and delicious) an ad came on for a current affairs show. Something alarming: ARE YOU BUILDING UP YOUR CHILDREN TOO MUCH? DO THEY HAVE TOO MUCH CONFIDENCE? And some soundbites from experts telling us about the new way we are ruining our kids by loving them too much.

And I thought to myself – without even thinking it if you get my drift – Hmmm I should watch that. I am always encouraging Eddie and I do build him up what if I’m hurting him what if I’m doing the opposite…Then suddenly, like a lightening bolt to my sleep deprived brain I realised how fucking absurd it was that I was even considering watching some BS from parenting “experts” who want to tell me how to love my child (but not too much that they become serial killers or something).

I’m saying no to experts.

I’m saying no to the countless people who make money from telling parents they’re doing everything wrong. By not putting them to sleep the right way. By using the wrong product. By not feeding them the way that expert says they should be fed. By not putting them on a schedule or by putting them in a routine. Or letting them dress themselves or not using time out or not setting the right boundaries in the right places. It’s never ending. It’s relentless. It’s bullshit.

I can’t keep up with the advice and 99% of it goes against what I feel is right. And if it doesn’t feel right – why the fuck am I doing it? Who knows my sons better than I do? Nobody. Nobody does. Why would I ever consider that building up my sensitive child is hurting him? Why would I believe some expert who is trying to sell me something over what I know is true about my little boy?

Why would I leave my little one to cry at night just because someone who has never met him insists it’s the only way to get him to sleep? I know this isn’t true because my older one sleeps (most of the time) and I always cuddled him and rocked him and fed him to sleep. I co-slept and he doesn’t sleep with us (most nights) anymore. So why do I ever consider for a moment that an expert who will charge me $150 a “consultation” is correct when they say co-sleeping means he’ll never sleep on his own?

I think maybe I know why. I think it’s the same reason any of us look to books or experts or websites – We will do anything for our kids and we’re desperate to do the right thing by them. We don’t ever want to hurt them. We want them to sleep. We need them to sleep. We want them to feel confident, but also safe, and loved. What parent doesn’t want that? And if we think the answer lies in a book well of course we will bloody read it.

But reading everything and listening to every expert isn’t helping me – it’s making me stop trusting myself. It’s making me anxious.

So no more experts. I’m trusting my gut. I’m surrendering to where I’m at now with sleep. I’m listening to myself when I remind myself at 2am that we’ve been through this before and all kids eventually sleep. I am refusing to listen to things that make no logical sense like “loving your kids to much” or “babies don’t need milk overnight after X weeks”. I’m reminding myself that these experts make money from my fear and my love for my children.

I’m tired of people telling parents they’re not doing it right so that they can tell them how to do it.

I’m choosing my own experts. I’m listening to my sister who parents bravely and honestly. I can see her children are growing up in an environment where they’re built up to be strong and resilient but also allowed to own and honour their feelings. I’m listening to my friends who are mums – who give their perspectives without judgement, who share their joy and their pain with me so I know I’m not alone. I’m listening to mums in this community who reach out across the world to say – Hey, you’re doing great, it’s OK, this worked for me – I don’t know if it will work for you but let’s share our experiences here so we can do this together.

I’m also choosing the experts who don’t call themselves experts. They’re the ones who aren’t constantly pushing their products and forcing clickbait bullshit “the 10 ways you’re destroying your kids” to get you to buy their book.

I’m choosing experts like Pinky Mckay. Pinky was the first expert I saw who told me to trust my instincts. To ask myself questions about parenting and then to actually respect and honour my answers. This, from Pinky, is the best advice I’ve ever received about….ummm…taking advice:

Whenever you hear advice that doesn’t feel quite right to you or if you hear about a new approach and you aren’t quite certain about it, it is good to put this through your filters and do a check in. To make this simple I have three questions you can ask yourself:

Is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right?

So, nope, I won’t be tuning into this show that is all about telling me I need to build up my child’s confidence by saying they’re great but not too great and only great when they’re doing something great and *screams forever*.

I know my sons. I know the Ham loves milk. I know he loves kisses behind his ears. I know that when he screams at night and I go to him and he’s wound tight like a little spring and he’s sweaty and scared and I hold him to me – I know he stops crying. I know his little body softens in my arms. I know he stops flailing about as soon as we touch. That’s all the evidence I need that I’m doing the right thing by him and by me by going to him again and again and again and again.

I know my Eddie has nightmares and he needs to tell me about it even if it’s 4am. And once he’s told me and we have had a cuddle he can go back to sleep. My evidence is that when he’s scared and shaking and he leaps into my arms his breathing stops being laboured as he presses his cheek to my cheek and his shoulders drop and his hands stop wringing. I can see that letting him come to us is working for us.

Every family is different. Every child is different. What works for my child won’t work for yours. What works for yours won’t work for mine. Or maybe it will. Either way – it doesn’t matter. We might all be muddling through, trying to be good parents, but that’s enough I reckon – we’re trying to do our best.

We are the experts when it comes to our kids – Let’s trust ourselves. Let’s ask for help when we need it. Support each other. Share our experiences. But remember we know our kids best. If it’s safe, and respectful, and it feels right by us – then we can’t be doing it all wrong.


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19 Comments on “What if you’re not doing it all wrong?

  1. Fuck yes. I could not agree with you any harder.

    I just wish I could print this all on a business card so when the next well-meaning person offers helpful advice about my baby-wearing, breast feeding parenting ways, I can hand it to them and drop mic.

    Retweeting, FYI.

    • Haha the best babywearing comment I’ve had is “he’ll never walk”. I like to imagine carrying my 30 year-old son on my back to job interviews.

    • The reason most of that parenting advice doesn’t work for you guys, is because you’re intelligent, insightful and self-reflective, and therefore capable of working things out for yourself. Most “advice”, whether about parenting or anything else, is rigid and prescriptive, taking no account of individual differences. I think there are one or two genuine experts out there, and they are the ones who can support you in developing your own system.

  2. One thing I noticed when I lived in Spain, where most people’s default setting seems to be bounding self-confidence and individuality, is their very public appreciation of children. People lavish love on them. Even strangers – lady serving behind a counter, a random person sitting on a park bench – address children they happen to meet with the most beautifully affectionate names, calling them, “My sun, my heaven, my darling, my little queen”.

    • Gosh that’s quite different to parts of NZ I reckon! Makes me sad that there are so many “kids should be seen and not heard” attitudes here.

    • Totally. Something is a bit messed up about some people in our part of the world. I think it’s the legacy of the past when parenting was more authoritarian – it still filters into the way we think about children, and the anti-parent discourses that are out there. I remember travelling with our firstborn, then 13 mths, to Malaysia and China, and having customs officers try to befriend her. In restaurants the staff would happily play with her. Just so much friendliness and warmth everywhere. With my second, I travelled solo to Tonga with her when she was 4 mths old. She had a little grizzle early on and was promptly taken off me by the three ladies across the aisle. They refused to give her back (she was happy so I didn’t mind) until the end of the trip. So lovely. Keep doing what you’re doing. I think there is certainly an issue in not setting boundaries for older children around certain things, but sleep and babies is another matter and whatever people do is OK as long as it works for them and no-one is suffering too much.

  3. This is exactly why I don’t really like to give advice to other parents. I know what works for my kids, but that doesn’t make me an expert when it comes to anyone else’s. I’ve literally just finished writing a post about how much we beat ourselves up as mothers, and a lot of that has to do with those fucking “experts” telling us we’re doing it all wrong!

  4. Hi Emily, I wonder what the current affairs show was about. If it was as you say about some danger of loving your kids too much then absolutely sounds like piffle. But it could be another instance of news reporters taking something of merit and inflating the research and applying it where it is not necessary. There has been a fair bit of hype around the idea that “praise” (and this is certainly not the only way we parent show love) This stuff on praise (which is very well supported by over 30 years of well regarded peer reviewed research) was first and for most from research done in school and classroom settings. I believe it is both most helpful and relevant for teachers, and while Carol Dweck, the researcher behind the mindset theory has done research with parents and their use of praise, which seems to support her research with teachers, I believe there are distinct and important differences that must be considered.

    In short, Mindset theory has established that when kids hear that they are ‘very clever’ a lot or the reverse, they tend to develop a mindset that they are either smart or not; that their intelligence or lack thereof, is fixed. However, when kids are praised for how much effort they applied or for the actual results of their labours, they tend to attribute their success to their own work rather than innate talent. This has HUGE advantages in the long run and teachers are aware of this and using it to great effect. So in short, it is not about not praising ‘at all’ and certainly not about loving too much. Then there are the caveats I always mention that a parent does more than teach and their praise serves more purposes than merely to ensure a child’s cognitive development (which is where teacher’s are focussed) Of course, the show you mentioned may not have been about praise at all, so I might be barking up the wrong tree completely!

    However, I thought I would share my understanding of this whole prose thing as it might be useful to you. Basically, I think it is unhelpful to carte blanch apply this research to parents, although I have found it useful as both a parent and a teacher to know about it.

    To conclude (and I thought I would conclude with it rather than start with it so that my comment didn’t seem like one of those ‘Hey, I love your work, but…’ type comments because I really do love it!) I am hugely a fan of your excellent writing and I wholeheartedly agree with you that we are the experts. When ever someone is trying to sell something it can indicate caution is necessary and yet there are good resources that I have paid good money for and have no regrets. Pinky is brilliant.

    Please, keep us the great work. I do appreciate it very much!

    • Thanks for your comment Nicole. Always good to get another perspective. And thank you for the kind words 🙂

  5. YES! Oh man, I can not agree with this more. I think that nothing really prepares you for being a parent – s much of the advice out there is contradictory, every child (and parent) is different, and it really is such a learning curve. Trusting your instincts is SO important.

    • Definitely a learning curve! We are all about our kids learning every minute of the day but I reckon it’s good to remember we are learning too! And be gentle and kind to ourselves as we would our little ones. X

  6. Dear Emily. Yes. Amen. Hallelujah! I had this mini-revelation while I was driving the other day, reflecting on a conversation I had with a friend about how she puts her son to bed. I was automatically feeling defensive, worried and anxious about the fact that what she does is different to what I do, despite the fact that our sons are different ages, and we had this conversation in a totally non-judgey, normal kind of way…. and then I thought. “Hang on, Ed is a unique person. Why the heck do I expect him to do the same thing as someone else?” If another adult told me about their bedtime routine I would think, “okay, that’s interesting, and I do mine differently” I would NOT go, “Oh my goodness, I’m a freak for doing things in this order not that order and getting up at this time and what is wrong with me?!”
    I realise this is quite, quite basic but it was a total revelation for me in helping me feel okay for doing what works for us. Thank you again for your efforts to celebrate and embrace diversity in all its forms! xo Helen

    • It’s basic but it’s also really hard to get to that point I reckon because you’re kind of like a frog in boiling water or whatever that analogy is. There’s like an entire industry that profits from making parents feel like they’re stuffing everything up so it’s no wonder we don’t realise straight away what’s going on. You’re so right, I’ve so been there, thanks so much for sharing. ❤️

  7. Spot on Emily. There are way too many experts weighing in on how we are getting it all wrong, all the time as parents. NEVER before this generation did parents have to contend with such a barrage of information AND deal with comparing themselves on a daily basis to other people’s semi-perfect lives lived out on social media.
    The only experts we SHOULD listen to are those fellow-parents whose parenting (and children) we admire. Forget the rest. GO YOU!

  8. Ahhh, I love this so very much! Before I started procreating I firmly believed that if you loved your kid and made sure they knew you loved them then there’s only so much you could screw them up. And then I had two kids and definitely took several laps around Google Everything Because I Suck At This Crazytown. But I recently decided that I’m tired of googling everything and obsessing about everything and I’m definitely tired of feeling like I suck. So now I’ve just gone back to just loving on my babies and trusting that’s enough. And wow are they are easy to love 🙂

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  10. I love this article so much. I felt this exact way when my son was born – I was so worried about doing the right thing by him, that j read everything I could get me hands on. All I really ended up with was a head full of mixed messages and was utterly confused. So I decided to do what you did (and also thanks to Pinky McKay) and put it all aside and trusted myself. I did what felt right for him, for me, for my husband and we’ve never looked back. Although things were rough at times, we always felt we were doing the right thing for our son because it felt right and he responded positively. Thanks Emily, I wish I’d read this before all the other stuff – would have saved myself a lot of time and heartache!

  11. So well put, as ever! Also though- an advert for TOO MUCH BUILDING UP? woah, that is so intensely wrong.