Wednesday 28 September 2016

New mums should trust themselves, not 'supernannies'

Published 30/03/2016 | 02:30

A mother's love can boost a child's brain, according to a new study. Photo: Getty Images.
A mother's love can boost a child's brain, according to a new study. Photo: Getty Images.

I have to confess I felt a sense of reassurance when I read that supernanny Kathryn Mewes was finding parenthood difficult. Mewes, the star of Channel 4's 'The Three Day Nanny', has just had a baby and has admitted that she is finding the reality of parenthood a lot more difficult than she had anticipated.

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Don't get me wrong, I feel sorry for anyone struggling with a newborn. We've all been there - the sleepless nights, the constant ache behind tired eyes, the days that never end, the crying, the feeding, the settling, the burping ... it's relentless.

However, having watched shows like 'The Three Day Nanny' and 'Supernanny', I often found myself feeling like a bad parent.

Within a matter of days, these women would swoop into a chaotic house, restore order and transform toddlers from ranting nightmares into compliant angels.

The parents were always at fault. Too lenient, too soft, not consistent enough, not firm enough, not present enough, not giving proper eye contact, just not bloody good enough.

It was demoralising. How could these smartly dressed women with perfect lipstick and clean clothes - no baby ever seemed to spew up milk on their shoulder or mush a banana into their leg - change your child's behaviour in such a short space of time?

How rubbish were you at parenting? How could you not see that being consistent with the naughty step and crouching down to look your toddler in the eye was the way to having them behave like a human being instead of a Tasmanian devil on speed?

Why could you not see that lifting a screaming baby to console it was not the way to sleep-train them?

I'll tell you why, because chances are you hadn't slept for 15 nights in a row. Chances are you hadn't had a proper meal in weeks. You probably hadn't washed in days. You were drowning in piles of laundry, bottles, baby food, nappies and exhaustion.

New mothers need understanding, kindness, help and gentle advice. They need to be encouraged, not to be made feel even more inadequate than they already do.

No matter what you have achieved in your life prior to having a baby, nothing can prepare you for the onslaught of it, especially if you have a baby that doesn't sleep.

Mewes has been very open and honest about her struggles. She admitted that she felt so overwhelmed that she had to hire a nanny within days of getting home from hospital.

It was this hired nanny that sleep-trained her baby while she left the house so she wouldn't hear her baby's cries.

If an expert nanny, who has her own TV show, finds sleep-training her own child too traumatic, how are the rest of us mere mortals supposed to cope?

Mewes' honesty is refreshing and will help comfort and console so many new mothers who are struggling with parenthood.

"It's tough. I'm just like any other mother; I'm constantly worrying if she's hungry, if she's sleeping. I cry because I'm scared something will happen to her, because it's all so hard," Mewes admitted.

Mewes believes that it is no coincidence that the most successful nannies (think Gina Ford and Jo Frost) do not have children of their own. The key to their success, or certainly one of them, is the fact that these 'supernannies' get to go back home at night and have a decent night's sleep. When you are the mum, however, you get no break.

Every new mother knows that a decent night's sleep makes everything seem brighter, less overwhelming and generally helps you cope with the day ahead. Unfortunately, these are very rare.

Gina Ford, who wrote best-selling guide 'The Contented Little Baby Book', advises parents to break down their day into five-minute slots. I have many friends who swear by her routine and many who rail against it.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats leader, launched an attack on Gina Ford, saying her child-rearing methods were akin to "sticking the infant in a broom cupboard".

I was given lots of baby books after I had my first child and I can honestly say most of them drove me around the bend. I threw one particular one in the bin after I briefly dropped my son in the bath because I was so busy trying to read the instructions on how to hold him the 'correct way'.

It is important to be kind to yourself when you have a baby and give yourself a break.

So what if your house looks like a bomb hit it? So what if you are still in puke-covered pyjamas at nine at night? So what if all you eat is chocolate digestives all day? You can only muddle through the best way you can.

There is no solution. There is no right way or wrong way. Each parent has to find what works for them and their baby. Whether it's following Gina Ford's routine or having the baby sleep on your chest for months. Whatever works, go with it.

The best advice I was given, which I pass on to all new mums, is: Trust your instinct, after all you know your baby better than anyone else.

Irish Independent

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