Tuesday 24 October 2017

Why I gave up trying to be a perfect mother. . .

Miley Cyrus's dad has admitted to struggling with parenthood. But there is no right or wrong way of raising children, writes Caitriona Palmer

Billy Ray Cyrus (left) and wife Tish (right) with family (left - right) Miley, Braison, Noah Lindsey, Trace and Brandi. Photo: Getty Images
Billy Ray Cyrus (left) and wife Tish (right) with family (left - right) Miley, Braison, Noah Lindsey, Trace and Brandi. Photo: Getty Images
Billy Ray Cyrus with his daughter Miley

Catriona Palmer

Six years ago, in the months prior to the birth of my first child, I dutifully bought all the baby essentials that every newborn needs: clothes, a crib and plenty of baby wipes.

But aside from the nappies, there was something else that I also bought in bulk: books. Lots, and lots, of baby advice books.

There were tomes for every aspect of child-rearing: how to help your baby sleep, how to navigate the dummy debate, whether or not to vaccinate and -- for much later down the road -- how to survive your first 'play date'.

A month or so after my son's birth, hollow-eyed from sleep deprivation and desperate for advice on how to deal with a baby who refused to sleep anywhere except in my arms, I found myself tearing through the pages of my newly acquired -- but contradictory -- library.

My mother eyed me warily from the kitchen. "If I were you, I'd put down those books," she said. "I don't think they're helping you very much."

She was completely right. Six years and two kids later, the books sit on the lowest bookshelf in our living room, forgotten and ignored. Through trial and error, tears and laughter, I have somehow -- miraculously -- found my feet, and my own parenting style.

But for today's new parents, bombarded with competing advice from friends, experts and governmental agencies, it is sometimes hard to drown out the noise about how we should parent our kids.

Even the stars admit publicly they struggle with their children: US singer Billy Ray Cyrus admitted last week his concerns for daughter Miley, the former star of Hannah Montana and now an apparently troubled 18-year-old who's got more money then she knows what to do with.

"I'll tell you right now -- that damn show destroyed my family," said Cyrus in a new GQ magazine interview in which he also spoke about the demise of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain and others who could not cope with fame.

The young Ms Cyrus is now reportedly furious with her dad over his remarks which have focussed much attention on the father/daughter relationship.

A new slew of child-rearing books about to be published in Ireland and the UK will further jangle the nerves of anxious parents about the 'right' way to raise kids, opening up fresh controversy about strict styles versus a more laidback approach.

This spring, a new book by Rebecca Asher, Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality, will grapple with the question of why, in the age of equality, modern women are still left holding the baby? Women, Asher argues, are partly to blame for perpetuating the status quo in which they bear the brunt of the work.

Next month on this side of the Atlantic, the woman now known as America's Most Hated Mother, Yale law professor Amy Chua, will release her highly controversial memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in which she touts the superiority of strict Chinese parenting methods.

Western parents coddle their children too much, Chua complains, and produce entitled children who don't live up to their true abilities. "Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility," she said.

To perfect her parenting philosophy, Chua -- interviewed recently by the Irish Independent -- demanded that her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu, bring home nothing less than straight As.

She banned TV, video games, sleepovers and activities such as arts and crafts. She once refused to let her daughter go to the bathroom for hours until she had mastered a difficult piano composition.

When her child came second to a Korean kid in a maths competition, Chua made her do 2,000 numerical problems a night until she came back out on top.

Since releasing her book in America, Chua has received death threats and been labelled a "monster" and "nuts". But she has also ignited a firestorm about competing child-rearing strategies and how there is no 'one size fits all' method for any family.

"The single most important point of all in childcare is that none of these prescriptions is the right answer," Oliver James, a psychologist and author of the child-rearing book, How Not to F*** Them Up, told the Irish Independent. "There is an endless searching for a right way to care for a baby or a small child. But there is no right way."

Ada Calhoun, an author and young mother, agrees. Calhoun was inspired to write her own parenting book, Instinctive Parenting: Trusting Ourselves to Raise Good Kids, after she was bombarded with conflicting and "crazy making" advice following the birth of her son, Oliver.

"Cry it out or your kid will never sleep! Don't cry it out or he'll become a sociopath! Breastfeed for three years! Pacifiers [dummies] are salvation! Pacifiers are the devil! I was really overwhelmed by it all," Calhoun remembers.

"For me, getting a handle on it all was about really paying attention to what kind of kid we had, and discussing various options with my husband and our pediatrician, and trying things out until we figured out what was best," she told the Irish Independent from New York.

Calhoun points out that at the end of the day there are only three basic necessities that a child needs: shelter, food and love. Parents, she urged, should simply trust their guts.

Trusting your instincts is something that many new parents will have to face in the wake of recent contradictory advice from health experts, who suggest that babies have their first taste of solid food at four months instead of the previously recommended six.

At the end of the day, Ada Calhoun said, child-rearing is about raising a decent, good-natured individual who can take care of himself and contribute to the world. A child, "is not a project to ace, or a test to get 100%.

"My advice is to always to tune out whatever's stressing you out or making you feel like you can't be a good parent without following some four-fold path of perfection," she said.

"There is no one 'right' way to do anything as complicated and nuanced as creating a family, and there is no perfect parent or perfect kid," Calhoun said.

"Letting go of that idea was when I started really enjoying my life. Realising I wasn't being graded actually helped me be less stressed-out and, I think, a better mother."

Irish Independent

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