Monday, 14 October 2013

Motherhood (Part 2)

Another very challenging aspect of the early months of motherhood was all the unwanted advice! I felt so bombarded by well-meaning friends and family who were clearly compelled to share all their 'pearls of wisdom'. Being as we were, severely exhausted and consumed with self doubt as to whether we were doing things the 'right' way, it took all my energy and confidence to listen......and ignore! Because whether or not you do decide to take on board all or some or none of those 'pearls of wisdom', it is your path to discover. I remember reading from the book, 'What Mothers Do' by Naomi Stadlen that "most of the time, what mothers seem to want from each other is compassion - without any advice." She says that "silence often works better than words." "Rarely is it necessary to tell a mother what to do. It may demoralise her further, and certainly does not help her to learn. A mother needs to feel safe enough to risk feeling uncertain....A mother needs time to grow into motherhood, together with her partner. She needs to learn that some of her ideas work. The most uncertain and under-confidant beginner can gradually turn herself into a unique mother."
I would love to have had the nerve to quote these lines to some of the health visitors we met along the way, who were often so entrenched in their black and white theories of how to raise your child that they were oblivious to the fact that their so-called professional advice caused myself (and several other mothers I know) all manner of unnecessary stress.
I felt undermined and patronised during our 10 month developmental check-up after being told by our health visitor that I was giving our baby too much milk and that I should refrain from offering her milk in the night as it was a bit like "offering her a tasty slice of cake", thus perpetuating a behaviour of refusal to sleep until we had fulfilled her needs. Oh, how dare I fulfill her needs? How unnatural that our baby, not one year old should still crave a drink of milk in the night in the warm and comforting bosom of her mother or father?!
As much as we wanted a full unbroken night of even 5 or 6 hours sleep, we couldn't bring ourselves to let her cry without picking her up, not even for 10 seconds. I know several wonderful and extremely loving mothers who did manage to successfully do the gentle training method. Whether it was for their own sanity or perhaps for the preservation of their marriage, I'm not sure. I wouldn't dream of casting any judgement because we all have to find a way as a family that works best for ourselves. What I did find very discouraging though was the odd tactless comment to suggest that my decision to not sleep train might have been dictated by the fact that I was a full time stay-at-home mum. Our daughter is now almost 2 years old and I am still at home with her. Whilst I am aware that I do not have the same level of time pressure as a working mother, I do feel very strongly that stay-at-home mothers have an enormously challenging job that is both physically and mentally demanding.
Being a mother, regardless of whether you are at home full time or not is undoubtedly a role that deserves more respect within our chaotic modern world that to a large degree has lost touch with the importance of family life. Here is a wonderful quotation from the same book by Naomi Stadlen. I would highly recommend this to any new mother. Since our little one was 5 months old, it became my 'bedside bible' and to this day I still dip into it from time to time when I need a boost of morale:
"Taking trouble over a baby is definitely tiring and sleep depriving. But mothers could cope better if we all acknowledged how difficult and complex it can be. If a mother says she is short of sleep, this could be a sign not of her failure, but of how well she may be mothering. I believe that the real, dreadful quality of maternal tiredness is the mother's sense of struggling against prevailing disrespect. The baby may tire her, but we, if we aren't careful, can exhaust her."

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