You may be asking, what does ‘Parenting by Heart’ mean? As well as supporting you with a simple, stress-free blueprint to nurture your baby (and yourself) through the awesome first year of parenting, the basic philosophy behind my book is to support you to ‘be the parent YOU want to be’ –rather than ‘the parent you feel pressured to be.’
Each day, in my work as a lactation consultant and baby massage instructor, I meet and receive emails from parents (mostly mothers) who feel confused, frustrated and overwhelmed by immense pressure to live up to unrealistic expectations of themselves. Many are burdened by feelings of inadequacy and guilt because they don’t have a ‘good’ baby (who is, of course, a reflection of their own competence). Mothers express fears that if they do hold and cuddle their babies as their instincts are urging, they may encourage ‘bad habits’
In our culture, values such as independence and control are prized. The pressure to be seen as ‘coping’ (or ‘in control’) perpetuates the myth of the ‘good baby’. Many parents are afraid to speak openly about how their babies behave: those whose infants don’t simply feed, play and sleep (preferably in that order) often feel as though they are somehow abnormal if they ‘give in’ to their baby’s cries; mothers whose babies ‘fail’ sleep training fear that they too have failed, as they secretly soothe little night howls; and many mothers exist in isolation because they are afraid of the stares and advice they will attract if they venture out in public with a baby who happens to cry – as all babies tend to do, at times!
For many parents in our culture, having a baby is an enormous shock, rather than a rich experience in the continuum of life, celebrated and supported by community. Incredibly, many women have never held a baby before their own is thrust into their arms. Invariably, as new mothers struggle with the notion of the ‘good’ baby, they are also struggling with an identity crisis – who am I now? Even when she looks in the mirror, the face (and body!) reflected back at the new mother is virtually unrecognisable when compared to the smart, savvy woman who used to have a clearly defined job description and a life that would fit neatly into her electronic organiser.
Babies magically draw people together, even before they are born. It seems that everybody loves to share the magic that a baby brings. Suddenly, too, it seems as though everyone is an expert – about your child. You can put yourself in the hands of these ‘experts’ or you can put yourself in charge. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore or dismiss advice – after all, most of it is given with good intent. Nor do you have to go it alone without seeking support or professional help. Taking charge is about trusting yourself and your connection with your child, but it is also about becoming informed by asking questions, reading and listening so that you can make the most appropriate choices for your situation.
From now on, you are choosing on behalf of your child. You will live with your choices. So will your child. This is an awesome responsibility. But as well as being your child’s advocate, you are also his or her most important role model: your strength and support will make your child feel safe, even when you don’t have all the answers.
You are unique. Your child is unique. To slavishly follow any method of parenting as though it were a religion, or to expect your child to fit a preconceived stereotype of success, is to deny your child’s individuality as well as your own. But it is also a fact that the connection between you can be weakened when you are under stress, lack support or feel you are in unknown territory. At such times, you may question your own wisdom and become vulnerable to pressure and inappropriate advice. When your connection with your child is strong, you will find it easy to ‘Parent by Heart’: to ask yourself ‘How do I feel?’ as well as ‘What do I think?’ And to trust your feelings.
When you follow your heart, rather than a single parenting ‘method’, you seldom fit neatly into a stereotype. When you sample various options from the stack of child-rearing techniques to form your own rich collage, this can often mean going against popular opinion. At times, following your heart can also result in challenges as you confront the wider (child-free) world. I have rocked up to weekend workshops with creative directors from some of the city’s top ad agencies – and a two-year-old at my breast. These people were more familiar with the association between breasts and fast cars!
Like all parents, I have experienced criticism and self-doubt at times. To parent against mainstream opinions (which seem to change according to which ‘expert’ is currently popular) takes courage – and a deaf ear. To care for children and to nourish their identities requires a strong sense of self: you need to know where you are coming from in order to know where to go to find support. There are as many ways of caring and loving as there are families. So, as well as evidence-based information, in ‘Parenting by Heart’ I have included the voices of other parents, who share their experiences and their feelings – of joy, sadness, fear, frustration, hope and humour. Often, sharing another’s experience validates your own, and realising that other people make the same mistakes can give you new courage. You can, of course, also learn from others’ experiences and apply this knowledge to your own situation, when it is relevant.
Having a child does change your life. Forever. It changes your body, your soul, your mind and your bank balance. It affects your relationships – with your partner, your parents, your friends, and your community. Parenting by Heart shows you how to nurture yourself and your relationships, just as you nurture your children. It also shows you how to stand strong against those who undermine or oppose your choices. In other words, it acknowledges the real experts – you and your child. My aim is to help you unlock your intuition and nurture with confidence.
Seize your power! Whether you are making birth plans, choosing health care, education or child-rearing practices, or confronting the pain (and blame) of things gone wrong, explore all your options and take charge. Trust yourself. Trust your child. Trust your feelings. Take good care of yourself. Laugh, love, enjoy, and remember to be as gentle on yourself and your beloved as you are with your child.