This is probably going to be a bit of a controversial post. (How can it not, with a title like “How Not To F*** Them Up”) But I have to tell you, books always seem to come to me at the right time, often to help me through certain issues. And this is the book that has helped me realise that my decision to stay at home is the right decision for me.
The overwhelming message of this book is that it matters tremendously how you look after your child under three. Failure here can have terrible consequences for his sense of self, security and cortisol levels. The main requirement to fulfill your child’s needs is a single person who will respond to him (or her). That’s it. It is actually that simple.
In the back of my mind somewhere I do remember that as a teacher, the less kids you have in your class, the better job you do. You can give better attention to fewer people. In this book I also found out that UNICEF recommends that there be only three under-twos per adult. I obviously knew this stuff, and yet if I had gone back to work, I was going to put Nicky in a day care with 11 other kids. Why did I not connect the dots before? Is there something wrong with my brain? I think that sometimes I do forget important things like this.
Another reassuring point Oliver James raises, is that each of us have a certain personality that we bring to motherhood. At the end of the day nobody is better or worse than you, it is rather about acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses.
The most important conflict for a mother is neither “work versus not work” nor “baby routine versus demand-led”. It’s “true self versus false self”. (p60)
James differentiates between three different kinds of mothers:
1) The Organiser: The baby must adapt to me. She likes routine and regulation. She doesn’t mind someone else looking after the baby and is more likely to go back to a full time job. She wants to get back to her “pre-pregnant life” as soon as possible.
2) The Hugger: I adapt to the baby. She feeds on demand. She is happy to put her life on hold for at least three years and is least likely to work.
3) The Fleximum: I adapt to the situation. She is aware of the needs of the baby but also does not lose sight of her own needs.
When I read theses three definitions in the introduction, I immediately identified myself as probably a Hugger or a Fleximum.
However, as I read through the Organiser section, I did recognize parts of myself. When I spend such a considerable amount of time feeding Nicky, I have to admit that it is with a sense of relief that I put him down to sleep so that I can look after myself (eat, bath, have a cup of tea and a rusk).
I have also managed to get him to sleep around 2-3pm in the afternoon so I can make supper. Most of the time…. Sometimes I have to make supper with him in the wrap, which is a bit awkward.
I love my baby to bits and pieces, but sometimes taking care of me means that I can better take care of him. This balancing act has been really hard for me this week as we have been trying to lessen the formula and increase the breastfeeding. Doing this at night I find really hard because feeding for hours means lack of sleep for me, even if it’s good nutrition for him. It is a situation I am still working through, until we find the best “win-win” (of the Fleximum) for both of us.
James actually points out that feeding can centre around control. Breastfeeding suits the Hugger, feed on demand person, while bottle, with their precise measurements ensures that you know exactly how much baby is getting is more an Organiser thing. Although, with BF you can kind of measure things by wet nappies and increases in weight and growth. He says, for an Organiser, you may feel as if you are being sucked dry, your vitality draining out of you, whereas for a Hugger, Breastfeeding is very important. However he makes the point not to be disappointed if it doesn’t work out. A Hugger can be quite distressed if she didn’t get the natural birth and breastfeeding she pinned her hopes on. But she can still Hug, regardless of these setbacks.
James is quite adamant that responding to an infant at this age is paramount;which is why the whole”Cry It Out” philosophy is so damaging. He points to studies that show that that this will result in insecurity by age one, irritable, fussy three month olds, and sow the seeds for more serious problems. My mom forwarded this lovely post on “Wait It Out” which is an excellent answer to this mindset.
This isn’t to ignore the fact that responding to a baby’s every cry isn’t horribly draining. I don’t think it is possible to be perfect here. We do our best. Sometimes I need to shower. I need to get the car out. I need to go to the loo. I cannot always be there for every second. But on the whole, I do my best.
In order to do our best James has created a hierarchy of preferable childcare options, so that we are aware of the best care for our 0-3 year old.
1. Mom (of course)
2. Dad (the number of stay at home dads are increasing)
3. Gran (blood relations ensure a desire for better care)
4. Nanny (one on one care is still better)
5. Minder (where yours is the only baby and the next oldest kid is four, and there are only two kids. However the setup is normally where there are many more kids, which means yours gets less attention.)
6. Day care (this comes absolutely last and should be your last resort. James points to studies which show the emotional benefits are only for lower income children. There is a daycare program in Britain which includes other benefits, such as teaching parental sensitivity and home visits. He says middle income families should never use this option. The cortisol levels of a child among many who is not responded to leads to later emotional problems such as aggression, disobedience and insecurity. He lists the various studies which back this up at the end of his book. Although this makes sense, I never really thought about it much before, and I am glad I read this book now.)
James is keen to see the end to the “Mommy Wars” (where the stay at homer battles those moms who work). Instead he advocates acknowledging your personality style (above) and working within that. If you are an Organiser who wants to work, that is absolutely fine. Just make sure that your substitute care is a Hugger in tune to your child’s needs, and your child will then still be looked after. This arrangement will be better than sitting at home all depressed. Similarly, if you are a Hugger, you need to realize that at some point you will have to let go and allow your child more independence. If you are a Fleximum, you need to be wary that the situation is always “win-win” and not “win-lose” for you or the child.
Well, I’m sure you have your own opinion on these matters, but no doubt it was a very interesting (and timely) book for me.