Guest Blog by Sarah Wheatley from Birth and Beyond.
Sarah is a trained counsellor who has developed the Parent Kind ® course as part of Birth and Beyond to give new parents a space to explore the changes they are going through and develop confidence in their parenting ability.
On a recent visit to see an old friend and her family, I realised that good friendship is no guarantee of complimentary parenting styles. She has a busy lifestyle and wanted the children to amuse themselves without her, whilst I wanted to have activities that engaged me with the children. It made for an awkward visit and reminded me again that when you’re a parent, judgement comes from everywhere, including yourself and those closest to you.
When you’re a brand new parent, this judgement can be especially hard to shrug off, especially because it can often come in the form of well-intended advice at a time when you feel particularly vulnerable. It can come from many different sources – parents, friends, health professionals – even people on the street. It can be difficult to pinpoint when you’re finding it difficult to find your own voice amongst the many others out their, but there are a few ways of trying to give yourself a bit of a break from the constant stream of advice.
It can be helpful to notice when you hear a voice in your head that sounds like “I should do this or that.” When you notice that you feel you “should” do something, but don’t necessarily want to, maybe ask yourself why. Why don’t you want to follow the health visitor’s advice on breastfeeding? Why don’t you want to go to mother and baby groups, even though your husband encourages you to go? Why don’t you want your in-laws to stay for a week?
Asking ‘why’ might help you realise that you don’t trust your health visitor or think she understands your issues properly – you maybe will follow that same advice if it is given by someone you trust more. Your ‘why’ might give you insight into what it is about your parents in law that you find so difficult, and therefore help you and your partner come up with a strategy which means you feel happier to invite them to stay.
In other words, if you have a better understanding of why you don’t want to do something, even if on paper it looks like a good thing to do, you may figure out a way of doing it that suits you. Or you may decide that you’re just not going to do it. Either way, making that choice is what gives you back your sense of control.
It can be harder to release yourself from your own judgements of yourself. These may have been formed during your own childhood or later on in life and they may be more difficult to notice as they’re more deeply absorbed. These could be issues such as feeling the pressure to look as though you’re always coping or keep in touch with friends in the same ways as before you had a child.
When you find that these pressures become overwhelming, it can be difficult to realise that they are self-generated. When you have a new baby, it’s not always easy to step back and look at what is really important to you. At times like these, it can be helpful to have a bit of support, whether that’s from friends who have been through the same things, from supportive family members who can keep their own counsel, or from counsellors or groups that allow space to explore what’s going on for you.
These judgements will rattle you only when you feel in ‘deficit’, when you feel as though you might be doing something wrong and doubt your own decisions. As you learn to trust your own sense of what is right for you and your family, then these judgements will be easier to ignore or put aside. As you see your child grow and develop, you will have more confidence in your ability to be ‘enough.’
This is the first in a series of guest blogs.