Parenting: Parenting (or child rearing) is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the aspects of raising a child aside from the biological relationship.
I’ve written a few posts about trusting your instincts when parenting, however I’ve become aware that these posts are mainly about how important I think instincts are and how much I dislike parenting manuals. I thought maybe a post was in order where I write about what trusting your instincts means to me. Where I define it and put it into context. Where I show you how it’s helped me and how I learnt to trust mine.
Today I googled ‘instinctive mum,’ not because I wanted to revel in my own presence on the internet, but to see if there was anything like my blog out there. To see and read blogs by like minded people. Instead however, I found a blog that was completely the opposite. Where the whole premise behind it was about how we learn as parents, and that instincts very definitely do not exist; and those who say they do are doing others a disservice.
Understandably I was saddened by this, and frustrated. Now I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and boy do people have their own opinions when it comes to parenting, but I felt this was a very strong statement to make. I tweeted what I had read and many of you replied, outraged that someone should say such a thing. Dig a little deeper and you’d discover that the author of the post gave birth to a daughter who was in constant pain, and who, no matter how hard the author tried, was never comforted. Is it any wonder therefore, that the writer of the post doubted her maternal instinct? That she felt like her’s had left her and that she’d failed immediately as a mother?
I then asked the question to my followers on Twitter as to whether they believed parenting to be ‘learnt’ or ‘instinctive.’ The responses were thick and fast with many of you saying it’s a mixture of both. To which I agree. But what surprised me in the replies, and prompted this post, were the beliefs about what ‘instinctive parenting’ actually means. Does it mean knowing what each different cry from your baby means? Does it mean you always know exactly the right thing to do in every situation? Does it mean you are smug and have got this parenting malarkey sorted? Ha! No! Far from it!
For me trusting my instincts is not about having parenting sussed. It does not mean I know everything, that I am the perfect mum and always make the right decisions. I’m not and I don’t. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve doubted myself. I’ve always been useless when it comes to telling my babies’ different cries from each other and often discover the root of the problem through trial and error; if the nappy isn’t full then it’s milk time! Just because I trust my instincts does not mean I find parenting easy. Parenting is not easy, in any way shape or form. Instinctive parenting is in no way meant to be intimidating, or like a gift some of us have and others don’t. And I’d be horrified if it was added to the already over analysed list of the way we parent, as if it’s a fad or some new technique to try.
Instincts are not a wonder drug, they cannot prevent cot death or cure a sick child. They do not offer all of the answers, but they can tell us when we need to ask for help and seek advice. They are there in the middle of the night when your baby has a temperature and you need to help them. (and yes not knowing what to do and ringing the doctor is also trusting your instincts in knowing when you need a professional!) They are there when your baby cries inconsolably and you can’t comfort them and you need to ask for support and advice. They are there when your baby is adjusting their nap times, or isn’t ready to sleep alone or is showing signs of being ready to start potty training.
I agree with many of you who believe that parenting is a combination of many things and that it is an inherent blend of instincts and learning. Many parents believe instincts can tell them when something is or isn’t right for their child, and then they look for the answers, try something new and learn little more. Others say instinct relies heavily on a bond between you and your baby, yet for me I found the opposite to be true; when I was ill with PND I had difficulty bonding with my youngest and relied on my instincts more than ever to listen to his needs, as loving him didn’t seem to be enough.
Many people feel the need to seek acknowledgement or approval before they learn to listen to and trusting their instincts. Others think instincts are primeval and enable you to fundamentally look after your children whilst being influenced by other factors; and some believe that parenting is learnt from our parents and instinctively reproduced. And me, well you all know that I believe in listening to what my instincts are telling me before anything else and going with what I feel is right. I observe, ask myself many different questions, and listen to the answers my instincts are offering. And when no answers are offered I know I need to look elsewhere.
Parenting is about team work between you and your child; it’s about learning together. Undoubtedly the more time you spend together, the more you will learn about your baby and all of their beautifully individual characteristics; but I’d say instincts will definitely have played a part in building this powerful knowledge. They certainly don’t exclude learning, and can work in harmony with it. Instincts are invaluable in helping you have the confidence to trust what you’ve learnt combined with what you know deep down. You can ask for and listen to advice from others (and they’ll often give it whether you’ve asked for it or not) but only you can instinctively know which advice to follow. Only your instincts, if you listen, will let you know which advice is best for your children and your family. It takes time, it takes practice…and it’s priceless.