Monday, January 17, 2011

All this conflicting parenting advice - it never ends...

It isn't just Chua's book that has caused controversy the last few weeks in the world of parenting. Latest advice is to start solids at four months rather than six, and a discussion over what kind of home children need: tidy or cosy (ie, messy). And there are new momoirs coming out all the time.

"The single most important point of all in childcare is that none of these prescriptions is the right answer," says Oliver James, whose book on child rearing, How Not to F*** Them Up, is out in paperback in April. In an effort to turn down the heat on parents, the child psychologist adds: "There is an endless searching for a right way to care for a baby or a small child. But there is no right way."

The weeks ahead do not offer a period of calm. Mothers are to be subjected to a volley of rival strategies for the child-rearing years. In spring Rebecca Asher's book, Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality, will attempt to raise the consciousness of exhausted British women. They have been complicit, she argues, in maintaining a status quo in which mothers bear the primary responsibility for bringing up children, to the detriment of the rest of their lives.


James feels it is a shift in emphasis that is coming from young women. He says he has found that many women in their early 20s or late teens are asking what the point was of trying to do everything. There is no prize awarded for working and mothering hard, James points out, although he concedes that for poorer women and single mothers choices are limited.

"Mothers of young babies should consider whether they are comfortable in their skin," he says. "And that is not an easy thing to achieve, particularly if you have been living like Bridget Jones. It is not an ideal preparation to have enjoyed a career and had little experience of having a status lower than a street-sweeper. It is a huge wrench."

He urges women to consider the kind of person they are. "Do you like babies or do you prefer toddlers? If you are what I call 'a hugger', for instance, you will enjoy being with babies. If you are 'an organiser' you are going to find it stressful. Or you might be 'a flexi-mum', which is a bit of both."

I'm interested in the book on how the expectations of mothering effect women, Rebecca Asher's book, Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality. And Oliver James seems quite sensible too. Becoming a mother should not mean signing up to a particular style of parenting, akin to joining a cult. (I'm wondering when an Australian mothering identity will be coined - Kangaroo Mother? Kookburra Mother? Do you know anyone who identifies as a Yummy Mummy or Soccer Mum?) He asks questions worth considering. As does Rebecca Asher. And yes, we are all just doing what we believe to be right for us and our kids. Perhaps we could all just relax a little.

Here is something from the blurb of Asher's book, to be released in April.

If we live in an age of equality, why are women are still left holding the baby?

Becoming a mother is a tremendously rewarding experience, but, for all the current talk of shared parenting, women still find themselves bearing primary responsibility for bringing up their children, to the detriment of everything else in their lives. Fathers, conversely, are dragooned into the role of main earner, becoming semi-detached from their families. Both men and women put up too little resistance to this pressure, shying away from asking what is really best for themselves and their children. The consequences of this enduring inequality in the home reach far beyond individuals and into society as a whole. A radical new approach is needed if we want to raise our children fairly and happily.

Ranging from antenatal care and maternity leave, to work practices, relationship dynamics and beyond, Shattered exposes the inequalities perpetuated by the state, employers and the parenting industry and suggests imaginative ways forward to achieve more balanced and fulfilling lives.

Rebecca Asher draws on the experiences of mothers and fathers in the UK and around the world in setting out a manifesto for a new model of family life. Engaging and provocative, Shattered is a call to arms for a revolution in parenting.

Sounds good to me!

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