Mr Wawa and I were one of the last in our respective families and friendship groups to have a child. This meant we were surrounded by many well intentioned people who wanted to advise us on the pitfalls and how to manage them.
Given I was re-examining my own decision making process, I was very sceptical.
“Babies just cry – that’s what they do!” I would announce, tired of being told how to stop a baby from being upset.
“Humans are like all animals – we need to be trained to behave properly.” I would tell Mr Wawa, certain of my superiority.
“Our child is NOT going to behave like that.” Mr Wawa and I would whisper to each other, in the face of another toddler’s melt down.
However, I also made a silent promise to myself and my baby. I would always listen to what they were trying to tell me. To what I felt was ultimately right inside. My biggest mistakes in life have stemmed from ignoring my own instincts and I refused to continue this pattern into motherhood.
Once Squeak was born, I skimmed through a couple of parenting handbooks but decided to close them for good once I discovered breastfeeding on demand worked well for us. I decided I would do no more research because it was all so contradictory and I couldn’t get to the bottom of who was right. It all seemed to be tangled mess of opinion pieces.
I’m glad this filtered out the utter crap spouted by many of the best selling baby manuals, but sad this prevented me from finding the most brilliant, accurate and scientifically correct work which would have provided me with much solace during our difficult months.
My top 4, amazing, comforting, sympathetic and guiding books are as follows.
Naomi Stadlen centres her book on discussions between mothers, focussing on their experiences, difficulties, relationships with their babies and the outside world. I could hear myself in so many of these women. So many fears I hadn’t dared voice and so much joy I hadn’t been able to compute.
Needless to say, I have read this book over and over again, crying and laughing along with these wonderful women.
Margot Sunderland summarises the evolution of the human brain into manageable, understandable chapters, perfect for a sleep deprived parent.
Fully backed up with reputable studies, there is plenty of information on why babies really cry (hint: it’s not to manipulate you or because that’s just what they do).
The book continues through childhood, navigating toddler tantrums and other difficult emotions and behaviour in older children with the greatest sympathy for our role as parents.
Jean Liedloff applies her experiences with a tribe in the South American jungle, comparing their joy and exuberance for life with our struggles in the modern world. Why is modern man so unhappy? Why are our babies and children so upset? Could it be that the way we live is at odds with our evolutionary needs, and if so, is there a way we can continue to live in our structured worlds with more empathy for who we really are?
If I had read this book earlier I might not have struggled as I did when Squeak reached a difficult stage in babyhood. I might not have wondered why he refused to sleep alone, panicking over whether I had created a dependant baby, or been so confused as to why he wanted to breastfeed so much.
Sue Gerhardt makes the case that babies can’t regulate their own stress. Their brains are simply not developed enough to do so. As such, it falls to the parent to soothe and comfort their baby, ensuring the correct neural passages are formed and baby grows up into an adult who can successfully regulate their own emotions.
Have you ever met someone who can’t control their anger, fear, violence or lust? What drives someone to criminal or anti-social behaviour? If you looked inside their brain you would see less activity in the pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain which separate us from other mammals who have no choice in the face of these emotions.
If you’re exhausted, surrounded by people and health professionals telling you to sleep train your baby or ignore your toddler’s tantrums or serve harsh discipline to your child, then these books provide comfort and support in the absence of a community who can guide you through the difficult stages of parenthood.
I’m relieved to have finally found some voices to speak the words my heart already knew.