It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and I was in a local library for an information session for parents of multiples. One woman arrived late. She had a set of incredibly cute twin girls who were nine months old, and she was exhausted.
If you've ever had a baby who won't sleep through the night, you might have a sense of where this woman was at. Only she didn't get any opportunity to sleep during the day, because she had two babies to look after.
She was asking how she could get her baby to sleep through the night without using controlled crying. Controlled crying, self-settling... Whatever you want to call it. Just talking about it made the mother cry. It was clearly something she didn't want to do, but she thought was her only option.
This tearful, tired woman reminded me of me. The me in the months when my daughter was small, when I was a brand new mum with no practical experience and no idea of what I was doing. But what I saw when I looked at her was an entirely capable woman who was doing a fine job raising two thriving babies.
Maybe I had looked like that too.
So how did we -- she and I, and many more I'm sure -- become so unsure of our own abilities to parent?
I know that sleep deprivation can weaken the spirit, but I think it's more than that.
I think that judgement is clouding our parental instinct.
When you become a new parent, in today's world, you are often removed from "the village". Many people are raising their children on their own without the support of extended family. Most of us drag our toddlers and babies to the supermarket rather than leave them with a neighbour. We don't necessarily see our siblings raise their kids, or learn from our Aunts and Uncles. That kind of physical support has disappeared for many.
And what has replaced the village? A lot of research, a lot of information, and unfortunately, as a kind of by-product, a lot of judgement.
From the moment you fall pregnant, the judgement starts. What you eat, drink, whether you exercise or not, if you're overweight or too skinny.
The most judgement seems to come around the manner in which you had your baby (caesarean or vaginal, with drugs or without) or whether you breastfed or not. But it doesn't stop there... You're also judged on how you get your child to sleep, how much sugar they eat, whether they watch too much television and if they eat all of the five food groups.
If you were to judge my parenting skills based on the above areas I would fail several times over... and I am often worried about these failures. But every so often I look at my children and think: "Hey, they're doing okay. They are happy and healthy."
And in those few moments it occurs to me that parenting and family life are actually an intensely private thing, something that should be based on your own values and attitude to life. Somehow, though, parenting has become a very public, scrutinised activity.
I do appreciate the research and information that has come about that helps us all to parent well. I mean, it's what I do for a job -- talk to experts and other parents about how they do things. But somewhere along the line, new research and information led to ideas about the "right" and "wrong" way to parent.
Surely if the children are well and healthy, and so is the parent, it's no one else's business how we care for our children?
And if that mother wanted to try controlled crying, then that's her choice. If, however, she didn't want to use controlled crying, then, in this world with so many experts and options, surely there is a way that she can be supported to follow her own parenting instinct on how she wants to settle her child?
We all have an instinct when it comes to our children. It comes from a thousand big and small things that we experience caring for someone so dependent and vulnerable. We feel it the moment we hold them in our arms and are surprised at how much peace they can bring. We know it when that fever is more than a fever, or when they smile and tell us a bald-face lie. It comes from our experience with our own parents, and what we feel in our bones is right. But ultimately it comes from loving our children and wanting what is best for them. How can that be a bad thing?
I'm still trying to find my parental instinct. I can feel it flickering away inside me and my hope is that it will grow stronger as my kids get older and I get more comfortable in my parenting skin.
I wish I had been able to tune into it earlier. It seems to me to be the best possible predictor of our children's happiness -- that we follow what we believe to be right and true for our children.
So whether you had your baby by caesarean or vaginally (with or without drugs), whether you're an attachment parent, a "controlled cryer", or a "rocker-to-sleep", a strict parent, a soft parent, a screen allower or denier, take a look at your baby, child or children.
If they look healthy and happy then you're doing a good job. And so, probably, is that parent who's doing the complete opposite of you.
It's time to get back to basics and respect that we all want what's best for our children, and to trust our own instinct on how to make that happen.