Me and the baby visited friends this week who have a four year old and a newborn. I've only been doing this parenting lark for ten months now, so didn't appreciate that their home was not kitted out for my adventurous and somewhat clumsy ten month old. He used a chair to clamber into a standing position until it swivelled depositing him on the floor with blood coming out of his nose. I did my best to appear like a parent who is cool with mishaps - rather that the insane first time parent I really am - while I was there. Then spent the entire drive home panicking that he wasn't actually asleep, but in a coma from a serious head injury sustained while in my care.I only mention this as for the longest time I thought everyone else knew more about parenting than me. I would ask for advice on every little thing until one day I realised that I am allowed to make decisions about my own son. Then I witnessed the world of competitive parenting.
Actually I first witnessed the world of competitive grandparenting which is far more serious. I am blessed that neither my mother nor my mother-in-law pass opinion unless asked. Ok, the latter does comment on my husband's weight, but as she is his mother I figure that's their issue to work out. Both my husband and I were raised by parents from the "in my day" school of parenting. They believed that complimenting their offspring would make us spoiled and unruly so instead they operated a carefully orchestrated system of sarcasm and apparent disinterest in our achievements.
As grandparents, however, they take a completely different approach and dote on their grandson (while never actually telling us that they do of course). Mother-in-law had friends over from Australia and was hosting one of her famous buffets (think Bridget Jones' mother crossed with Ria from Butterflies). Her friends are all grandparents with a few years under their belts so she is used to hearing their boasts. I am new to this world so imagine my horror as they one-upped each other (including sharing which of their offspring was barren) until there was an eventual and clear winner. This was earned by the grandmother who flew four hours to babysit her grandchildren so her daughter could attend a course for work.
In light of this oneupmanship my own experiences pale into insignificance. It starts as who is breastfeeding and who is not - you're out of the game early if you fail at this hurdle. Then it's weaning and whether you prepare all the (organic - naturally) food yourself. Sleep patterns, teeth, crawling, etc, etc. It's the most dull conversation and lately I'm constantly being asked if and when I'm going back to work. Frankly it's no one's business, but as my husband reminded me, people think I am now incapable of conversing about anything other than babies and all matters related to.
The point of this is the comment a woman made to me as she shared a revelation about my grave error in giving my son water to drink as 'a breastfed baby does not need water.' I instantly felt terrible. She then followed up with an invitation to attend a meeting to find out about 'natural parenting' in tones usually reserved for 'specialist' interests. Up until now I'd thought my parenting was pretty natural. My son laughs, plays, eats really well, sits up at the table when we go out to eat and sometimes even sleeps all night. Apparently I'm a terrible person because I allow him to watch Rastamouse while I pop to the loo or make a cup of tea. No amount of eco nappies, bamboo swaddling, organic baby food and soothing music can make up for that sort of negligence !