By now many of you will have seen the rather amusing “Baby Sleep Positions” posted by Andy @ How to Be a Dad that have been making their way around the internet. And just in case not…here they are.
Whether these images resemble your life, or whether they make you think “Thank Frank that we never went down that path” (or whether you do a combo) – it would make sense that they would give most people a good laugh in a world where most of us crave a moment or two of lightness.
But hang on. If you thought that was the end of it, check out the comments in response to these images on Mamania. Anything but light, a few of the readers there think co-sleeping is the same as giving a baby heroin.
As parents, each of us endeavours to do the best we can for our kids (it is true that even when I was working with families who were involved with Child Protection Services and things were going horribly wrong, I cannot recall one single parent I knew who was deliberately trying to screw their kids up). So at what point does our desire to do the “right thing” by our children, become an excuse for claiming “our way” is superior to everyone else? And why do some parents (not to mention some “experts”) have this uncontrollable urge to instruct everyone else on their superior ways of doing it?
The notion that particular ways of parenting are superior is a treacherous path. When my daughter was born I had 15 years experience with babies under my belt. Yet, even with all my so-called knowledge, in the early weeks and months after Lilly was born I was extremely vulnerable to other people’s suggestions about what I should do (in relation to everything: sleep, breastfeeding, carrying and even how I should dress her). Every instruction or well-intended piece of advice from someone else left me in a state of utter anxiety and doubt about what I was doing and in my own capacities as her mother.
It is easy then to understand how so many of us become quite obsessed with finding the “right” answer, the “best” way of doing [insert parenting task here]. Postnatal depression is thought to affect around 15% of all women in Australia (probably more). It often stems from more generalised anxiety, and general postnatal anxiety on its own is thought to affect even greater numbers of women. It is understandable how this anxiety develops from the overwhelming and conflicting advice, sleep deprivation, financial changes and relationship changes that accompany new parenthood.
Sadly, in all the information available to new parents – very little is said about the impact of even mild to moderate anxiety and depression on babies. The impacts are profound, and life-long affecting things like speech development, behaviour and conduct disorders, and even the development of mental health issues (see the research of the fabulous Ed Tronick, amongst others, if you want to know more).
Thanks to work of organisations like SIDS and KIDS, the number of Aussie babies who will die this year from SIDS will be around 1 in 6,500. I agree, that’s still too many. But it is far, far fewer than the 1 in 5 Aussie babies who will go on to develop behavioural disorders and mental illness as a consequence of mum’s early postnatal depression, anxiety and other relationship difficulties (see Michelle Scott’s recent Inquiry into the Mental Health of Children and Young People for these stats).
All this suggests to me one simple thing: If we are really that concerned about the well-being of each other’s children, we must find a way (in our health services, neighbourhoods, schools, communities and homes) to stop this obsession with telling parents what is the right and superior way of feeding/ sleeping/ playing. Instead, it would seem, our children would be far off if parents were better simply supported to discover what is the right way for them. And a bit of humour like Andy’s goes a long way to reminding us of this fact.