We talk to writer Stuart Heritage about parenting
We’re never really taught how to parent, the closest most of us without younger siblings have ever got to living with a baby was the brief time we cared for My First Baby Annabell, who would usually be found jammed and decapitated behind the sofa 4 months after Christmas.
All we know and have learnt is what we read in endless books, peruse online or hear on a content-overloaded parenting podcast. Take for example this writer, the closest she has ever got to learning about newborns was during Sex Education; being made to watch a video of 2 cats meowing on a rooftop for 3 minutes, in the hope that she’d find the link between the vocal cats and the couple in the bedroom underneath the roof making a baby. Huh??
With this absence of experience propelling a lack of confidence within new parents, it shouldn’t be surprising that there seems to be a worldwide assumption that parents should just get on with it and cope with the pressures that come with spawning offspring.
Turning up at the school gates in floods of tears can cause uncertainty, piercing judgments and awkwardness in the seemingly peaceful world of parent gate-dwellers. When in actual fact stats show that many parents, usually those beaming with extra toothy smiles at the gates, are also going through an internal emotional typhoon.
The American Psychological Association reported that 15% of mothers of 8 to 17-year-olds rated themselves a 10 on a stress scale of 1 to 10. Along with many more rating themselves 6+. “They were also more likely to report lying awake at night, eating unhealthy foods, overeating or skipping a meal because of stress.” There are also similar statistics for new fathers too. Read more on this is in our new fathers’ blog here.
So should we aim to be perfect parents? Hide the woes, dreads and fears? What’s the answer? It seems the more we talk about issues in society the more help and support comes to the rescue. Instead of faking it and posting happy pictures of soiled white t-shirts on Instagram at 3am, perhaps, just maybe, it’s okay to be a little bit knackered, overwhelmed and disappointed about another poo-splattered white tee going into the wash and coming out stained the colour of turmeric. WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO YELLOW! This openness will not only allow you to accept the way you feel as a new or long-time parent, but it will also show other parents that living up to perfect parenting standards is just a load of turmeric.
We’ve turned to a parenting pro who writes about the subject (among other things) of parenting for a living, and asked him what his view and experiences are on parenthood. Stuart Heritage is a feature writer and columnist for The Guardian who writes parenting columns and has a few hit books. In fact he’s just released a brilliant book called Bedtime Stories for Worried Liberals. A perfect gift for relatives eager to read about Boris Johnson getting mauled to death by bears this Xmas. His wife Robyn Wilder writes about all-things parenting related, as well as other topics and features in publications such as HuffPost. She has a book named Reasons to be Fearful coming soon. Anyway, the point is, it’s safe to say we’re in knowledgable (and frankly honest) hands. Thank you both for answering our questions.
Peak: Are there any forums parents can use to exchange parenting anxieties and fears?
Stuart Heritage: Robyn built a Whatsapp group of new mums when she had our first child, which seemed to be a real help to her. I wrote a newspaper column about it for money instead. The good news is that you are not the first person who has ever experienced an issue with parenting, so you can find a lot of solace in Google. The bad news is that you will have to wade through an almighty pile of judgey dicks before you find anything even halfway useful.
Peak: For a first time parent, how hard is it to go from caring for yourself to suddenly keeping this tiny thing alive and happy?
Stuart Heritage: Really hard. Especially at first, because newborn babies are a bit rubbish. They don’t do anything, they’re terrible company and they don’t even fucking smile for the first two months. Especially if you’re a dad, and you don’t have that heavy biological punch that mums have, it can be a bit alienating and confusing at first. But it does get better.
Peak: What advice would you give a parent struggling to keep their head above water?
Stuart Heritage: Just to keep at it. The biggest lesson I ever learned was that everything is temporary. Kids plough through developmental stages like nothing else, so whenever you hit a rough patch, know that it will pass. It usually passes onto something that’s just as bad, but at least it’s different.
Peak: How has social media added to the pressures of looking like a parent who is coping?
Stuart Heritage: It hasn’t, really. Maybe I’ve just curated my followers really well, but all the parents I follow – especially on Instagram – are usually quite upfront about when they’re having a shitty time, which I respect. There’s a balance, obviously – you don’t want to look like a whiny arsehole who hates their kids – but most people tend to manage it well.
Peak: As a parent, do you feel certain pressures to ensure you are always outwardly coping?
Stuart Heritage: None at all. I think it’s actually a good thing to show that you’re not sometimes, because that minimises the expectation to always be perfect.
Takeaway tips from our Q & A with Stuart Heritage:
- Whatsapp groups for new parents can be a god send
- Google and all of its parenting advice can be helpful but also drenched in turmeric
- Newborn babies can be tough to read and care for but stick with it as it gets easier
- Rough stages pass and new challenges emerge
- Perfection isn’t necessary!
And on that note reader, you may now leave, take a sigh of relief, let go of the idea of being a perfect parent and curl up and cry. Go for it. It feels really rather good. Oh and stick those L plates on until they turn 30 – or maybe even older given the current housing crisis.
Or listen to their joint podcast called The Naughty Step here.
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