I research for a living. I like to research. I don’t like to do anything without researching it first, and parenting is no exception. Parenting is a slightly terrifying responsibility. All of a sudden (well, ok, after nine long months followed by nine even longer hours) a baby is thrust into your arms and all of a sudden you’re a parent. I had researched the birth lots, but hadn’t really given too much thought to what we would do after that.
Then I had a newborn, and a new full time job as a breastfeeding mother, and the associated eight hours of sitting that comes with the role. Sure, for the first few days I gazed lovingly at my daughter’s tiny fingernails, her wrinkled legs and her cloudy eyes. But then, I started reading parenting blogs and sites. And there are so many of them to read, I found myself spending hours a week scrolling through blogs on my phone.
I’m sure a lot of what I read faded to insignificance as soon as it was digested by my bleary-brand-new-mother-eyes. But some of it took hold, some of the information I read has helped to shape the way I parent my daughter. Some of the blogs forced me to questions myself, and do things differently. Others helped me to realise I was right, and that I should continue following my instincts.
The blogs I read were passionate and personal, but included research and science. They were written by experts and parents alike. They all offered ideals - confident, happy, loving children - and ways to achieve them. And, for the techniques I chose to adapt, I hoped to hell they would work.
I must admit, I have at times doubted myself. What if not shouting at my daughter for pushing, causes her to be an aggressor her whole life? What if she actually does become one of those much-dreaded 18 year olds who still sleep in their parents’ bed? What if she fails to understand that I love her unconditionally, and instead thinks I do not love her enough? But, each time doubt entered my mind I would push on, putting my faith in the parenting style, the theory, my instincts, and the blogger who shared with me their story.
I don’t remember where, but when Ebony was just a small baby, I read that children should learn to say please and thank you by imitation, not by instruction. If a child says please and thank you simply because they are told to, they may not say it when not told to. If a child says please or thank you because they are copying a parent, then they will consider it a normal part of everyday life and will always do it.
I told my mum about what I'd read. She looked concerned. Clearly, she was worried about having the rudest grandchild of all her friends. She didn’t think it would work, and she thought that the way she did things had worked just fine (everyone always thinks this, even when it is far from true. To my mother’s testament though, I do always say please and thank you).
And so, ever since Ebony learned to talk, I have said please and thank you for her. I have not once asked to her say it. I look after my daughter full time, and though she spends time with other people, I am the person she spends the most time with. Every day she sees me say please and thank you to the people we encounter. I hoped that she would learn through imitation, though occasionally wondered whether it would really work.
Well, it did. For the past few weeks, my daughter (who just turned two) has been saying please and thank you AND you’re welcome! It came out of the blue, but is now a fixed part of her vocabulary. I’m so pleased, and I’m so glad I trusted that it would work. And I’m so glad I was never the parent who refuses to hand something to their child until they say thank you. And I’m so glad that, in spite of not being that parent, and in spite of my mother’s fears and my own doubts, it actually worked.
So, to those worrying that playing the long game might not pay off - that years down the line you’ll be stuck with a rude, aggressive, bed-sharing adolescent - worry not. Here’s hoping this is the first of many victories for gentle parenting.