Posts Tagged ‘competitive parenting


‘The new baby will fit around our lives’ and other lies you tell yourself pre-children

It takes a brave soul to offer a new mother advice about how to look after her baby – when someone tried it with me, the mood swiftly degenerated into something closely resembling a scene from Saw V.

The other day, while listlessly flicking through TV channels in a bid to bore myself to sleep, I came across a series that aired a year or so back on Channel 4 called ‘Bringing Up Baby’.

I figured that it might just be dull enough to banish insomnia (which is ironic, because insomnia was the last of my problems when I was bringing up babies. Babies bringing up milk in my face, however, was definitely on the list).

The programme tested three different baby care techniques, Truby King, the Continuum Concept and Dr Spock, to see which method is best for children and parents. My own choice ‘The Path of Least Resistance’ has perhaps been left for a later series.

The latter method, Truby King, is ideal for parents who, on the whole, would rather they’d given birth to Sky+ or an iPhone.

Having brought your newborn home, you then set out to ignore it as much as possible so you can start having loud dinner parties at 7.30pm the day after you’ve given birth to illustrate the fact that you’ve given birth to a robot who could sleep through Krakatoa erupting next door.

Truby King nanny Claire Verity, who tellingly has no children of her own, is often hired by the rich and famous for £1,000 a day to practice the method on their offspring.

The technique involves rigid four-hourly feeds, no cuddling during the feeds or at most other times (‘attention seeking!’) and leaving babies outside in their prams for three hours a day in Siberian temperatures so that they can scream themselves knackered enough to sleep through the night.

It lends a whole new poignancy to Tom Jones’ hit, Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Verity’s aim is to restore ‘normality’ to new parents as quickly as possible. As far as she’s concerned, a baby is a bit like a flat-pack wardrobe from Ikea: a nightmare to begin with, but it swiftly blends into the background to the point where you forget it’s even there.

In essence, ‘normality’ appears to involve getting the parents to have a bottle of wine at 7pm every night to prove what little effect having a baby has had on them.

Parents clink glasses and look unbearably smug as Verity lurks outside the baby’s room, muttering darkly about how she refuses to be ‘manipulated’ by a distraught baby who is screaming itself mental in a darkened room.

It’s a definitive guide to the class system: pay someone a grand a day to tell you to get bladdered while your baby screams for attention and you’re middle class, ignore your kid on your own initiative while you down a few cans of cider and you’re working class scum who can expect a visit from Social Services any day.

Using the Truby King method, parents can expect their children to be sleeping through the night from six weeks, goose-stepping by six months and uttering their first sentence (‘who are you again?’) by nine.

Being ignored as a baby never did me any harm!

'Being ignored as a baby never did me any harm!'

Another method on trial in the C4 programme was the Continuum Concept, also known as the ‘Osteopath’s Meal Ticket’.

Parents must maintain body-to-body contact with their baby at all times for the first six months of its life, carrying the child in a sling throughout the day and allowing the baby to sleep in the parental bed at night.

The concept was inspired by the child-rearing techniques of the Yequana, a tribe of Amazonian Indians, who carried their babies continually throughout their first few months and seemed to raise particularly well-adjusted, happy children.

There are many good points about the Continuum Concept, not least the fact that you’re not expected to ease a six-inch lip plate into your mouth like the Yequana in the spirit of authenticity, but the technique has its downsides, mainly the whole non-stop carrying thing.

Just for the record, I’d like to make it clear that I maintained body-to-body contact with my babies for nine, not six, months – I called it ‘pregnancy’.

Finally, there’s the Dr Spock method, which is the perfect baby-raising technique for anyone too lazy, tired or sensible to read a baby manual.

Spock babies are fed on demand, sleep in the parent’s room in a Moses basket and basically rule the roost like miniature dictators without the facial hair (some even have the facial hair – there were some monsters born when I was in hospital).

As a Spock baby myself, I am still feeding on demand, although I am making a concerted effort to cut out the 11pm and 5am bottles thanks to continuing support from Alcoholics Anonymous.

With my own children, I decided that I could either study baby manuals and equip myself with as much information about child-rearing as possible so that I could make an informed choice about which technique to use, or I could spend the time I’d have wasted reading claptrap sitting on the sofa watching Hollyoaks and eating chipsticks.

By the time I gave birth, I knew nothing about child-rearing but a great deal about Chester teenagers and the differing quality of own-brand chipsticks from several leading supermarkets.

As a result, I made it all up as I went along. We quickly established who was boss in the house (the babies) and what kind of routine would work for us (one that involved me not getting dressed for days on end and looking as if I’d recently escaped from an asylum).

Instead of trifling matters like routines and consistency, I concentrated on far more important issues, such as buying really nice babygrows, identifying which jars of Organix baby food caused the much-feared ‘up the back and into the hair’ nappies and honing my withering put-downs for non-parents who dared complain about feeling tired in my ear-shot.

There’s nothing that irritates a parent more than a non-parent telling them how tired they are. Even if the non-parent has plenty of good reason for being tired, parents never accept that it can be the same kind of ‘I just washed up the margarine and put a hair brush in the fridge’ tired that we suffer from.

In turn, non-parents feel patronised when new mums and dads claim to have the monopoly on being knackered.

Of course, both camps have valid points, although you’d think those disposable-income spending, mini-break taking, tidy house owning, wide-awake, well-rested childless gits could cut us a bit of slack now and again.

Yes, you’ve just climbed Mount Everest with a fridge freezer on your back for charity and you’re moving house again, but I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since 1997.

I see your stress at work and I raise you impetigo, head-lice, threadworms and children’s entertainers. Now tell me you’re bloody tired again and I’ll brain you.

As I see it, I am selflessly continuing the human race so that there are enough care workers to wipe the backsides of the people who won’t have any sons or daughter to do it for them when they are old and infirm.

Obviously it won’t be MY children doing that particular job because they’re both going to be architects, but my point remains the same.

The least the childless can do to repay us is to let us have the upper hand when it comes to being shattered.

Oh, and maybe they could babysit a bit more often; say twice a week, preferably on the nights one of the kids has got tennis and the other one has football, simultaneously.

**** I’ve been away. I am going away again. But I’ll always be back ****


I’m back, by popular request (well, one request anyway)

One of my friends has recently announced her second pregnancy almost ten years after the birth of her first child.

“I’m not worried about childbirth, sleepless nights or starting all over again with a baby,” she told me, “what I can’t face is the bloody Mother and Baby group again.”

It brought it all back in hideous technicolour.

Twenty women leaking hormones in a draughty church hall with only a packet of shortbread, a leaflet on meningitis and their howling, shitting, puking babies for entertainment; you think it’ll be a place to share stories and swap advice, you discover rapidly that it’s actually a place for Lottie to boast about the clockwork regularity of Merlin’s poo.

Mother and Baby groups are, in fact, one of the most compelling reasons to be born a man, alongside periods, sports bras and netball.

When I had my first child, I made the mistake of going to several such meetings, the high point of which were a grim session where our babies were weighed by a hatchet-faced crone who looked at you accusingly if your baby hadn’t put on “enough” weight.

In between weighing sessions and tear-soaked mobile phone conversations to our partners about being inadequate because little Tarquin had only put on three ounces instead of four, we ruthlessly competed to see which of us had the best baby.

I say “we”, I mean “them”. I didn’t need to compete – I had the best baby.

There is a certain kind of mother who always manages to convince herself that her child is “exceptionally gifted”, despite all evidence to the contrary.

You can spot them a mile off: prone to wearing Birkenstocks, spent her early 20s travelling in India and the next 15 years banging on about it, uses organic tampons, drinks herbal “infusions” and spends a fortune on dressing her kids like miniature Greenham Common protesters.

Little Raphael may only be three years old, but  his paintings are already reminiscent of Matisse’s early work. Jocasta has been reading Trollope since she was 18 months old. Felix the baby sees dead people. 


Ok, write this down. He says to increase our investment-grade corporate bond exposure, but that equities represent a stronger return profile over the longer term.

Ok, write this down. He says to increase our investment-grade corporate bond exposure, but that equities represent a stronger return profile over the longer term.

To the outside world – with their untrained eyes – Raphael, Jocasta and Felix are crashingly dull, ordinary, average and normal; to their mother, they represent a trifold manifestation of the second coming. 

Such people, as Vic Reeves used to say, could never let it lie.

If your baby was crawling, theirs was Riverdancing and competing at a county level in the 100m. If your baby had just started eating rusks, theirs were eating bruschetta and asking for stuffed vine leaves. If your baby was saying “Dada”, theirs was quoting Chaucer and pointing out spelling mistakes in the Guardian.

In a very short space of time, I realised that the Mother and Baby group was only serving to make me bitter because my daughter wasn’t bilingual, suggesting uses for the unidentifiable produce in organic vegetable boxes or playing the harp. 

Not even my assertion that she had cornered the market in producing textbook “up the back” nappies, explosive creations which leaked from nappy to hairline and required an entire bottle of baby bath to remedy, was enough to impress my peers.

Unable to compete any longer, I stopped going and from then on had no idea what my child weighed (although she felt heavy enough when I had to physically remove her from the crisp aisle after an incident at the Quavers section in the supermarket some months later).

After a few minutes reminicing about the fun we’d had at Mother and Baby groups, my friend swiftly decided that this time round she’d shun the weekly humiliation at any such covens of competitiveness.

There are some very sensitive digital scales at supermarkets these days – and none are operated by a judgemental harridan with a face like a lemon (or if they are, it’s because the aforementioned face belongs to you).

**** Apologies for my prolonged absence from the coalface. It’s been a mother (and baby group) of a week and there are still many more words to write before I can relax this weekend. Sometimes I think being a reporter is the hardest job in the world. Way harder than sulphur mining, for example. ****

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