Editorial: What to do with advice? Ignore it

By Annemarie Quill

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When I left the UK to immigrate here I was seven months' pregnant with my first child. My friend presented me with a leaving gift of a book, The Gina Ford Contented Little Baby, assuring me it would be my bible. I scan-read it on the plane - lots of timetables. Easy.

Wrong. Home from the hospital with this noisy red-faced stranger, she would not comply. When Gina said sleep, this creature screamed with fury. When Gina said playtime, baby was narcoleptic.

"Never wake a sleeping baby," intoned mother-in-law. Plunket chimed in. Gina started to sound irritating as my sleep-deprived brain tried to figure how to convert this rebel child to a "contented" one. After a month of chaos when I barely made it out of my pyjamas, Gina ended up in the nappy bin. Since then, I have not bought a parenting advice book.

So on Saturday I was contented to read Ellen Irvine's report on a study that says demand-fed babies have higher IQs than those fed to a schedule. That stubborn baby is now my funny and smart 8-year-old. She has me to thank. Finally my slack mothering has approval. Suck on that, Gina.

I am not alone in finding baby guides frustrating. Ellen reports that a UK university found that 50 years of parenting advice books have left parents confused. It does not stop us buying them - Bay mums buy up to 20 books each.

While some advice, such as government-funded support from the public health system, is well intended, much of it - the TV programmes and the books - are driven by commercialism. The mad men know that there is money to be made out of an insecure mother. Psychologist Nigel Latta found mums are more lucrative than psychopaths. Childless Gina Ford and the modern day Mary Poppins, Jo Frost, made their fortune from parents desperate for help.

We are literally sinking in a marsh of advice which is muddying all natural intuition we have for mothering. Books and television programmes are useful for ideas and information, but take them with a good pinch of Farex. Cherry-pick what suits your own child and family.

The high levels of child abuse in the country means many parents are not getting it right. Only last week we reported how a 12-year-old was left alone in a P lab.

The irony is that loving parents who are doing a great job anyway are over-indulging in the advice mill, while parents who really do need advice - and intervention - are not seeking it or getting it.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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