As the mother of a naughty toddler, I was wracked with self-doubt till the parenting pundits confirmed that my worst fears were actually true. Regardless of the purest intent, the odds of me damaging my trusting tot are extremely high. Sue Gerhardt in her new book, The Selfish Society, claims that putting children in nursery before their second birthday is damaging to their mental health. Meanwhile Mary Bousted warns against ‘benign neglect’ — the dangers of letting the TV or computer babysit the child, leading to increased isolation.
The upshot of these theories – apart from overwhelming guilt for the working mum — is that parents should be spending more time with their children. In fact, anything less than full-time parenting in the first two years of a child’s life may lead to permanent emotional scarring. Every parent has stock tales of the toll their young children extract from their time, emotions and bodies.
When my son was under three months old, I used to get exactly two hours of sleep — 10 am to noon — every day, a fact I made sure to communicate to anybody who inquired about my new motherhood with the air of a martyr whose belief in the nobility of her cause was unshakeable.
But after the three month mark, the two-hours-of-sleep-daily story got old, stopped generating admiration and awe, and, as the glory faded, the exhaustion set in. Though my maternal affection was unchanged, with hormones returning to near-normal levels, my maternal zeal subsided considerably. We could go into the earnest discussions of balancing your own needs vis-à-vis your baby’s but the truth is that with mum around 24/7, baby will never cast a second glance at the Busy Ball Popper that held you enthralled at the toy shop or sleep long enough to let you have a really nice long shower.
Having a stay-at-home mum can be a whole lot of fun for your baby. But before you pull your child out of the nursery, take a moment to consider the long and glorious tradition of parenting. From the matriarch Hajra, who left the infant Ismail in more than slight discomfort in the desert to Jade Barrymore, who introduced an underage Drew to a hard-core partying lifestyle, history is strewn with examples of parents who were unable to wreak permanent damage on their children despite what can only be seen as resolute efforts to do so. My point is: take heart, you’re probably doing something right.
It is not as easy for a reasonably well-meaning, well-educated, loving parent to destroy a child as some experts may have us believe. As parents, we wield unprecedented influence on our children, but they aren’t just putty in our hands. They are individuals. Rather than stressing out if you’re unable to measure up to every benchmark of the ideal parent, aim to have fun (though not the Jade Barrymore variety of fun) when you are together and your kids stand a better chance of becoming well-adjusted adults. As for my son, he is two now. He enjoys his time at the nursery as much as I enjoy six hours of sleep and I am still learning to keep the self-righteous boasting to a minimum.