The Writing Workshop theme for this week is 'Belief', with various open-ended questions thereof, including an invitation to talk about our beliefs on a non-religious subject if we so wish; such as, for example, parenting. I'm going for that one. This is not so much an essay as a kind of laundry list of my opinions. If you find any of them interesting and/or ridiculous enough to request further clarification, please do so; I shall, in theory at least though admittedly possibly not in actuality, be happy to write a further post on why I hold that particular belief/lack thereof.
Things I believe
I believe that the most important part of parenting is building a strong relationship of mutual respect and enjoyment with your children. That's the best possible foundation both for teaching them the things you'll need to teach them, and for the rest of their lives.
I believe that discipline should, as much as possible (and it is not always possible), center around teaching conflict resolutions skills and the benefit of co-operation, within the kind of relationship described above, rather than centering around figuring out how to get your child to do what you tell them. (This approach to discipline is generally referred to as either 'gentle discipline' or 'positive discipline', although I don't feel either sums it up very well for me – I generally think of it as 'collaborative discipline'.)
I believe that my job as a parent includes being sensitive to my children's feelings, and letting them know that experiencing those feelings is all right, including the negative ones. It does not include a requirement to shield my children from anything that might cause them to experience such feelings.
I believe that most babies will thrive perfectly well on any non-abusive and non-neglectful method of baby-raising, as long as it's practiced with affection and enjoyment. Some babies do do better on one method rather than another, but there is no consistency in which method such babies do better with. So, regardless of whether the particular method that happens to float your boat is Gina Ford, William Sears, Tracy Hogg, Jean Liedloff, or Wing It As We Go, as long as it suits you, your baby and the rest of the family feel free to get on with it and to ignore anyone who tells you you'd be better off with a different method. Just don't assume that your success with it gives you the right to assume that your child will turn out superior in some ways to children raised via a different method or to tell other random parents that they should use the same method if they're clearly equally happy with what they're doing.
I believe that breastfeeding has several health and convenience advantages, so is worth trying fairly hard to do if possible. However, in a list of priorities including breastfeeding, your physical and mental health, and your enjoyment of your baby's babyhood, breastfeeding is at the bottom, so don't sacrifice any of the others for it.
I believe that there are some risks with taking young babies (in the early months of life) into your bed. If all safety precautions are carefully followed then they're exceedingly low and it's highly debatable whether it's worth worrying about them if the alternative is living through a nightmare of sleep deprivation (especially given that this carries its own risks for the baby), but they do appear to exist. (And they're MUCH higher if safety precautions are not followed – so, if you're unable to do so for whatever reason, then it really is much better to try to find another way to manage the situation.)
Things I Do Not Believe
I don't believe that one bottle of formula, or even the occasional bottle of formula repeated over time, is likely to have anything particularly important in the way of adverse consequences for the vast majority of babies. (Exceptions, in case you're interested, are babies with a strong family history of Type I diabetes or of severe – as in, life-threatening – food allergies.)
I don't believe that it matters more than minimally whether you introduce solids at four months or six (though six is definitely easier in practical terms).
I don't believe it makes any great difference whether you nurse your child for a year or five years. I don't believe that nursing past infancy has either adverse or beneficial consequences, and think it should be considered entirely a matter of personal choice.
I don't believe that carrying your baby in a sling during as many as possible of your waking minutes needs to be on any parent's list of goals, or that it makes a difference to most babies over and above the many other ways of satisfying their needs for touch, affection, and general inclusion in your life.
I don't believe that sleep training causes mental or psychological damage or is a form of neglect.
I don't believe that sleep training is the only way of ever getting children to be good sleepers.
I don't believe that wanting sleep at night automatically makes you a selfish or neglectful parent.
I don't believe that there's either long-term problem or benefit with co-sleeping with an older baby or child if your family is happy that way. I don't believe that it will make children over-dependent or that they'll never want to leave your bed, but nor do I believe that it's some sort of magic route to making your children extra confident and well-adjusted. (I believe that the studies that have shown this to be the case have been confounded by the other differences likely to exist in parenting styles between families happy to bedshare and families who aren't.)
I don't believe that bedsharing protects babies against SIDS or that this should be put forward as a reason for advocating bedsharing. (Since, as stated above, I believe bedsharing can increase the risk of SIDS in some cases, I'm very much against this particular claim.)
I don't believe that sensibly-applied time-outs indicate to a child that you are withdrawing your love from him or her. (And, yes, in case you were wondering, there are actually people who do believe this.)
Things On Which The Jury Is Still Out
(PLEASE NOTE: All of these are issues on which I've seen some research/commentary that has made me form an initial opinion on the subject, but on which I am aware that I have not made a comprehensive enough study of the available research to be sure that I'm not missing some crucial evidence that would change my view. Do be aware of this when deciding whether or not to take this as advice.)
I'm not sure how much evidence there actually is for continuing breastfeeding past six months (in the Western world, that is – there's no doubt it's beneficial if you're in a country where you can't count on proper food or uncontaminated water). It seems from one study to reduce risks of gastroenteritis for older babies living in crowded/poor conditions, and there may be some fractional benefits for mental development, but there also seem to be several studies showing no benefit. Of course, it's still likely to be a hell of a lot more convenient than formula, but if you're living in affluent conditions and absolutely hating the experience of breastfeeding your six-plus-month-old baby then I'm not sure that there's actually compelling evidence in favour of you continuing.
I think (based on a couple of studies I have seen indicating this) that breastfeeding during the night may present a risk of tooth decay as a child grows older. Obviously this should not be applied to babies, who need to feed during the night if they aren't to risk going short of nutrition/fluid, but, if you are nursing an older child, it's worth night-weaning them. And, yes, I am well aware that lactivists will hotly deny a possible risk to teeth from nursing and cite studies supporting their position. Their studies relate to age of weaning (which I agree does not, in itself, appear to present a risk) and NOT to whether or not a child is breastfed at night during this age. It's the night-time breastfeeding that may present a risk.
I doubt that smacking a child (smacking, not using the word as a euphemism for beating with objects and not taking the opportunity to add in a heavy helping of emotional manipulation) is mentally or psychologically harmful. I don't do it, because I think it's not the most constructive way of going about approaching discipline (see second point under 'Things I Believe' above; but I remain unconvinced by a lot of what I've read about it, which doesn't appear to take all sorts of potential confounders into consideration.
So there you have it. A mish-mash of the philosophical, the practical, and the sticking out of my neck on subjects on which I don't actually have sufficient knowledge to be making definitive pronouncements. Pretty apt for a guiding creed of parenthood, when you think about it.