When Charlie was born, I thought I knew exactly how to bring up a child. Why? Because I'd read the books.
Everyone says babies are not born with instruction manuals, but the shops seem to be full of them. Bibles for the parenting factions.
You choose your approach, you buy your instruction manual, you follow it to the letter, and it works, right?
You've got any number of factions you can join - you can be on the Attachment Parenting team, the Free Range Kids team, the Rod of Iron team, the Baby Led team...you name it, there's a guru with all the answers, just waiting to take your money and tell you that basically, you're doing everything wrong and they are the only ones with the right answers.
So what happens if you buy the parenting bible, follow the instructions, and it doesn't work? Are you doing everything wrong? Is your child damaged, ruined, beyond help?
No. Just no. Can I let you in on a secret?
The instruction manuals don't work. Not all the time, anyway. Children are not computers, or cars, or flat pack wardrobes, they're HUMAN. They're variable.
What works for one child might not work for another, and what works for one parent might not work for another.
I remember well the terror I felt as a first time mum, just absolutely desperate to do everything right, and feeling like I'd permanently ruined my child every time I made a tiny mistake.
Simple comments from people such as "You don't give him a DUMMY, do you?", "Oh, jarred food? Don't you make your own?", "You're cuddling him too much, you'll spoil him!", struck fear into my heart.
I'm doing it wrong! Quick, check the instruction manual, what can I do to make it right?
I followed the instructions that Gina Ford gave me, going against every one of my instincts, crying outside his bedroom door while he screamed himself to sleep, with Gina's imaginary voice screaming in my ear, "Don't give in" He's trying to control you! Show him who's boss!"
My baby was the enemy, and I needed to defeat him, lest he rule my life with his demanding baby behaviour. Why on earth should I feed my screaming baby? It's 6pm, he's not due a feed for at least half an hour!
So I followed the rules, believing that I needed to, Gina knew more than me, a silly 23 year old first time mum. I had to turn to the expert, because I wanted to do it right, even though it made me uncomfortable, unhappy, and went against everything I believed in.
Luckily, 3 kids later, I've found the answer. I've even given it a pretentious name! Can I have my own parenting manual, please?
It's the Agnostic Approach.
It's the "Choose the best bits of all the other approaches and ignore the rest" approach.
It's the "Get up every day and wing it" approach.
It's the "Ignore everyone else and do what works for you" approach.
It's the "Throw away the books and be your own expert" approach.
The thing is, no mattter what you do, some faction or other will disapprove. You'll always be wrong.
If you hug your kids, you're spoiling them. If you don't hug your kids, they're emotionally neglected.
If you breastfeed, you're making a rod for your own back. If you bottle feed, you're selfish and shocking, isn't that what boobs are for?
Co-sleeping? Goodbye sex life. Cot sleeping? Emotionally neglected.
Free range parenting? You're raising hoodlums with no sense of boundaries. Strict parenting? Your kids will never have minds of their own!
And so on, and so on.
Basically, you'll always be doing something wrong, but as far as I'm concerned, if you're happy, your kids are happy, and you go to bed every day with a vow to get up and do it all again tomorrow, learning from your mistakes along the way and showing your kids that the only way to learn is to keep going - you're doing it right.