Jackie Highe, the author of The Modern Grandparents’ Guide has written this article for us [...]
Kindling mother instinctCreated by Charlotte in Being a Granny-carer
Sally Goddard Blythe MSc., International Director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Chester and author of books on child development got in touch with us after our story on parenting books hit the national press. She’s kindly put together the following response which comes from her unique perspective as both a professional who has written books on parenting and as a granny to two boys.
What has happened to parents today, that so many feel they need a series of instruction manuals to guide them through the first years of their child’s life?
So much of modern living has separated us from our physical instincts and our mammalian origins. The once natural processes of birth and death have become largely the preserve of the professional, sanitized in special units under the direction of professionals “paid” to care. This is very different from the experience of children growing up in less developed societies where birth, breast feeding and death form a normal part of living, very young children care for younger siblings and local communities are close-knit and inter-generational. With little direct experience of child rearing, we are witnessing a new generation of parents whose instinct to parent has been suppressed by modern living and for whom the sheer physicality of parenting, lack of experience and instruction come as a shock. Little wonder that they turn to professionals for a formula to deal with the daily challenges offered by their children.
The problem with “prescriptive” advice is that it restricts a parent’s opportunity to learn from experience and parenting is one of the few jobs in the modern world where experience is the primary teacher. Both parents and children enter this new relationship as complete novices – they have to learn to get to know one another – and to understand the non-verbal language common to all mammals. This is a sensory-motor language partly driven by hormones (from The Greek meaning “to excite”), which is primarily and fiercely physical in nature.
Of course mothers need help, and the best support usually comes in the form of experienced mothers who have learned the skills required with several children over many years. Often such support comes not in giving advice but by example, by “being there”: Sitting with a new mother who is struggling to breastfeed, simply helping to show her how to adjust her feeding position and give her confidence that she can do it; an extra pair of hands to pick up a fretful baby when Mum is tired; entertaining older children and showing alternative ways of handling conflict through example. This is how mothers learned to listen to their natural mother instinct in the past.
At times the advice of professionals may be needed to help break a cycle of sleeping, feeding or oppositional behaviour problems but these should be short term interventions which aim to give the parents confidence in being consistent in whatever remedy they select. Just as there can be more than one right answer to a dilemma, there are many more right than wrong ways to bring up children. Many parents want to understand more about the processes of pregnancy, birth, feeding and child development. At the risk of sounding like yet another “guru”, this is what I have tried to do in my books – to provide information about the biological processes involved in development and enable parents to make informed choices.
Finally, mother instinct does exist. It stems from the biological bond which exists between mother and child and is nourished through love, physical interaction and engagement. Like early infant language it is usually sensory and emotional in nature and does not always have the words with which to express what it knows. As a rapidly changing “modern” society, we ignore and suppress the role of mother instinct at our peril.
Sally is grandmother two boys and is looking forward to the safe delivery of a new grandchild this month. She is Director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology and author of:
all published by Hawthorn Press. Stroud