Shevonne Hunt ponders just how much instinct informs our parenting, and whether going with your gut is a legitimate parenting approach …
From one mum to another
We all have moments of self-doubt, but never more so than in those early days and weeks of motherhood.
In an attempt to alleviate some of that maternal anxiety, Western Sydney University and Westmead Hospital have teamed up to create a wonderful project that has the power to change new mothers’ perspective – They’re asking mums with older children to write a letter to new mums with advice and insight into the first weeks and months of being a new mum.
How genius is that?!
“Go with whatever works for you and your family”
One of the letters in the ongoing program included this sage advice:
“Soak up as much as you can from the midwives that are there but always, always trust your gut instinct. From the time I was pregnant I quickly realised that people will jam advice and opinions down your throat – from the type of delivery you should have, how you should feed your baby, when to give solids, what routine they should have, whether to let them cry or not and the list goes on. Cherry pick this advice and go with whatever works for you and your family. There is no one size fits all approach – people are different and cope with things differently, we all have different lifestyles and you just need to do what you think is best.”
It made me think a lot about instinct, and why it’s so important as a parent.
Read more about new mum life:
- This is what new mums really want after giving birth
- This is why you’re so sensitive as a new mum
- 7 fun ways to exercise when you’re a new mum
What does instinct even mean?
The hormones that come with having a baby may help you breastfeed, stay awake through the night, and fall in love with your baby.
They do not make you an instant super-mum, completely in tune with your baby and their needs.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, instinct is; the way people or animals naturally react or behave, without having to think or learn about it.
Given the definition, being told to trust your instinct as a new mum can be terrifying. Everything is new and foreign!
Sometimes instinct comes from knowing yourself
I know I’m fairly sensitive, love human contact and am empathic (probably too empathic). I also know that I’m a bit laissez-faire when it comes to food and cooking.
If I’d applied that to my parenting style, I would not have worried that co-sleeping was going to ruin my child and set me up for a lifetime of pain. I would have known that controlled crying would never work for us as a family.
If I’d accepted that, I would have had less guilt as I breastfed my babies to sleep. I wouldn’t have struggled so much when I allowed my kids to have a lollipop every once in a while.
If I’d listened more to my instinct about the things that feel natural and right to me – none of those things would have been as hard and as painful as they were.
I wouldn’t have been so swayed by other people’s opinions and advice.
Once you accept what kind of parent you are, the rest will flow
There’s a lot of judgement around the way we parent. I don’t know why. The majority of parents are trying to do what’s best for their kids.
I spent so much of my new motherhood second guessing myself.
I worried I was doing things wrong, that I was creating ‘bad habits’, that everyone was doing it better than me.
If I’d only stopped for a moment and realised, who I am is how I will parent.
My first instinct, what came naturally to me, was the right thing for all of us.
Once you understand who you are and how you parent you will have less self-doubt when assaulted with all of the advice.
Understanding yourself clears the way for a deeper instinct to come
When people say you should listen to a mother’s instinct above everything, they’re right. But if you’re busy worrying about whether you’re doing things the ‘right’ way, you’re unlikely to trust those deep gut feelings.
If, however, you think “I’ve got this”, you’re more likely to give yourself credit for the knowledge you do have (that’s often gained through the hours, minutes and seconds you spend at your baby’s side).
Accept who you are as a person, and who you are as a parent. Whether that’s being an attachment parent, a routine-based parent, a sugar-free parent or any other kind of parent.
Really, we’re all just mixtures of different ‘types’ anyway.
Whatever way you choose to do it, stay true to who you are and everything will be ok.
It’s a precious and vulnerable thing – this idea of who we are as parents. We need to nurture it and help it grow strong.
Because the advice and the opinions don’t stop when your babies grow.
For more information about contributing to Western Sydney University’s Letters Project, head to their website.