Belfast Telegraph

Why you should shun views of sanctimonious parental advice experts and just follow your gut


We're bombarded with tips by child-rearing gurus, but Fionola Meredith says that mother knows best.

Who'd be a parent? It's a hard enough job to do at the best of times. Modern parenting has become a public battleground mined with fear, guilt and uncertainty.

Sometimes it can feel like it's impossible to get it right. But then we have these self-appointed experts constantly popping up to inform us that we're not only getting it wrong, but we're screwing it up badly, and the consequences for our children will be lifelong misery.

Crime, madness, obesity, social breakdown: yes, it's all down to us, the useless mums and dads.

The latest "guru" to share his wisdom is Steve Biddulph, a best-selling Australian psychologist who says that pushy parents are causing damage to their daughters. Biddulph has form in this arena.

Previously, he wrote a book describing the proper way to raise sons. Now he's turned his attention to the girls, and his words are pretty harsh.

"Success, as defined by a glittering career, an affluent, busy lifestyle, and out-competing the other kids in your school, is a living nightmare," Biddulph says.

"It's destroying the mental health of almost every boy and girl caught up in it.

"The sensitive, the open-hearted, the caring, the empathetic ones are the first to go.

"They are the ones you find in the middle of the night on the cold bathroom tiles, sobbing uncontrollably, while you ring for an ambulance."

That's the kind of hyper-emotive language that strikes dread into all but the stoutest parental heart.

But who made Biddulph the parenting pope? Why does he get to diagnose our kids and decide what's best for them?

After all, doing well for yourself in life doesn't automatically lead to meltdown, disaster and being carted off to hospital.

Yet, much of what Biddulph says, I actually agree with. I think many parents would. It's not exactly revolutionary thinking.

Making plenty of time away from work to spend with your children, and to really listen to what they have to say.

Setting limits and enforcing healthy boundaries.

Teaching them that rampant consumerism - the craze to accumulate more and more stuff - will not make them happy. Encouraging fathers to be involved in their daughters' upbringing, not merely "assistant mothers".

No issue with any of that. But then Biddulph decides to go off on one, instructing mums not to take their girls clothes shopping until they are well into their teens, "and maybe not even then".

What, no hilarious trips to Primark for silly knickers and sillier sunglasses until she's ready to take her driving test?

No jaunts to Topshop in search of that elusively perfect pair of jeans (it's a quest, we're still looking) until she's old enough to get married? Steve, you must be having us on.

Biddulph's justification for his retail ban is because we live in a social media culture where girls are continually judged on their looks. True, and it's hateful. But refusing to go shopping with our girls isn't going to solve that problem. In fact, hitting the shops together can be a great way to lampoon the quest for air-brushed perfection.

And let's remember that there's nothing wrong (or unfeminist) with girls taking pleasure in their appearance, or indeed with telling them that they look lovely.

As ever, balance, and a sense of proportion, is key.

My problem with Biddulph, and the rest of the international team of self-appointed parenting experts, is that their advice often has the opposite effect of what's intended.

By scaring parents stiff - usually mothers, who often carry a disproportionate amount of guilt around with them anyway - these so-called gurus undermine parents' ability to trust their own judgments, their own instincts. To be a successful parent you need to have a sure sense of personal authority. How can you acquire that if you're constantly being told you're doing it wrong?

My advice, for what it's worth, is to refuse the parenting experts any space in your head, or indeed in your house.

Dump their fearmongering, sanctimonious, preachy tomes in a charity book bank (there will be one at your local recycling centre) and relish the clang as they crash to the bottom of the bin.

Feel free to give the bin a kick for good measure.

Then enjoy the wonderful feeling of lightness as you walk away knowing that you really don't need them any more.

Parenting is about a growing relationship between adult and child, not a set of rules dictated by pushy professionals. We all find our own way.

Belfast Telegraph

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