On BECOMING a parent, you find yourself at the mercy of a whole new breed of online political lobbyists.
Forget the Cyber Nats, these are the Cyber Hippy Parents (CHiPs. As in on shoulder).
These distinct groups of baby evangelists cover everything from “extended breast feeding” (so-called when the child continues to feed from its mother beyond a year old), to “co-sleeping” (that controversial topic of whether your baby should slumber in its own cot or share its parents’ bed).
Other movements range from cloth nappy usage to baby-led weaning (ditching the purees in favour of chunks of food from the parent’s plate) and “baby wearing” – the trend to transport a baby in slings or carriers rather than buggies.
Not, however, the sturdily constructed Baby Bjorn available in high street shops such as Mothercare and John Lewis. Absolutely not. That is “The Man” of baby carriers.
No, to be a bona fide member of the baby wearing lobby, you need to own at least three different brands of sling, boasting names such as Sleepy Wrap or Didymos – and all resembling a long and complicated cheesecloth scarf which winds 18 times around the wearer’s body.
But most importantly of all, you need to discuss ad nauseum how many times you have had to patiently explain to “stupid” and “backward-thinking” people who apparently accost you at bus stops to make enquiries as to why your newborn is being transported in this manner. “I have learnt to smile and nod and let them chat away,” patronises a blogger on website NaturalMamas.co.uk.
If you drew a Venn diagram, there would be a major overlap between all of these groups. In fact, you would be pushed to find a hardcore baby-led weaner who doesn’t breastfeed, or a dedicated co-sleeper who does not own a sling. I have no idea how these women find the time to fight so many causes.
Because what obsessive followers of these movements have in common is that they a) promote “natural parenting” and b) believe without exception that they are fighting a bitter battle to have their views recognised (and adopted) by the rest of the world.
There are thousands of websites, blogs and “support groups” dedicated to these causes – and articles passed around on social media with headlines such as “Debunking babywearing myths”. Myths? Surely for myths to need to be debunked, there would have to be a vital counter-movement parroting: “Babywearing? What a load of rubbish.” But I have to break the news that there isn’t.
What advocates of these causes have forgotten is c) that their views are not without foundation or merit – and if put over in a less aggressive manner, may be more attractive to more people.
I have to admit, I teeter on the edge of CHiPdom in terms of my choices – but not my attitude. I’m all for breastfeeding. I tried (and failed) at baby led weaning – but at least deserve points for effort. I never really got on with the baby carrier, but that was more to do with me being a five foot two weakling than any moral objection.
But what I do have a problem with is the lecturing tone adopted by the lobbyists. The issues are not open to debate. Anyone who suggests they might go “mainstream” on a baby-related choice is immediately accused of harming their child.
At my first foray to a playgroup, I was accosted by a chatty mother and her one-year-old. The talk turned, as it often does at these things, to our respective offsprings’ sleeping and eating patterns.
She asked how many times a day my then seven-month-old daughter “still breastfed”. I explained that while we had struggled on with exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of her life, my strong-willed child had literally gone on milk strike and would now only eat if chased around her playmat with a bottle.
“Oh,” said the mother, protectively drawing her own child to her bosom – away from my tainted, bottle-fed hellion. “I breastfeed exclusively and plan to for at least another year. It makes me feel good knowing that I’m doing the BEST thing for me AND my baby.”
I made a rapid exit in a bid to avoid round two, for CHiPs believe it is their place to evangelise their views at every opportunity – in an attempt to “educate” the rest of the world not aware of the benefits of this style of parenting.
I have now consulted widely with the rest of the world – and here is the real myth which needs to be debunked: we do know. But we just don’t care.