Thursday, 14 May 2015

Supernanny! Where were you when I needed you?

        Where were you when my two-year old was throwing tantrums in Tesco, screaming her head off in Sainsbury’s, crawling over tables in our local MacDonald’s, or darting traffic-wards from my grasp?
       Yes, I know I’ve got competition but I’m convinced that, had there been a prize for the most horrendous toddler West of the Pennines, my daughter would have won it hands down. In fact, two years after her appearance, there was a significant dip in birth rates in the area – no doubt due to otherwise fertile people having travelled on the same train with me and my hyper-active, utterly uncontrollable, ear-piercingly noisy little girl.
       And then, 2 decades too late, along comes TV nanny, Jo Frost (the ultimate Mary Poppins) who, with firmness and gentle persuasion is able to comfort, reassure and discipline the most headstrong 2- to 20-year old. Does she hypnotise them? Threaten them behind the scenes, resort to bribery? Or is she simply a miracle worker, sent from heaven to show mere mortals the way? 
       Sorry Jo, it’s all very impressive, but here’s the million dollar question – would you be as effective if the child you had to tame was your own? The reason I ask is that one of the most desperate mums I knew from our local toddler group had, in the distant past BC (Before Cate), been an excellent primary school teacher who never had cause to raise her voice, despite having a class of 30 very small people. Yet, just two years into motherhood, she was a broken woman.
       Another case in point is my own sweet child who was an absolute angel for anyone else. Like a miniature Jekyll and Hyde, her personality changed dramatically once I’d dropped her off at playschool or the home of a friend, only to revert to the growling, snarling monster which I had to cope with every day. Please don’t think I didn’t love her – she was (and always will be) the light of my life and genuinely adorable for most of the time – and after twenty-odd years she’s learnt to communicate without the blood-curdling shrieks. In fact, she was actually getting to be really good company before disappearing down to London, leaving me bereft. But that’s another story.
      The fact that I survived the first 5 years of motherhood – with no help whatsoever from supernannies, grannies or beneficent fairy godmothers - is due in no small part to the one thing I actually got right (and which, sadly, Cate’s mum didn’t ) - Bedtime.
Winning the bedtime battle
       Oh you Mums, happy are you if your baby is big. Mine was extremely small and colicky, so needed to be fed every 2 hours, then soothed for at least another hour before she’d doze off again. As she grew, feeding became less of a problem, but getting her to sleep was a nightmare. In fact the only way she’d settle was if some kind of motion was involved, which meant my pushing her round in her pram with older more experienced mothers nodding their heads sagely as they passed while trying to disguise a streak of sadism in their collective dirge: “It gets worse, you know”.  If I’d been given a pound for every time I heard that expression.......
       What I was given something infinitely more valuable - a pearl of wisdom by somebody I can’t remember but who has my undying gratitude and respect. It helped preserve my sanity and it’s one I’d like to pass on to all you other desperate mums.
      Apparently, ten months is a pivotal period in a baby’s development. This is the time when parents must establish a good bedtime routine which will not only benefit the child but may also tip the balance of control in your favour. For some, it may be easy. For others, like me, it is a fierce battle of wills involving every ounce of nerve and determination. But you have to win. With almost every family featured in Supernanny, there’s a real problem getting the children to bed. If the parents fail in this, they’re likely to fall short in other areas too.
       Why ten months? Well, by this time, a baby is used to having every need catered for. One cry brings Mum running - to feed, change, cuddle and pamper. No wonder he believes he is the centre of the universe and that adults are his slaves. Somewhere along the line, the child’s perception needs to be altered so that he learns to follow the parent’s lead instead of the other way round.
       In my case, having endured several months of broken nights with an infant clinging permanently to my hip, it was essential that I gain at least a couple of hours to myself. Colic was no longer a problem and a warm bath followed by a good feed and a bedtime story helped my daughter to relax. Even so, she refused to settle and the upstairs downstairs ritual seemed unbreakable. Until one evening, I put her to bed determined not to bring her down again, no matter how many times she protested. I kept checking on her, making sure she was dry and leaving her again. It wasn’t pleasant, but it worked. After that one nerve-jangling night, bedtime was a dream!
       So, to the person who gave me that invaluable piece of advice a great big, if belated, ‘thank you’. To Jo Frost, I wish you’d been around a little sooner!

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