Now you have a baby, what on earth are you going to do with it? Melbourne writer-mummy Kaz Cooke helps out with her latest book… Q. Up the Duff became an unofficial bible for Aussie mums sick of being preached to, and Kidwrangling is a best-seller too. Were you always a baby guru? A. I’m not a baby guru! If anything, Im the anti-baby guru, who says: “Here are 10 solutions – pick the one that works for you. And if it becomes a real problem, here are some other books, or a website or video or phone-help service.” There was a big hole in the pregnancy book market – a big gap between the medical scary books, and the ones from England and the ones from America, but I didnt realise how much people would love Up The Duff. A lot of women asked for the sequel. The pressure was in making sure all the facts and medical stuff was right, and trying to present both sides of some curly parenting arguments, without making too many judgements. So many pregnancy and parenting books actually seemed to either only take the parents side or the childs side – there needs to be a balance. Q. As well as official experts, you¹ve used advice from 900 Aussie parents in Kidwrangling. What’s your impression of Aussie parents? A. Every parent, every home, every kid is different. We all need to remain flexible enough to do whatever is necessary – take what we need from whatever philosophy that has something useful in it, to help our kids grow and be healthy and happy, without being imprisoned by one rule or one persons strict theory. There were some letters that made me feel sad, from parents who imposed strict religious or dietary or other practices on their very little kids; ones who advocated frequent smacking or ‘icy stares’ as a method of ‘controlling’ children. All in all though, it was great to be part of a giant information-swapping exercise, to understand that most people are doing the best they can with the best of intentions. Q. Advocates of natural parenting sometimes cop criticism from mainstream experts. What are your thoughts? I think all parents get criticised, no matter what their philosophy! If its working for you then it doesnt matter what anyone else says. I feel very strongly that the theory should be fit around the kid, not the other way around. Lots of philosophies, including attachment parenting, are examined in Kidwrangling. They all have advantages and disadvantages. Parents need to get to know their kids, and adjust their parenting to fit the ways their kid learns and responds. I think many people see “natural parenting” and immediately reject it because its not how they experienced life. Parents need to be intelligent enough to say: “Just because its always been one way, it doesnt always have to be that way”. I mean lets face it, in the “good old days” kids used to be driven around without seatbelts, lying on the parcel shelf in the back of the Holden! Q. What¹s the scariest thing about parenting – and the best? A. The scariest thing is knowing that you cant always keep your child healthy and happy no matter how hard you try and how much you do “all the right things”. You just have to do the best you can, and try to give them the tools to be happy, resilient people. I think everyone needs a bit of luck, too. The best thing is realising how much extra love you feel, and how much extra love there is in the world because youve brought a new little person into being. Selfishly, I just love spending time with my daughter and chatting with her, having glimpses of the world as she sees it. Q. Any plans for a sequel? A. After five years of solid research and writing Up the Duff and Kidwrangling, I think its time for a picnic and a lie down! Kaz Cooke on the big issues
- Routines – I certainly dont have a routine, but one of the things Ive learned is that most babies and kids love them: it makes surprises more fun and acknowledges the fact that almost everything is new to them, which can be a very intense experience. The least I can do to help is make sure they get enough sleep when they need it.
- Childcare – I write when my little girl is at kindergarten. Shes been in part time and full time childcare, and my partner shares the parenting – he took time off work for me to finish the book.
- Smacking – I believe that its best not to hit children but to find another way of teaching them to behave.
- Controlled crying – I dont advocate leaving a child to just cry and cry. I think controlled crying in a modified form works really well for some people – and not for others. I think its about time we realised there is more than one solution to parenting problems and what worked for you may not be the right decision for others, and vice versa. I dont like parenting “gurus” who have the one right answer, because if it doesnt work for you, you can feel that youve failed. No – the theory has failed you – try another one. Using a loving version of controlled crying is better than a house where people are getting constantly snappy and angry from lack of sleep. But if youre violently against the idea, then you should, of course, make your own way.
- Co-sleeping – Co-sleeping comes naturally and works brilliantly for some families, and not for others.
- Long-term breastfeeding – Is a personal choice. Women who breastfeed a 3-year-old are entitled to respect – and I think women who cant breastfeed successfully and bottle-feed should be given exactly the same respect. The book isnt about saying “I did it this way so you should too”. Kidwrangling is about finding the choices that a) fit your philosophy and b) work for you and your child. Remembering, of course, that even in the same family kids have different personalities, different ways of learning.
- Colic mixtures: The use of medications for colic is a complex one. I explore this in Kidwrangling, and cant do it justice here. I think most parents would try a lot of other options before they tried medications. Its important to realise how desperate people can get, particularly without family or partner support, with a constantly crying baby. Getting no sleep and having a constantly crying baby can be a recipe for feeling completely out of your mind – we shouldnt be too quick to judge others. But like most people, I think medication is a last resort. Its important that people dont feel theyve failed because a herbal medicine hasnt “cured” colic. Colic is a mysterious and difficult condition that really means: “We dont know why the baby cries so much”. Its not something to blame yourself about.
- N appies – One very cross woman accused me of saying that women who use cloth nappies are “morons”. I was so shocked that anybody could interpret my work this way. What the nappies section says is that there are good reasons for choosing cloth, and good reasons for choosing disposables, and if you choose disposables, dont beat yourself up about it, especially if you have post-natal depression, or you find nappy washing a terrible drudgery that affects your enjoyment of life. Women who wash their own nappies should get a medal, and I mean it! I guess I have to realise that no matter how careful I am, people may see implied criticism or just be angry that I dont advocate only what they do.
- Overall: I believe in happy children as a priority, I believe in kindness as an underlying philosophy and I believe that parents need to have more information and less stress so they can be calmer parents. Kidwrangling aims to put fun back into parenting too, with sections on development and what games are fun at each stage; birthday parties and presents; good art and music and viewing for kids, that sort of thing.
I don’t think we are born with parenting skills; they develop – so if you have a new baby and you dont know what to do or how to feel, thats okay. You can learn together. My philosophy is about trying to be as relaxed as possible, but not losing my own identity. I dont want to be my childs friend if it means I cant be a mother as well. All kids need guidance and boundaries, just as they need lots and lots of love and cuddles and bits of squishy fruit.