So let’s talk about Gina Ford. No self-respecting blog on parenthood can avoid her completely, even if it is to suggest that she should be ignored. Where do I start? Gina herself is a good place to begin. Well, we know she was a maternity nurse, she has written a clutch of books, sold millions and advocates a fairly regimented approach to child raising…oh, and she is childless. The latter probably sounds like a bit of a cheap shot…there are plenty of individuals after all who are experts in their field… sports coaches who coach but don’t play….voice trainers who train but don’t sing. But then again this is not entirely analogous, is it? When a woman has a baby there is a lot more biochemistry in play…be it oxytocin for powerful bonding or the complex interplay between hormonal and social factors that can lead to debilitating post-natal depression. Having a baby does not happen in a vacuum. The recent vociferous condemnations of some aspects of her latest book echo this criticism. Gina’s notion that it is incumbent upon mothers to resume sexual relations with the father of the child as quickly as possible following birth, for example, shows that she has no understanding of the pain and physical complications that follow birth. It also manages to paint Dad as a bit of a one dimensional troglodyte.
And then there is the matter of some pretty peculiar recommendations. One recent tip that has been receiving some criticism lately is that which suggests not to look our children in the eye before bed time for fear of exciting them. I don’t feel like I need to mount a defence to that particular instruction, but it makes me angry enough to regress to simple name calling. Don’t worry, I won’t, but I suggest instead you pick your child up, look them directly in the eye and tell them you love them. If you need to spend an extra ten minutes tucking them in, it will be ten minutes you will never come to regret. A surprisingly succinct critic of Gina, one which particularly raised her hackles (she is in the habit of answering her critics with legal action or denunciation) was the former deputy prime minster Nick Clegg. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Clegg said of one of Gina’s book that: “It was like following a sort of Ikea assembly instruction manual. It made us feel strangely passive as parents.” He also went on to recount one incident in which he and his wife woke to the sound of their baby son one night and their first instinct was to consult Ford until they caught themselves and realised they were basically surrendering their parental rights to a book.
I’m not sure where her disdain for attachment based parenting springs from. I would posit that a busy maternity nurse might be looking for a system that reduces the workload on them. There seems to be at the heart of Gina’s work some notion that parenting is burdensome…something to be contained or managed. Her books seem to be an exercise in reductive parenting. Acolytes of Mrs Ford will no doubt be unmoved by this, but I must ask what exactly is wrong with allowing your child to form a strong attachment? Why is it the moment the baby springs from the womb we must spend the next year placing as much distance as we possibly can between us and them? What advertising guru gave birth to the erroneous fear that greater emotional availability will result in some maladjusted Norman Batesesque monstrosity? Of course a child must find its own place in the world, but these two approaches needn’t be mutually exclusive. Attachment parenting isn’t revolutionary. It advocates the core values of sensitivity, safety, consistency, nurture, balance and positive discipline. This isn’t some hippie based nonsense ripped from a Christmas cracker. These are common sense, intuitive values that collectively say ditch the rule book…love your child, keep them safe, provide them with a consistent and safe environment and most importantly give them time.