Entries in cortisol (1)


Childless parenting gurus

I don't like Supernanny. I don't believe that any naughty child worth their salt would stay on the 'naughty step'. I hate the hug, (mixed messages are always a bad idea)  and the 'saying sorry' shtick. Are we supposed to believe that after a spell on the naughty step, the child has had time to reflect on his naughtiness and is filled with regret. If not, what's the point of saying 'Sorry', it's just a get out of goal free card. As anyone with a teenager knows, it's shorthand for 'now get off my back'.

I auditioned for Supernany many years ago. the production team explained the concept as a return to old fashioned values in parenting. They asked me how I would deal with a misbehaving teenager. My answer involved listening, understanding the problem, negotiating, - while still having it clear in my mind where the boundaries where. Wrong answer!  They wanted telling, lecturing, threatening and laying down the law. A no-nonsense, nanny-knows-best, bossy boots approach, a kind of parenting dominatrix. The first series played up that element with Jo Frost, hair dragged into a bun, severe in a dark suit with a purposeful walk and a stern expression.

Have you noticed it is the parenting gurus who don't have children who are the strictest? The ones who recommend letting a hungry baby cry because the schedule says it's not time to feed or teaching baby that his cries will go unheeded, because he has to get into a routine. I know that most of these gurus have been nannies, even if they don't have children of their own. There may be a view that being less emotionally involved they are able to do a better job but I don't think so. 'Emotionally involved' is what the parent child relationship is all about. 

The hormone oxytocin is sometimes called the 'love hormone' or the cuddle hormone. It's released during labour, during breast feeding, from skin to skin contact and it makes us feel calm and relaxed. Distress - when for example you listen to your baby howl and are not allowed soothe him, produces the stress hormone cortisol in both mother and baby. (For anyone who wants to know how we know baby is stressed, a swab of saliva shows the presence of the hormone).

Evolution gave humans helpless infants to nurture. That infant has one main way to survive, to get a caring adult to tend to his needs and nature gave that caring adult (aka mother) the hormones to make sure it happens. Our bodies tell us what to do. We do what comes naturally. We relieve our cortisol-induced feelings of stress by responding to our baby's cries. Breast feeding mothers will lactate on hearing their child cry. Breast feeding itself releases oxytocin, as does skin to skin contact. It seems to me that to ignore these basic facts in the interests of managing or training the baby defies biology. Trust your instincts seems to be far better parenting advice, especially in the first few months.  

I wouldn't take lessons in cooking from someone who didn't love food. I feel the same way about parenting advice from someone who has never emotionally bonded with a child; the most essential element in getting it right is missing.  

There's an old joke that goes 'What's the difference between involved and committed? In a bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken was involved, the pig was committed. When it comes to bringing up children, parenting gurus are involved but parents are committed.