London - For the past few years, Gina Ford has been the nanny liberals love to hate.
She’s been vilified for her controversial advice that new mothers should stick to a rigid routine, not to mention her advocacy of “controlled crying”, and condemned for not being a mother herself.
Now her new book, The Contented Mother’s Guide, has ignited yet another row, this time over that most taboo of subjects: sex after a baby. What’s her latest hand grenade? Wait for it - she thinks that new mothers should not forget the importance of their relationship with their husbands.
There’s been predictable outrage from everyone from Mumsnet to the National Childbirth Trust - and, for the life of me, I can’t see why. The dirty little secret in too many marriages, post-children, is that couples gradually grow further apart.
There are few undertakings more exhausting than having children, or potentially more damaging to a relationship. Every couple I know with young children engages in competitive tiredness (‘But you slept last Saturday!’). Without the bonds of intimacy, small resentments - nourished by lack of sleep - creep up on you, unannounced, until one day you realise the strong relationship you took for granted has become dangerously brittle.
We’re living through the most child centric period of our history. We’re encouraged to see our children as an extension of ourselves, and we pour energy into making them as perfect as possible. We want them to have all the opportunities we didn’t, whether that means going to a top university, playing the piano or being a county tennis champion. To pay for all this, we work longer and longer hours, and become more and more tired. Is it any wonder so many women are too exhausted for sex?
For some mothers, their children become the all-consuming focus of their lives. They rattle along for years in an empty marriage until brought up short by an empty nest. Most men, however, can’t simply rattle along.
All Gina Ford has done is to suggest that we remember this and take early, preventative action. It’s hardly on a par with suggesting you beat your children. Yet once again she’s being treated as a bogeywoman.
I must confess to being a Gina Ford convert. For the first six months of my daughter’s life, I barely slept. Her colicky pains began at around 6pm each evening, and despite my best efforts - administering gripe water, winding her, rocking her - they continued throughout much of each night. I remember craving sleep much as an addict craves heroin: it became my sole obsession.
Throughout these early months, I used the revered child psychologist Penelope Leach’s definitive parenting manual Your Baby And Child, which counselled you to let your baby dictate the pace. Let your baby sleep when it wanted to sleep and eat when it wanted to eat. All you, the new mother, had to do was lovingly go with the flow.
There may well be some saintly earth goddesses - perhaps with staff, in a delightful villa somewhere warm - who manage not just to survive but to thrive on the Leach method. As a besotted but bone achingly weary first-time mother in a one-bedroom London flat, I was not one of them.
By the time our son was born five years later, Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book was a controversial bestseller. Unable to bear the thought of more exhaustion, I ditched Penelope and took Gina’s advice. Following her timetable too slavishly, I soon realised, would make life almost impossible - but, with only small amendments, I soon found myself with a baby who took naps at more or less the same times, ate at more or less the same times and slept well at night from about week three.
So why was the advice of a childless nanny so much more helpful than the advice of a child psychologist and mother of two?
I believe it’s because, unlike Penelope Leach’s approach, Gina Ford’s focuses on the needs of the parents. It’s an unfashionable stance, and I concede that her advice is sometimes too prescriptive. But we should never forget that what children need above all is parents who are themselves contented.
Let’s give Gina a break, shall we? She’s not suggesting we become vamps in the bedroom a few weeks after giving birth - just that it’s crucial to carve out time to spend alone with your partner, who is as important as your baby. And the only thing that’s truly shocking about that is that so many of us should need reminding. - Daily Mail