Why mother doesn't always know best (…but always thinks she does!)



22:45 GMT, 7 November 2012

New granny Bel Mooney is full of advice for daughter Kitty. Perhaps a little too full of it!

KITTY SAYS: As so many debates do these days, it started on Facebook. I had taken to my computer to ask my new-parent friends to recommend a baby monitor.

Since my husband and I, both 32, live in a tall, narrow town house in Bath, I wanted to avoid endless journeys up four flights of stairs to check on my beautiful new daughter.

Friends suggested different brands, while a few offered more jokey thoughts: 'Use your ears' and 'Doesn’t a monitor make it harder to ignore your screaming baby'

New grandma: Bel Mooney with her daughter, Kitty, and granddaughter, Chloe

New grandma: Bel Mooney with her daughter, Kitty, and granddaughter, Chloe

All this was rather funny until my mother popped up to join in the online conversation with: ‘We never had baby monitors — and managed.’

Later, on the phone, she explained that checking on babies regularly is sufficient monitoring in itself, and if a baby has to cry for a little bit before parents hear — well, it won’t do them any harm.

Monitors are a gimmick, she told me, and not worth the money. But I can’t bear my daughter being left to cry for longer than absolutely necessary. And the 100 price tag for the smart monitor we ended up choosing It was worth every penny.

Let me stress one thing — Mum and I are best friends. We have a wonderful relationship, which I hope I’ll emulate with my daughter. But she has a lot of opinions.

Regular readers might remember the column we wrote in 2009, going head to head over all things nuptial, sharing plans, and disagreements.

Now she’s thrilled to be a grandmother and proud of how I’ve coped. But she can’t shake the view there is just too much fuss over child-rearing these days. When it comes to childcare everyone has an opinion — especially your mother.

So in a nutshell, Mum thinks young parents nowadays make rods for their own backs by being too child-centric. She tells me she kept my brother and I to a strict routine when we were babies.
I protest, surely you wouldn’t let a hungry baby cry She says you should start as you mean to go on, with the baby taking its place in your life, not dominating it.

I could read her mind even when I was pregnant. It started with that mocking smile at the new(ish) rules for pregnancy (no alcohol, rare steak, runny eggs or blue cheese).

In her day, women drank and even smoked while pregnant. My friends tell me their mothers were also amazed when they chose to abstain from drinking while pregnant. 'Oh, you’ll be fine!' is that generation’s casual mantra.

Mum thought the array of stuff I swore we needed once the baby was born was crazy and raised her eyebrows when I showed her my list: high-tech car seat (my brother was brought home from hospital in 1974 cradled in Mum’s arms), a snazzy buggy (well, I will be pushing it for the next few years), matching nursery set, etc etc.

Bell Mooney and daughter Kitty are the best of friends but Bel's constant comments are putting a strain on their relationship

Bell Mooney and daughter Kitty are good friends but Bel's comments are putting a strain on their relationship

She may end up being right, but when a much-longed-for child arrives, you want the safest and best accessories. I concede it’s not cheap, but, luckily, family helped us with the big stuff and eBay provided the rest. Now, seven weeks after Chloe’s birth, Mum’s trying hard not to give her two penn’orth, but those murmurings about controlled crying have been growing slowly louder.

The other day, during a lovely dinner at her place, I had the Moses basket on the sofa, but became convinced the buzz of conversation was over-stimulating my baby. So I left the table to cuddle her quietly in the next room.

I know she thought me a mumsy fusspot. She’s surprised my husband and I are choosing to have our daughter sleeping in our room for these early months because: ‘We never had you or your brother in our bedroom.’

She coos in surprised approval when my macho husband Ed Hodges, an Army Major, folds baby clothes — because in ‘her day’ men rarely helped like that. But I’m of the (more modern, dare I say) view he should pull his weight because I’ve already done the hard bit.

When I suggested I wait until the weekend to write this feature — because hubby could help with the baby — she suggested I write between naps.

‘That’s what I did,’ she informed me briskly. And I know the diatribe of comparisons will continue. Friends warn that when it comes to weaning and potty training, mothers get even more vocal with their well-meaning advice.

It’s been the same for generations — I am sure our mothers were infuriated by their own, and I have no doubt one day Chloe will look at me with frustration and amazement when I pass on my pearls of parenting wisdom. It must be hard for our mothers to let go — especially when it comes to daughters.

Ultimately, I know Mum’s help will be invaluable to me over the years. Just as long as she remembers she is the granny now and, when it comes to my girl, I know best.

Bel Mooney with Kitty as a newborn baby

Mother knows best: Bel Mooney with Kitty as a newborn baby

BEL SAYS: New grandparents be warned — you should never, ever use the phrase: 'In my day…'
You’re perfectly aware that it’s associated with dreary old fuddy-duddies disapproving of some aspect of the modern world — and yet still it slips from your lips.

It must be the culture shock of becoming a first-time granny (two grandchildren born within four months is wonderful) and realising that now I really have become the older generation. So I can’t help telling my daughter that ‘in my day’ we didn’t need baby monitors because we just used our ears.

Then I find myself looking askance at the fiendishly complicated and expensive pushchairs these young mums buy, sighing that 'in my day' it was all so cheap and simple. She rolls her eyes — as if expecting me to add that I’m off to draw water from the well!

It does sound old-fashioned, but my memory isn’t deceiving me. I bet most women my age will remember, too, and agree. When I had my first child in 1974 (followed by Kitty in 1980) nobody splashed out on ‘designer’ brands for babies — and the fuss-factor was minimal.

We bought a cheap carrycot with a collapsible wheel frame, and the whole thing took one minute to stash in the back of my old Ford estate. Later, the simplest of car seats was fixed to the rear seat, facing forward so you could turn round at the lights to smile at baby.

The stroller was a basic blue-and-white striped affair, which collapsed like a brolly. Easy. There was no one-upmanship in terms of brands. Mothercare babygros and handknits were the uniform for all new babies.

Now I read parents spend mind-boggling amounts on equipping little Jasmine and Jamie. They splash out an average of 1,370 preparing for baby, while six out of ten admitted buying things they could do without.

Bel Mooney with her mother Gladys, daughter Kitty and granddaughter, Chloe

Three generations: Bel Mooney with her mother Gladys, daughter Kitty and granddaughter, Chloe

Please don’t think I’m tight-fisted. When Kitty was enduring her (very tough) pregnancy it pleased me to cheer her by accompanying her to our local kiddie emporium and help her buy smart kit. That’s what grannies are for, isn’t it

Of course new mothers love pretty and practical accessories. But there’s too much expense and fuss — which in turn means somebody somewhere is raking in the profits.

Take formula milk. In my day, if you were bottle feeding, you made up six bottles and stashed them in the fridge. When you needed to take one out and about, it went in a cool container, to be warmed up when needed. Easy.

But that’s not allowed these days. You’re told to make up each feed freshly (how inconvenient if you’re on the move) and then throw any leftovers away immediately. Yet the nanny-state instructions tell them to use a certain amount — even though it will be wasted. What drives me mad is that my intelligent and independent daughter obeys!

I don’t understand the fuss. Think of all the mothers like me who made up feeds without our babies suffering food poisoning! And talking of health 'n' safety, I did point out that French mothers-to-be must eat runny cheese and drink red wine.

It seems to me modern mothers are forced to be unnecessarily anxious — both by the peer pressure to have the 'right' stuff and by the regulations which govern everything from car seats to bottles.
In my day, we happily used our common sense, as well as saving money. Your baby slotted into your life and, yes — I was certainly more relaxed about the whole thing.

Thank goodness there were fewer experts telling you what to do and selling you equipment and cranking up dissent about parenting methods.

After all, all you had to do was ask your mother’s advice. But I’d better shut up about that.