Foreword to Why Did Nobody Tell Me?

Rules paperback

When my first baby was about six weeks old, I panicked about the fact that we seemed to be oozing along formlessly in our life together. He was mostly feeding or sleeping in my lap, the feeding being almost constant and the sleeping occurring in frequent but very short bursts. Neither of us had any sense of night and day.

I panicked in particular because I had just purchased a book that looked friendly but which seemed to be telling me I had already messed it all up, that my baby should be eating and sleeping in a certain way and in certain places, and the fact that he was not doing so was a very bad thing - it was hindering his development and my happiness. (I am not even sure that the book actually said any of this or at least said it with anything like the firmness I thought it did. I make no claims at all for my intellectual faculties at that time.)

So I found myself, after six weeks of very little postnatal sleep bolted on to quite a lot of previous prenatal insomnia, doing a mad and awful thing. I put my baby in his cot at what the book seemed to say should be one of his naptimes and I went away and left him there whilst he screamed miserably and continuously, wide awake and understandably outraged. I think I went away for 20 minutes; I fear it may have been longer. I have erased the details. When I went back his face was glazed with tears and set in horizontal lines of woe like the Duchess's baby in Alice in Wonderland. I held him tight and wept whilst he continued to sob convulsively. He was inconsolable; I could not console him.

The book didn't actually tell me to do what I did. I just lost it. I thought I was damaging him and myself by allowing us to carry on in the way we were (and funnily enough we weren't unhappy that way - he was just a tiny baby and I was just a bit strange). I subsequently read another book about abandonment and stress hormones and psychological development and convinced myself that this one incident had psychologically scarred him. Forever. Neither of the books I read helped me to be a better parent or him to be a happier baby.

I think many people, like me, found Mumsnet in the early days of our parenting in bewildered retreat from one book or another we had snatched from the shelves, too tired to read it properly, too tired to apply it, too tired to exercise our critical faculties about what it was telling us. Too tired not to feel like we were failing miserably at times.

So we found a website. Where other folk told us it was OK to be exhausted, to feel at times like you had the wrong emotions for your baby, to fail to have a routine, to impose a routine if it was right for you and your baby, to make use of childcare (if you can can afford it) and go back to work, to make mistakes, as long as you tried to do better next time: that they had made mistakes and life had carried on and their children were fine.

And a couple of years down the line, when we couldn't get a three-year-old out of nappies, we found some ideas for bribes, and a little later some reassurance about the baffling testosterone-fuelled rage of four-year-old boys. And when we had seven-year-olds who went upstairs to get their clothes on for school and were discovered 20 minutes later reading the Beano in their pants, there were other people's stories to laugh at and their tips to try.

Because, at each stage of your child's development you tend to realise there is a whole lot of stuff you fretted about at the previous stage which you probably didn't need to.

"God, I did it all though. But it's like having a wedding and then realising you should have just eloped or had your immediate family. Once you KNOW, you KNOW." codjane

But there are also boundaries to what works and what is OK, and sometimes we need a (virtual) village to help us find those boundaries.

So this book is really a compendium of all the things we wish somebody had told us, the insights and experiences of all those virtual sisters, mothers and best friends (and the odd teenage boy with nothing better to do over half-term) who populate Mumsnet and who will tell you what to put in your party bags, how to help a child who has no friends, how to remove the smell of baby vomit from your work clothes (or, indeed, why you shouldn't use the disabled loo, how to make a lemon drizzle cake and how to get poo stains off a leather pouffe...) any time of day or night.

And the goal of this book is to make you into the person you would be if you had had two or three children to practise on before the ones you actually have. So that when you hear (as Justine did), your toddler singing (from the back of the bike on which you are ferrying him to nursery), plaintively and to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star: "Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mum. Mummy, Mummy don't go to work...", you can laugh a little rather than falling off your bike.

What we hope you will find most of all in this book is reassurance: a buoyancy aid to help you keep your head above water. This book is about finding your bearings, doing things in ways which make your life a little better and easier, forgiving yourself for being barely adequate at times but recognising when you are heading towards genuine awfulness and learning to put the brakes on. Because somewhere out there is some sane middle ground between the neurotic hyper-attentiveness which childbirth naturally engenders and actual neglect (or indeed faux neglect - "the parenting equivalent of pretending you haven't done much revision"). That is the ground this book is trying to stake out.

And here is a more general something we would have liked someone to tell us during those long days of infancy and toddlerhood (aka 'The wipe-wash-dress-wipe-clean cycle'), which seem endless then are suddenly over:

''I don't think anyone ever said looking after small children was incredibly fulfilling, not anyone I know anyway. But in the long term, with the long vision, I think you might see that having children was a good journey, and an interesting one and you learnt lots during it and it broke your heart a few times but then it made you proud and made you smile a whole lot too. That's not so bad you know, for a life. In the meantime, everyone should have something else that they do at the same time to keep sane. Preferably a job of some sort." Favourthebrave


Natasha Joffe

Last updated: about 3 years ago