On making a rod for your own back, and other irritating parenting phrases

As a former English student conducting a life-long love affair with both books and language, I always enjoy reading the end-of-year lists of words and phrases which have crept in and out of use in the past twelve months. According to The Guardian it was bye to chillaxing and hi to omnishambles, apparently, and Charlie Brooker has a typically brilliant take on 2012’s fashionable phrases here. The past year also added a whole new metaphorical dictionary to our shelf, full of the world of words related to pregnancy, parenting and babies. There are slings, self-soothing, baby sleep and baby sick. Months become trimesters. You’re no longer you, but mum, mother, mummy, mama, or muma. And even baby names have trends and fashions and a multitude of different spellings and variations, most of which are a Mumsnet minefield. The vast majority of the overly cutesy, twee or sentimental baby language people use has a nails / blackboard effect on me (it’s not just me, surely?). However, the parenting phrase that I have become to find most objectionable over the past twelve months is ‘making a rod for your own back’. Typically taken to mean you’re doing something now that will cause problems in the future, it’s the type of phrase that’s often dished out by health visitors, relatives, and pseudo well-meaning onlookers. And it is incredibly irritating. It is often used in relation to things that people may or many not agree with, or around things you generally do out of necessity. As some examples, things related to parenting that I’ve been told or read that I’m ‘making a rod for my own back’ about: breastfeeding on-demand, letting the baby asleep on me, feeding her to sleep, occasionally letting her sleep in our bed for some or all of the night, choosing not to give her a dummy, and not leaving her to cry. It’s easy to let it wash over your back when you’re more confident in your choices, but when it’s related to something you do because it’s all you can do to get by and just survive in the hazy first few weeks and months, it’s never particularly helpful. We have a whole year to write ahead of us before we can even think of end-of-year wrap-up lists. But here’s a thought, if it’s a phrase you’ve tempted to use, why not make an actual suggestion instead? Let’s try and make it obsolete in 2013. Is it possible that there’s a parenting phrase that is more annoying? What words really wind you up? Leave a comment, I’d love to know.

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