Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Gina Ford: Scaring Parents into Playing Nicely


A huge debate has exploded in the UK around what can and cannot be published online. Childcare expert Gina Ford, author of The Contented Little Baby Book and others, is threatening to sue the website Mumsnet, a forum run on a part-time basis by a group of mothers, for defamatory comments that appear in a couple of threads.

Ford, who has sold half a million books, wants Mumsnet not just to remove the comments, but to remove whole threads meaning that people who have not said anything negative about her will also be effectively silenced. Mumsnet have agreed to remove the offending comments, but not the threads. They also say it is impossible for them to monitor the 10,000 comments they get every day. Ford’s lawyers have now asked the hosting company to disable the website.

Justine Roberts, one of the Mumsnet owners, gives a great summary here. I don’t know anything about the UK law, but it seems a pity that a rich someone who’s feeling insulted has the financial clout to threaten a website that has 250,000 members with closure.

Gina Ford is controversial. She advocates strict regimes for babies, controlled crying to make them sleep, feeding only every four hours. She claims great success with her methods. My mothers’ group in the UK was firmly divided down the middle about her – they either loved her or they hated her. And the ones who hated her had some pretty vicious things to say. The same probably goes for Mumsnet. Their boards were apparently filled with as many Gina-lovers as haters.

I have to confess to a smidgen of Schadenfreude that Ford’s PR exercise is rocketing out of control. When I was a new mother and very scared, The Contented Little Baby Book freaked the living daylights out of me. I tried one of her routines for about, oh, fifteen minutes. When I couldn’t get Lily to kick happily on her playmat as she was supposed to do for half an hour between feeding and sleeping, I gave up and allowed her boob access. That stopped the screaming.

The book made me feel as if I was failing somehow. Then I found the Sears family, exponents of attachment parenting, who said that having babies surgically connected to you like Lily was to me was really, really good. So I felt better.

There are so many experts out there. No wonder new parents feel anxious. Whether they choose baby-centred parenting or more parent-friendly parenting, as dear Gina recommends, in the end they’ve got to live with their choices. My choice of attachment parenting left me with three babies who preferred to sleep with their noses pressed up against my side until they were weaned. It hurt, but for me it was worth it.

We give all these experts and gurus too much clout. We should take a pinch from one, and smattering off another and not buy into one person’s propoganda wholesale. If I had taken attachment parenting to its logical conclusion, I would probably be tandem feeding a four-year-old and a one-year-old right now. Okay, for some, but not for me.

My bit of parenting advice is do what is right for you, your baby and your family. Choose wisely because what you do will have consequences. However, if you choose out of love, you’re not likely to go wrong.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

17 thoughts on “Gina Ford: Scaring Parents into Playing Nicely

  1. Hmm. In the U.S., public figures don’t get to complain when people say they’re idiots. (Can you imagine how quiet it would be in the blogosphere if Bush got to tell people to stop that?) The idea behind this is that if you putting yourself out there, then you need to deal with the consequences. I understand the British, being a bit more protective of people about whom things are said, don’t see it quite the same way.

    Your point about parenting advice is terrific. It echoes something I remember from Bruno Bettleheim (he who later turned out to not be quite the fabulous parenting adviser he said he was) in The Good Enough Parent. Basically, we don’t read advice books to get advice. We read them to hear what we already instinctively know we believe. And I think he’s right. What I don’t quite understand is how angry we get with people who do things differently than we. Thank goodness they do. Who’d want to live in a world where every child’s grown up exactly the same way? And then too, it’s important to remember that it takes a lot to really screw up parenting. (Thank heavens for that.) Parents have tried mightily and they continue trying, but it’s just not that easy to do.

  2. You really brought back to me the memory of reading one of the childcare gurus (Penelope Leach I think) when my son was a baby. I think I sobbed over that book for about a week because it made me feel such a failure. I wanted a book to tell me it was ok to feel terrified all the time, and tired and fed up of feeding and not at all like adoring my little newborn, but more like handing him over to some professional who’d be able to understand what he wanted. I didn’t want to be told what to do, I wanted sympathy! Much later on I read psychoanalysts like Melanie Klein who spoke a lot about the ‘good enough’ mother. Perfect mothers destroy children – after all, why then would they ever grow up? I think about that a lot and it comforts me!

  3. You’re both right: when you’re a new parent, you crave someone to just tell you what to do (as Gina Ford does so successfully), but as you grow in confidence you realise that the only thing right for your baby is the loving choice you make for her/him.
    Bloglily: I recognise that trait in myself, that urge to criticise others who do things differently but I try to reign in my judgement. Heterogeny is what it’s all about.
    Litlove: isn’t it funny – Gina Ford had me quaking in my boots but as a new parent Penelope Leach helped me enormously. I’m learning to be the good enough mother – as a ‘perfect’ mother I was rather dull and smug.

  4. Hi Charlotte – thanks for your comments on my blog – it’s always really nice to have comments. As I’m a blog novice I couldn’t decide between replying to your comment in my email inbox, replying here or on my own blog – too many options! but I wanted to respond to this post too…

    It’s a fascinating post. I too have read Gina’s book and have read Attachment parenting. I found Ms Ford quite baffling, if not simply laughable. The idea that all babies are supposed to fit into this very tight routine seems quite ridiculous, because babies like adults are all different! We all have different temperaments, different needs for sleep and food. So to make a “one size fits all” routine seemed, well, just silly.

    As a psychiatrist I am a big fan of attachment theory and so I agree with their underlying principles. I love what you said about their little noses pressed up against you – so cute! I don’t go for “attachment parenting” per se myself because the methods don’t work for me. Having twins our bed isn’t big enough for all 4 of us and I’m terrified of rolling on someone. I can’t carry them both around at once etc etc.

    I try to strike a middle ground, to me attachment parenting isn’t about whether you share the bed, but about satisfying their emotional needs and making them feel secure. So if they are happy sleeping in their cot or playing by themselves I don’t worry – because I think if they feel secure they are free to explore their world.

    Controlled crying is another big dilemma but I won’t go into that here- may put that on my blog!

  5. PS – the woman is obviously a control freak – who else would try to shut down an entire website!

  6. I found Gina Ford quite good though I used it more as a guide to approximate number and spacing of naps rather than a bible. I never had to do controlled crying. I think the routines suited my daugher and me quite well but I can imagine they wouldn’t suit everyone. And I think ultimately as long as the child is loved, paid attention to and has there basic physical needs met there is a lot of leeway in the various ways you might handle things.

  7. Sonael – I think attachment parenting gets exponentially harder the more children you have. While it’s easy to carry one, it’s hard to carry two and pretty impossible to carry three. I do think Gina Ford is having some control issues in this situation and what’s worse is she’s alienating her target market – the mothers. Even the Mumsnet members who like her can’t say anything about her on the site. It’s just ridiculous.
    Ms Make Tea – You’re proving the point that as parents we should use the “expert” advice to suit our own needs and not slavishly follow them. I do know people who’ve done the latter and they never go anywhere or do anything because their babe is stuck in a Gina routine. Flexibility is key. Also as parents (I think BlogLily says this above) we also need to be flexible enough not to judge how other people go about things.

  8. Childless as I am, it’s a comfort to read and think about these conversations as I slowly begin embarking on my own family. I’m already terrified, and I’m still a year away from beginning. I like knowing these converations will crop up from time to time, and help guide me.

  9. Pingback: the white elephant » Parenting links

  10. I was going to post about Gina Ford on my blog too, after I heard about the ridiculous hoo-haa she was creating in UK, but then I thought: “Maybe she’ll close me down!” (Actually, I just didn’t have time).

    Old Gina certainly gets the sparks flying, doesn’t she? You know, she is actually quite young and has never had kids? Personally I feel some rage about this. When I read The Contented Little Baby Book before I had my baby I thought it seemed so sensible and that I would follow her regimes. Weeks after my son was born, the book landed in the charity shop pile and I was in knots of guilt. I learnt that there is no way on this earth you can make a newborn baby eat or sleep if it doesn’t want to – but was it my fault?! According to Gina it was.

    My son, at almost 9 months, is still not in a routine for daytime sleeps and I often feel guilty about this because of Gina Ford. I must say, as Make Tea Not War says, Gina’s advice was useful in knowing when and how to feed during the day but I could not get her sleeping advice to work. This baby is out like a light all night but he is *determined* he will not sleep during the day.

    He wouldn’t do the Attachment thing either – refused to breastfeed (I wasn’t producing milk so I don’t blame him), hated being picked up and cuddled, will only sleep in his own space with nobody around him. That is just his little personality. Really, it would be silly to prescribe a routine for adults to follow. I get up naturally at 6am but another person would find that far too early. Adults are individuals – and so are babies. They are not all going to do the same thing, I’m glad I realised that. But I think Gina calls them “little animals” somewhere…

  11. Thanks everyone for commenting. I think the thing to take away is to tell all new mothers not to rely too much on one expert – to take from them what is useful and discard the rest. There is so much going on in the early days, weeks and months of your baby’s life, the last thing you need is to be freaked out by someone you don’t even know.

    I think it’s a pity that Gina Ford is alienating her target market – parents – with her mad actions. It’s evidence as Sonael suggests of a slight bit of control freakery. Babies beware!

  12. NO! Is that really true? She doesn’t have children? Good heavens, what an idiot Ms. Ford sounds. I hate the way people make you feel bad about the way you’ve chosen to raise your children. Particularly in the beginning when you’re at your most vulnerable, scared to death you’re going to do something really dumb. At that point, you don’t need advice, and you certainly don’t need judgment, you just need reassurance. It all turns out just fine, is all any new parent really needs to hear. And maybe, if they’re trying to nurse, someone might lean over and show you the most comfortable way to position the baby.

  13. PR-suicide if you ask me

    I’m a UK mumsnetter and have been for years. I love the place. I’ve taken part in a number of conversations about Gina Ford too .. I read the book when my son was born and it wasn’t right for me, one of my post-natal friends followed the Gina Ford routine and basically I couldn’t deal with how restrictive the routines were and so we lost touch .. well she could never make it to lunch with the rest of us due to nap-times etc. I have also seen mothers in despair as they tried to shoe-horn their non-routine child into a prescriptive routine which went again their instincts — being unable to do it they lost all faith in themselves and their ability to be a parent to their own child .. so extremely sad

    The interesting thing about this particular ‘expert’ is not only does she not have children herself but she has no medical or even psychology qualifications – she went to catering college .. she isn’t a ‘nurse’, she started to look after babies and found she had a ‘knack’ for it hence the honorific ‘maternity nurse’ – no qualifications required .. at least that what I infer from her website – hopefully I’m wrong

  14. As a mother of four I am horrified that this woman can put forward such a theory. Unlike Gina Ford I have a masters degree and have taught Psychology for years. My daughter and her partner’s decision to adopt this barbaric method has torn my family apart. The adolescent problems (depression, suicide, eating disoorders, drug abuse) pre-empted by this method are tragic. Gina Ford is the one who should be sued.

  15. Biz, do you have any evidence of a relationship between adolescent problems and Gina Ford’s methods?

    Some friends of mine who had a long-awaited IVF baby discovered that they had no instincts for how to parent their child. They are big GF fans. I suspect that she is a godsend for people who are very rules-based and orderly minded, who feel threatened by a lack of structure. Certainly my friends latched on to her methods and were rescued from a completely terrifying sense of helplessness and loss of control.

    I thought she and they were barking, but they were the ones with the baby.

    Sorry about the delay in commenting. I’m working backwards through the blogosphere at the moment.


  16. Ford is a good car 🙂

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