Nanny to the nation
Baby expert Gina Ford has threatened legal action over "gross
personal attacks" about her on a website for mothers. Not usually
known for their vitriol, why does she bring out such extreme reactions
To find a parent who is neutral about Gina Ford is rare - very
rare. You're probably more likely to see a Cross River gorilla and
there are only 200 of them left in the world.
Ford is a baby guru whose advice is either loved or loathed. A
former maternity nurse, she is known as the Queen of Routine and
advocates introducing a strict structure to the lives of new parents
and their babies in The Contented Little Baby Book.
In general terms parents tend to fall into two camps when it comes
to Ford: those who think she is the wicked witch of childcare and
those who hail her as the saviour of modern parenting.
But she is dividing opinion even more after instructing her lawyers
to demand the closure of a popular internet site for mothers because
it published comments from readers that she says are defamatory.
Mumsnet - set up and run by mothers - says the threatened legal
action is a blow to free speech and "wholly disproportionate''.
But it has taken the "extreme step" of asking members
to stop discussing Ford.
"It is a surreal and rather sad moment," says the website,
equating the ban to "barring discussion of Manchester United
from a football phone-in".
There are times when I'd prefer to be living with Gina Ford than
my own husband - she'd be able to help me more
Mother Claire Winsome
In a statement, Ford says she has no objection whatsoever to people
discussing or disagreeing with her advice and methods concerning
"What has caused me so much upset has been the defamatory
campaign waged against me as a person in which I have been described
in the most vile and disgusting terms."
Since the book's publication in 1999, it has completely divided
the parenting population and continues to do so. It has also become
a bestseller, shifting over half a million copies.
She advocates a strict daily routine - for both parent and child
- broken up into five-minute slots. For many it is "military"
in its precision, the baby must be awake and fed by 7am and parents
must have their breakfast by 8am so they slot into the baby's day.
After that the baby must be fed every four hours and allowed to
cry, for up to an hour if necessary, so they learn they will not
always be picked up. Parents are also advised not to make eye contact
with their child when feeding it at certain times.
"What the baby actually feels, wants and needs doesn't seem
to matter," says Julia Drayton, who has two girls aged two
and four months. "She seems to think babies are just out to
disrupt their parents' lives, there is no time to get to know your
baby and form a real bond.
"It's about making them fit in with what the parents think
will cause the least amount of work or disruption to their lives.
In my opinion you should work round the baby. They eventually find
their own routine."
Ford worked as a maternity nurse for more than 12 years and has
looked after more than 300 babies, but has no formal childcare qualifications.
She also doesn't have any children of her own, a detail that has
prompted many a heated debate.
Ford has reportedly said in the past that she has a "natural
instinct" for looking after children.
Her defenders say people use the fact she has no children of her
own as an argument that she doesn't know what she is talking about.
"But why does having a baby for six months make me more of
an expert than someone who has worked with children for years -
it doesn't," says Claire Winsome, who has a six-month-old son
and is on the pro-side of the Ford debate.
"The fact he is my own child means I love him in a way no
other woman could, but that doesn't automatically mean I can look
after him better than anyone else on the planet. The truth is there
are times when I'd prefer to be living with Gina Ford than my own
husband - she'd be able to help me more.
"Most people I meet who dislike her still rock their baby
to get them to sleep or have to walk them around in the buggy for
miles. Their kids usually still wake several times a night as well."
Claire did not have family nearby to support her and says the book
took the place of her mother. "I didn't have a clue what to
do and needed to be told," she says.
How society has evolved over the years is a key reason why childcare
experts have become such big business. Fewer people now live close
to their families, so someone or something else has to take their
But it also creates problems, says Frank Furedi, Professor of
Sociology at University of Kent and author of Paranoid Parenting.
With so much conflicting advice from childcare experts parents do
not know whom they can trust, but one thing is made clear to them
- they cannot trust their own judgement, he says.
And people have such polarised views on experts like Gina Ford
because parenting is no longer just about raising a child.
"With Gina Ford it is nearly always a love/hate thing,"
he says. "That's because parenting is no longer about just
bringing up a child, it is a statement of who the parent is and
if people see someone doing things differently they see it as a
threat to themselves.
"My parents viewed their job as bringing me up and that was
it, but the parenting culture has changed. Now a child is seen as
a reflection of the parent. If the child gets bad grades at school,
they are seen as failing and so are the parents."
But there is a growing group of mothers who have decided to pick
and chose what advice they want from the vast range of childcare
"I took what I thought was sensible advice from Gina Ford,
but not the whole regimented routine," says Anne Smith. "I
did that with other experts too. Mothers need to find the confidence
to do what they want, but not feel embarrassed if they need to totally
follow experts like Ford.
"Parenting is hard enough without us turning on each other."
published on BBC News, 9 August 2006