I've often wondered, sometimes while watching Mad Men or Downton Abbey (okay both), if it was easier to parent before there was the internet. Back then, especially in Lady Mary's time, you only had maybe a doctor to tell you that you were doing it wrong (or perhaps a crotchety relative). Today, however, one might encounter what could be described as a near constant barrage of well meaning "advice", news stories that scare the hell out of you, updates on carseat safety (OMG you are DOING THAT WRONG), recall after recall after recall (after recall, after recall), photos on your newsfeed about the right and wrong way to carry your baby in a carrier or sling (no doubt taken by the maker of the preferred sling), and oodles upon oodles of parenting "products" designed to make life safer for your precious little one. And then, just when you discover your toddler likes eating whole wheat pasta, no no no. Pasta and wheat are OUT, didn't you know? "Eat this now, but not that" is all you can read, hear, see, everywhere. Eat this WITH that, but only if it's shade grown and wild caught. Drink more water, no not THAT much water. No more juice, but if it's this kind of juice then drink it as much as you can. Supplements? Yes! And no. Sometimes. But only this kind.
I know what you're all thinking, just trust your instincts as a parent. And I do, or, at least, I try to. I don't know about your "instincts" though, but mine generally tend to run toward the "protect the children from immediate danger" type stuff, you know, like in a mountain lion vs. me situation. My instincts don't really know anything about what kind of laundry detergent is the most ethical for the environment and most "bad chemical" free for my offspring. For that kind of stuff I have to either 1) Trust the people trying to sell me a product or 2) Do a ton of internet research that usually comes up pretty even on both sides. Then there's 3) where I'm thinking "Why the hell did I just spend two hours googling the best floor cleaner? Shouldn't this be an easy decision?". Why? Because there are too many choices. Too much information. Too many reasons to second guess my own common sense. I've handed that over on more than one occasion as a parent. Maybe because of my insecurities as a parent, maybe because I want so much to just do the right thing for my children, maybe because I feel pressured to do so, but I've given it over. You can spot the mom who has given their common sense over. They're like me. Standing in the middle of the baby food aisle at Target (feeling guilty I didn't make my own from the Farmers' Market apples like I did with my first child). I pick up the more expensive baby food pouch full of quinoa and super grains and salba (whatever that is) and as I walk down the aisle I see the generic Target version. Maybe less "super grains", but also less two super dollars. Should I? Am I depriving my baby of much needed brain boosting super grains just to save a few bucks? And there I stand, pouches in hand. Usually, hopefully, I realize how silly I am being altogether and blame my sleep deprived mind and move on without too much thought, but it's there. The doubt.
Some of these stories and "advice" can also come across as pretty condescending. Guess what? I'm a grown up, that's right, an ADULT. I can probably read the directions on the baby seat that tells me not to put it on the table. Or, perhaps I should just use my common sense and think, "Oh hey, I shouldn't put a baby in a little foam seat up on my dining room table unattended". But no, items get recalled, alarms and alerts are sounded, warning and red flags are waved. We as parents are all put on alert because common sense wasn't used.
Now, don't get me wrong, I realize a lot of the information is GOOD information, I get that. I want to know if there's a serious recall (read: not the kind of recall that tells me there is a minute chance the strap on the back of the stroller holding the cup holder might break in the next eleven years) or a warning or something of that magnitude, for sure. And I'm grateful and appreciative that we have that sort of information and a way to get that info quickly. But just like WebMD when you've got a mysterious ailment, too much can be a very bad thing.
It makes you second guess yourself, and doubt yourself. Maybe you should have spent the extra money on the organic crib mattress and your baby is breathing in horrible brain damaging mattress fumes right at this very moment. Maybe everyone in the family should stop eating gluten. Maybe you should skip the vaccines the next time around, just in case. Whatever your paranoia as a parent is there is information out there to back it up, to justify it, to magnify it. The "experts" are constantly telling us how to do things as a parent, and how not to, and telling us the consequences if we don't do it the way they are telling us to. Consequences ranging from death, to obesity, to not getting into a good college. I don't care how self assured you are, by the time you get enough little tiny holes poked in your parenting self esteem balloon it's going to sink, even if it's just a little bit.
And that's just the usual parenting stuff like what to feed them and wash them with. What about all of the horror stories you see in the media? In 2008, when Lenore Skenazy wrote a column for The New York Sun about letting her then nine-year-old son ride the subway home alone in New York, she was swiftly called “the worst mom in America.” But as she points out in her book Free-Range Kids, kids are actually safer than they’ve ever been. In the United States, the FBI estimates that a child is 25 times more likely to be killed in a car accident than by a predator. There is a 1 in 1.5 million chance of a child being abducted. One in ONE POINT FIVE MILLION. But those are the stories we hear about, those are the stories that stay with us, that feed into our paranoia. Those are the stories that make us keep the kids in our sight at all times. The stories that prevent them from riding their bikes to their friend's house, that prevent us from loosening our white knuckled grip on what we think we are controlling.
The other day I was flipping through the One Step Ahead catalog the other day and I saw a toddler helmet for sale. No, not a toddler BIKE helmet, just a TODDLER HELMET. For walking. Around the house. In case they fell. This is a real thing. Here. It claims that "this advanced baby helmet is made of high-tech foam that absorbs impacts and cushions falls". You know what else does that? YOUR BABY'S SKULL. That is what protects their brain. Already there, built right in. So you seriously do not need a baby helmet when your child is learning how to walk. But, you will find people, experts perhaps, that will tell you that you DO need this level of protection. And you can find horror stories on the internet of someone's baby that fell and hit their head and OMG I NEED A BABY HELMET NOW I WONDER IF THEY DO RUSH SHIPPING. No. You don't need one (allow me to point out that the baby in the photo is also wearing knee pads, which is hilarious).
You know what else you don't need? The shopping cart cover. Those horrible germs you are afraid they might get from the shopping cart? Kids need those to build their immune systems. Seriously. And germs are not just on shopping carts, they are EVERYWHERE so you might as well get an everywhere cover if your aim is to prevent germs from touching your baby. Don't get bent out of shape, I had one too with my first born, and I lugged that thing everywhere and threw it on all kinds of shopping carts. But I realized this is just another product that someone wants to sell and make money on, and they are actually exploiting my paranoia as a parent to get me to buy it. So no. No more shopping cart covers for me. I grew up and survived without one, so did my two brothers, my mom, my dad, their parents and brothers and sisters, and so on and so on. All shopping cart cover-less and no one got the plague.
My suggestion? Find what you are comfortable with and go with it. You are the expert on your own kids, no one else is. And its okay to go against what you think everyone is saying, or everyone else is doing. Sometimes you just need to say no, no to the TV news stories, the scary articles in parenting magazines, all of it. Think of all the children that survived without four different carseats before they went to Kindergarten, without baby helmets, without parents second guessing every morsel that went into their mouths. It's okay to want to protect them, that is undeniable, but to protect them too much is a danger in and of itself. A child who thinks he can't do anything on his own eventually can't. And you might as well face it now, this world will not always be kind to your children. They will feel pain, and loss, and heartbreak, and suffering. Over-protecting them now, "while you still can", will not only do absolutely nothing to prevent them from future pain and suffering, it will ill-equip them to handle it when it does happen. As parents, we need to take back our common sense, and take back our confidence, and instill that in our children. Make that confidence be what they glean from you, not the parenting paranoia. You can be there to kiss them when the hurt happens, but you've got to let it happen, on its own, in a natural way. So put away the crash helmet and let common sense be your guide. xoxo