Pity the parents of today.
While plenty of people would argue that modern parenting has never been easier thanks to a free-market economy that delivers essentials like diapers and wipes to your doorstep and an entire market that performs any range of childcare duties from babysitting to nursing your newborn at night, it all comes with a downside: the endless barrage of ideas, theories and “science” about how to properly parent.
Trying to be a sane parent today is akin to being Neo in the famous “Dodge This” scene in The Matrix. Bullets stream towards him as he arches backwards in slow motion. He still gets hit in a couple spots. So it is for parents today just trying to raise kids without going insane.
Parents today consume more information than ever before. If you’re a millennial mom like me, you spend a lot of time on Facebook, and Facebook knows that you’re a mom because it sees you buying pull-ups and Googling pinkeye and times for Gymboree classes. Facebook knows you, and it knows where you are weak. And parents are vulnerable when it comes to their kids, especially the overachieving sort who easily fall prey to the latest expert telling them they are doing something wrong.
Just last week a Wall Street Journal article entitled “The Wrong Way to Speak to Children,” rolled into my Facebook feed. The subheader read, “Parents often use phrases like ‘Good job!’ and ‘Say thank you’ when they talk to their children. But what do those phrases really mean?”
Before I could place my hands over my ears and loudly sing “LA LA LA” another one scrolled right beneath it from Psychology Today entitled, “Be Worried About Boys, Especially Baby Boys.” Pregnant with a boy and raising another two-year old boy, this time I took the bait and clicked. The short version of the argument? There are about eight billion ways a mom can screw up, even before she knows she is pregnant, in raising a boy.
Ironically, one of the major mommy no-no’s cited in the article is to be anxious or depressed, as if reading articles about all the easy and common pitfalls inherent in normal life won’t contribute to a mom feeling scared or down.
I saw these articles just minutes after reading a thread on a parenting blog about car seats in which multiple parents said they kept their children rear-facing in their car seats until the children were as old as three or four. When I mentioned that we turned both our kids to forward-facing seats at age one, which is perfectly legal, because we felt the danger of distracted driving with an unreachable and screaming child outweighed the safety benefit of having a twenty-something pound (still fully-harnessed) child turned around, I got electronically screamed at by mothers who said I was spreading falsities about the permissibility of doing so as per the American Academy of Pediatricians.
And that’s what’s concerning about the magnitude of parental scaremongering today: a frighteningly large proportion of it comes from the mainstream media and gets the almighty label “science” slapped on it.
In the same week that The Wall Street Journal printed the musings of the latest “expert” telling basically all parents that they are doing it wrong by using “parentspeak,” whatever the heck that is, the medical community came out with a giant “oops” and said they were completely wrong in telling pregnant women that they should avoid peanuts in order to spare their child the much-dreaded peanut allergy. As a USA Today headline bluntly put it: “Peanut Allergy: Everything they told you was wrong.”
I was almost a victim of this episode in bunk science: my obstetrician told me not to eat peanuts when I was pregnant with my first child, as I had a mild peanut allergy as a child. Something deep down told me this advice was bad and made no sense, and I did the opposite. I craved peanut butter throughout my pregnancy, and I ate it whenever the mood struck me.
But like Neo, even though I try to hold any and all parenting advice at arm’s length, I’ve still done some things I now regret. I fell for the no pacifier drivel, which has since been proven to raise a baby’s risk of SIDS; I got suckered into making myself miserable with a breast pump thanks to the unproven “breast is best” mantra; and I worried myself sick over giving my first child any baby formula.
The irony underlying today’s parental scaremongering industry is that the only advice parents really need is the advice almost no one is giving: get married, stay married, put your spouse first, and above all, keep having fun.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to have fun when you are sprinting through a field full of parenting advice landmines and seeing and reading pseudoscience everywhere you turn. It’s also hard to stay sane, and more than anything, kids need their parents to be sane.
So if you are a parent, give yourself a gift in 2017: Grant yourself permission to opt out of and to scroll past every single parenting article that tries to lure you in with the latest trendy theory about parenting, especially if it has the word science in it. Just fancy yourself like Trinity in The Matrix and tell the bunk science parenting industry to “dodge this” and go on with enjoying your life.