Sunday, November 04, 2007

Beware

Baby advice books all boil down to a single message: you are making mistakes now that you will regret soon, and for the rest of your life. Your misguided attempts at sleep training and formula-feeding are inflicting invisible lightning-bolt shaped scars on your innocent babies; in eleven years’ time they will be speaking Parseltongue and having nightmares about man-eating snakes.

There is no way to answer predictions like these. Babies are so frighteningly formless, so apparently moldable. They may seem happy and healthy, but how do we know what hidden damage is accumulating in their Omega-3-deprived brains? Even when they grow into well-adjusted adults, how can we know how they would have turned out – how smart, popular, and attached to their mothers they might have become – if only we had parented them properly?

(This, hubby points out, is the great advantage of the doctrines of original sin and total depravity. The babies are already broken when we get them; our job as parents is mostly damage control.)

I try to reject parenting advice that is based on fear-mongering. If another mom recommends reducing sugar intake to improve a child’s sleep habits I’ll give it a try, but if a self-proclaimed expert warns of hidden toxins that lurk harmlessly for decades until the master switch is thrown and we are all transformed into mindless robots ... well, I nod sympathetically and move on.

This policy isn’t necessarily wise or even feasible. There probably are hidden toxins, and no matter how determinedly I decide to ignore the fear-mongering, there is still a part of my consciousness that imposes a giant skull-and-crossbones watermark on most of the things my children consume, from animated TV shows to processed cheese slices.

One of the perks of becoming a veteran at this parenting business is that I’m developing a thicker hide. Dire warnings now have to penetrate nearly four years’ worth of habituation before they can infect me with the sense of panic that was my constant companion during the first dark months of parenthood. My children face unacceptable levels of risk day in and day out. We’ve all gotten kind of used to it.

They awaken in stuffed-animal-filled beds and eat casein-laden breakfasts in front of ADD-inducing TV shows. It only gets worse when we leave the house – there’s a recall out on the latching device in the Pie’s carseat (the replacement parts I ordered have yet to arrive). At day-care the children face separation from their primary caregiver along with all the indefinable hazards of an unlicensed home-care provider. When they come home, they’re left to play unattended with lead-coated toys, munching on a bowl of choking hazards while I root through the freezer to find some preservative-laced delicacy for our supper. Bathtime is closely supervised – but hubby’s presence cannot protect the children from the mould that inhabits all their plastic toys (not to mention the shower curtain and tub mat). After the bath it’s time for lotion (paraben-free – but is that enough?) and jammies (mostly free of fire-resistant chemicals – but what if there’s a fire?). Then there are stories, prayers, and lights out – all except for the bathroom light, which is just strong enough to disrupt their melatonin production.

And that is to say nothing of my suspect parenting practices. I coax the children out the door by pretending that they’re ghosts (I scream and they chase me all the way to the car). It works – but it also reinforces their belief that compliance is optional. I enforce bedtimes, when necessary, by threatening to shut the door, manipulating their fears and eroding their sense of trust. I punish acts of aggression only when I actually witness the offense, creating a slipshod and inconsistent system that is laughably ineffective. I permit my children to consume Goldfish crackers, Shrek videos, and McDonald’s happy meals. Sometimes all at the same time.

If I ever write a parenting advice manual, it will start with this mantra: embrace the failure. It’s a marvelously freeing way of life.

65 comments:

Sarcasta-Mom said...

I would totally buy your book :)

I'm so tired of being told to be afraid of everything. Foods that cause cancer. Toy recalls. Emotional scaring. etc. It's like you can't do anything anymore without fear of causing your child irreversable harm.

While a huge part of being a parent is protecting your child, another part is teaching them to enjoy the world around them.

Gabriella said...

Yeah I'm in sell me your book! Thanks for bringing a smile to my face!

Magpie said...

Yup. Life's all about compromise, picking your battles, and avoiding negotiation with toddlers.

Alpha DogMa said...

My mantras are:
- benign neglect, it's a good thing
- incomptency is underrated

But I do really like the philosophy of the much-maligned, but truly great, Dr Spock: You know more than you think.

Blog Antagonist said...

After 13 years, I'm pretty blase about the kind of things I obsessed over when they were toddler. But I still worry plenty. It's an occupational hazard, I guess.

I always tell them that it's not about eliminating risk, cause you just can't do that. My job is all about risk assesment and risk management. I pick my battles.

Some people would be horrified to know that I let them ride bikes without helmets and that we own a trampoline. But I breastfed them exclusively for over a year and stayed at home, so I figure it's a wash.

jen said...

freedom to simply be.

to forgive onself (or to never file a grievance in the first place).

how utterly simple is all of this.

andi said...

So true! I used to be convinced that at any given moment I could damage my child for life with the most benign of decisions. I'm so over that and now believe that kids are resilient and strong and will turn out just fine (sometimes in spite of their parents).

Oh, and I loved Alpha Dog's comments. I too am a closet lover of Dr. Spock.

Kimberly said...

I loathe the "What To Expect" series for this exact reason. It should be retitled "How To Obsess Over Obscure Possibilities That Will Have No Actual Bearing In The Real World."

One of the best things about the 5 year age gap between my kids was the vet status it gave me in the parenting trenches. I was pretty good at following my own instincts with Diva Girl, but with The Zen Baby I've blithely charted my own course with very little second guessing along the way--baby won't sleep on her back? Put her on her tummy! Dr. advises giving up breastfeeding because she doesn't need it anymore? Nod, smile, and whip out the boob when you get home. Kids want mac & cheese for lunch again? meh, food jags even out and eventually they get all the nutrients they need.

The simple fact is that the only parenting expert for your kid is you. And knowing that is an incredibly freeing experience. I'm glad you're there!

dawn224 said...

I think I just fell in lurve with you just a little bit.

Dawn who's 6 month old eats choking hazard food, hates purees, sleeps with her and will love David Boreanaz because he's seeing so much of him on tv.

Lawyer Mama said...

Embrace the failure is the perfect parenting philosophy. We were all much better parents before we had kids.

Eva said...

The advantage of having twins... you do the exact same thing to both, and they respond in completely different ways (like, some sleep trick, great for one, disaster for the other) and you realize, hmm, there's something to this whole nature part of thing. Though I want to take *a little* credit for how they turn out, just only the good stuff.

kgirl said...

You so know your mantra should be 'I give my kids organic milk. I rock.'

Mad Hatter said...

I'm planning to blame everyone else when she turns out rotten. Why beat myself up over it all in the meantime?

Chaotic Joy said...

Fantastic post. Truly. Because I have witnessed some of the things you do worry about and it's so freeing to let go of all the rest of it. I can't link this fast enough because everyone should read it. It will send me to be smiling.

Omaha Mama said...

This makes me laugh. The whole thing.

My sister and I also plan to write a parenting book. "Do What Works for You. If it doesn't work, try something else. The End."

I feel a lot stronger after 4 years too, maybe that's the magic number (until they're school-agers and a whole new set of fear and competition begins).

Lori said...

I have to say I actually love some parenting books- but not because I am actually able to practice what they preach. I read them and think, "what a great idea!" and then I still end up parenting on instinct, and based on my own experience and nature. In the end, we can only be who we are, and so can they (the kids, that is).

Terri said...

I agree with your husband, and I'd buy your book, too.

"Embrace the failure," yes, I like this mantra.

Jenifer said...

I would buy this book, I truly believe that at the heart of all families is finding what works for you and what you can live with.

I run a tight ship by comparison to most families we know, but it works for us. It allows us to do the kinds of things that our family loves and operate in a way that works for all of us.

I expect to make many mistakes along the way. My vigilance is waning over the years, but I don't think it is humanly possible to live in that state of hyper-awareness that accompanies a newborn.

Good for you for embracing your families unique dynamic ghosts and all.

Sarcastic Mom (aka Lotus) said...

Oh, Amen, sister.

What works for your kids and you, works for your kids and you.

That's the one I've come up with so far. And I'm sticking to it.

McSwain said...

Yes, yes, yes. Put me on the list for when that book comes out.

So when you have the Happy Meals, do you go for apples and milk, or...GASP...fries and soda?

Sheila Cason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
V-GrrrL said...

My kids are 10 and 12, and my husband and I had a discussion on this topic just the other day. The obsession with charting a perfect course as a parent undermines families and kids. It feeds the illusion that if you do everything right, your child will turn about perfectly healthy and socially well adjusted. Truth is: maybe it will, maybe it won't, and your role in the process may be much smaller than your realize. The other side of the equation is that kids with less than perfect, ideal circumstances learn to live in the real world, a place where everything does not revolve around their wants, needs, and development, where they have to take responsibility for making their own life and dealing with the hand that's they are dealt.

Sheila Cason said...

I totally agree. Not to completely plug myself but I started my column MommyMD:A Guide to Realistic Parenting because as a pediatrician I saw my patients come in with the most obscure complaints and worries. Everything was fear based. They had a list of the current recommendations and wanted to know how to fulfill them all.

I tell them what the recent recommendations are and help guide their way to making a choice. An informed choice. That's a whole different ball of wax. You don't know what you don't know. But if you know and decide to do something different then that's fine. BTW My kids ate mac and cheese tonight, watched sponge bob and had minimal mommy time. I saw them for an hour this morning. I've had moms close the door and give me their two cents on how I'm raising my kids.

I've seen so many tragedies and accidents that I think sometimes I started the column to relieve some of the pain. I wanted to help put joy into parents and not worry so much. - In me too- I love the new mom because she's so ripe for advice. Gentle advice.

I tell my parents, don't worry. My job is to worry and think about all the obscure things that could go wrong. Your job is to enjoy your child and let me know when you have a question. I'll find the answer for you.

On the flip side it's very hard to be a pediatrician mom. My husband says they'll be in therapy for sure. Sucks.

bubandpie said...

Dawn - I'm pretty sure that David Boreanaz is GOOD for child development (especially if it's Angel and not Bones - just say no to bad writing).

Kgirl - You make me laugh, sweetie.

Mad - See, that's the great thing - when my kids turn out rotten I don't even have to blame my husband, my parents, or their teachers and peers ... it's all Adam and Eve's fault!

Lori - Parenting books are usually not quite as bad as baby-care books - but still, if I ever get Mary Sheedy Kurcinka in a room I will hit her upside the head. In an ironic commentary on this post, I noticed on SiteMeter last night that I've been linked to from a BabyCenter post on CIO: Do not let your babies cry - it will give them BRAIN DAMAGE!!!

McSwain - *shamefacedly* I order the apples and milk. I'm such a hypocrite! But I do give them caramel dipping sauce and Pie's milk is at least chocolate.

Mary Joan Koch said...

Loved this post. You are a genius at blending wisdom with humor. Looking back at my childhood, my mom worried more about the state of our immortal souls than anything else. Stretching their limited budget to cover Catholic grade school and high school tuition for six kids was their major priority. They wanted us to learn the lesson that do ing good was infinitely more important than makng money.

When my kids were little, I worried more about nuclear war and psychological trauma from my erratic parenting than anything else. As each subsequent one of my four daughters turned out very differently despite similar parenting, I became less humble and less scared about how I was fucking them up. I also worried whether parenting was bogging us down in the everyday and draining us of any energy for political activism.

I have a whole different set of worries about my kids as adults, but I was planning to tackle that on my blog today.

b*babbler said...

I think I may just bookmark this post and come back to it every time I'm feeling a little neurotic.

It's funny, because I feel more inundated with fear now than I did when Peanut was first born. I' not sure why this is, but I'm finding it very unsettling.

You are a wise lady in letting it go...

Lisa b said...

I think you have captured almost every one of my neuroses here. You are right that we outgrow that intensity of worry. How could we possibly keep that up? I tried, but Julia sure broke me of that.
How can I worry about sunscreen or sterlizing bottles when the
A friend who doesn't even have kids gave me a copy of Dr Spock. It is hands down the best book on my shelf.
Marla recommended a Kurcinka book to me. I can see how some of the ideas can be helpful, especially when it comes to changing our expectations but something about the tone of it was bothering me. So glad to read you want to slap her. Makes me feel much better.

Bon said...

be warned, i'm planning to market this post as a baby how-to book.

i'm just gonna call you Dr. Bub&Pie, and make every sentence its own chapter.

i'll be rich. and probably saner, just for having read it.

certainly, it'll be the only baby book out there that ever made me giggle.

Aimee said...

I'm completely on board with your hubby's theory!

I knew they were already broken when I brought them home from the hospital and they wouldn't stop crying. Just doing the best I can with what I've been given :)

Her Bad Mother said...

That you let your kids have Happy Meals makes me feel a little bit better about the ice cream and onion rings (eaten together).

Patois said...

Sign me up for that book. I don't think I've bought a parenting book in so many years. You can tell by my wild children. My manta is always, "Choose your battles." Sadly, I've yet to find one worth fighting.

Cyndi said...

Your right, no matter what you do, it is never enough because they keep changing the rules!

Aliki2006 said...

What's so gloriously liberating about having a second child is the ability to fully embrace the mantra you propose.

Great post!

Julie Pippert said...

Everything is a risk/benefit analysis in parenting. I like your husband's POV.

And yes, I appreciate greatly the tougher hide---the confidence in my own voice over the others---time and experience in parenting has helped me develop.

I'm very anti-fear mongering, usually.

Julie
Using My Words

Nap Warden said...

"Embrace failure" I can get on board with that! I am finding it hard to win with two toddlers running the show...They are running the show!

Laural Dawn said...

You should write the book.
It's amazing how easy it is to screw up as a parent, and more amazing how people are lurking around the corner to tell you that you screwed up.
I'm learning to have fun with it, be spontaneous, and realize that if I really screw up - an apology works wonders.

Gwen said...

This is why I never bothered to return those lead-tinged Barbie products.

When my oldest was still a wee thing, someone sent me a sort of spiritual book whose name has completely escaped me. It's kind of like an extended blessing for children. One of the pages says something like, "May you be gentle with yourself and others. May you forgive those who hurt you and yourself when you make mistakes." It's sort of become my mantra in relation to my (lack of) parenting skills.

Janet said...

Overheard on the radio this morning: "If you let your young children (under 3? I forget the cut off) watch TV with no educational value they are more likely to suffer from attention problems later in life."

Oh for the ...!@$!!

My new reaction to parenting advice? La, la, la. I can't hear you.

Luisa Perkins said...

Embrace the failure. That's brilliant.

Jenn said...

Undoubtedly, it would be a best-seller.

And dog-eared upon my nightstand.

Kit said...

Aaah now you've got me worried ...leaving the lights on causes problems with melatonin production? ...are my kids going to be depressed all their lives....??!! What do we do about the scary monsters that come out when the lights are off?

Swistle said...

PARENTING HIGH-FIVE!

bgirl said...

first off - have i ever mentioned what a fantastic writer you are???

secondly - i think i could be a chapter in your book, the one that discusses failure as perfection.

lastly - love hubby's notion of damage control...hysterical!

Mary Joan Koch said...

My mom, mother of 6, only read Dr. Spock and made fun of childrearing experts. She said if she needed advice, she asked her husband, her mom or her mother-in-law, both mothers of 7. Mostly, she trusted herself. I admit I doubted her advice more than I should have. Are we better off trusting experts rather than our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, who actually know our children? Childrearing experts tend to denigrate older women's advice and experience.

Dr. Cason said...

I think it's the young moms without the social support that need most of the advice unfortunately they aren't the one's buying the books. I had a mom feed only water to her baby because she ran out of formula - He came into my ER with status epilepticus - a seizure I couldn't stop. We had to sedate him to stop the seizure and unfortunately he was neurologically never the same.

Medicine has changed a lot and I hope people know when listen to their heart, when to listen to their mom or grandmother and when to listen to their child's doc.

BTW I get parents who want to give water to their newborn because their g'mother told them so. Don't.

Just putting a plug for peds who really do care about your kids and are doing the best they can.

BTW I love this blog and voted again.

Julie said...

What about all the things you're doing wrong in your OWN life -- you could be well on your way towards leaving your children without a mother at all thanks to driving cars (carbon!), eating grilled meat (potent carcinogens!), and savoring blueberries (I saw a bright blue inch worm in my blueberries once and I think it couldn't definitely hurt you if you ate it)!

Catherine said...

I have so much to say...

1. I could kiss you for writing this...and then sob into your shoulder over the terror I still feel about 12 months of dangerous BPA levels in the wrong-kind-of-plastic bottles and canister-stored formula I have to give my babies since I don't make milk. *SIGH*

2. Goldfish crackers?!? What's wrong with THOSE?!?

3. I'm convinced all this stems from guilt which is intentionally stirred up in us as a marketing device. I blogged about this once, but am too lazy to link...

4. You forgot the carcinogen by-product in virtually every baby soap/shampoo produce on the market. They just found that one a few months ago.

Great post.

Mommy off the Record said...

This post reminded me that I totally forgot to order my carseat latch replacement thingy that was recalled.

Yikes. I think I need your book.

bubandpie said...

Catherine - I don't know what's wrong with Goldfish crackers ... but the kids like them so much, I figure it's got to be something.

Brook Ann ( the Great ) said...

Please write a book it would be a best seller, and I would bu several copies. By the way, I voted for you, and I adore you blog, quickly becoming my favorite blog. I wish you would visit mine, although, you probably don't have time reading the many many comments you get. At any rate, I will keep reading yours.

Terri B. said...

Damage control - heh. I like that.

Mad Hatter said...

Adam and Eve. You're funny.

TwoSquareMeals said...

I just heard that folks in the town next to mine are into hiring parenting coaches for $100 an hour. I have no parenting philosophy books on my shelf. I threw out the "What To Expect" books and replaced with "Great With Child" by Debra Reinstra (a must read). I never even worried about parenting philosophy with child #1, so my second son was screwed from the beginning.

My parenting philosophy is to know my kids and do what it takes to keep me and them sane. Think I could stretch that out into several hours and make some good money?

By the way, I just found you through Catherine and am loving your blog.

JCK said...

God, that was refreshing to read! And I'm so glad someone else has mold under their tub mat...

My dad keeps saying that there is a whole industry out there making a ton off of all of our fears. And I think he is right.

Great, great post!

Mimi said...

Life's too short for all this worrying (she said, up at 4am ...) Gah.

Have you read Freakonomics? The authors make an interesting scientific case for (genetic) predestination that I found remarkably freeing. It did in fact reduced my conception of my role to that of 'damage control'. And I'm comfortable with that!

cce said...

I had a licensed family therapist once pass on this pearl of wisdom...
All you have to be as a parent is 'good enough', not the best ever, not the worst, just 'good enough'.
I've carried it with me and bring forth from the back of my mind when at the BK drive thru.

Katrina said...

I'm getting in line for your book, too. With my first child, I religiously read all the baby books, hoping I could put out enough effort to get things mostly-right, in an attempt to not cause indelible harm to my little one. Now, with child #2, I have barely touched the baby books. I just don't have the time and energy for the guilt and fear.

Instead, I reassure myself with thoughts like: My brother and I were laid on the back seat floor of the car as infants and we survived; TV helps me get dinner made and a healthy dinner will surely offset the "dangerous" effects of a little television; My kids love me and that has to count for something, right?

I love your husband's approach too. Damage control is much more do-able than perfect parenting.

Amy said...

Ditto. I'll buy the book too!

Loganator's Mom said...

Thank you makes me not feel so alone... I used to worry about all these things but now as long as my child is happy and isn't a complete terror, I think we are doing okay.

bubandpie said...

I'm glad everybody finds original sin to be such a comforting parental philosophy. Hubby was expecting a bit of flak about that one!

painted maypole said...

ghosts to get out the door? genius!

Susan said...

I AM NOT ALONE. This is wonderful. So glad to have discovered your blog.

Susan at Working Moms Against Guilt

Amalah said...

Love love love love LOVE this post so much. I want to shrink it down to post-it size and keep it in my handbag.

I won't though, because I don't carry a purse anymore. Just an imagination-killing lead-paint-coated Thomas the Tank Engine backpack that's full of Goldfish crackers and juice from concentrate.

MamaDrama said...

The only thing I loved more than the post was reading all the comments. I like to say the kids will be fine - in spite of me!
I love feeling that I'm not alone in the worry department, and I am so happy to have new mantras and strategies to keep the worries at bay!

Sign me up for the pre-order of your book!

Christina said...

Love the mantra.

I have relaxed over the need to totally protect my girls from everything out there, because it's impossible. Yes, they watch too much TV and eat too much fast food. But it's all in balance with healthy meals and lots of games and non-TV time.

They may someday tell me I've scarred them forever with my parenting, but what kid doesn't say that at some point. I'm teaching them that I'm not perfect, too, and sometimes mommy is willing to plop them in front of the TV so she can have a break.