How long can I manage to breastfeed? Is any formula OK?
Should they sleep train? Cry it out? Is it OK to bring them in bed with you when the often described but never witnessed “put down in crib when drowsy but not asleep” results in loud screeching?
Should we attachment parent? Detachment parent?
At what age to start solids? Six months? Four months? What solids?
Which is better for babies under six months of age? Wearing sunscreen (in addition to protective clothing and hats) or not? Does it matter if you live in sunny California or foggy San Francisco?
At what age should they potty train? 18 months? Three years?
Who cares? Really?
I mean, I know I used to, a lot, and I see a ton of people still do because the discussion boards on many a mommy topic are full of venom – especially the breastfeeding issue seems to touch off debates. But really? I mean, we’re the same women who have now allegedly been empowered to drink wine occasionally during pregnancy but accuse us of a formula feed and boy, you shall see wrath?
If evidence in medicine is lacking, evidence in baby-hood is completely absent. There are no randomized, controlled studies, and every child rearing experience is an observational trial of one. I still remember the first time my parenting guru friend freely told me she let her six-week-old, her second, colicky son, it must be noted, sleep on his tummy. I was a doctor, after all, and hadn’t I seen the SIDS posters? I held my breath. I was a bit confused as the pediatrician put my neonates back in their bassinets in the hospital on their side. Apparently that used to be the teaching – to help secretions drain, he informed me when I asked. But on his tummy? Not that I called her a child endangerer, but she had clearly crossed a line I never would.
I still vividly remember thinking through the probability of SIDS with an infant sleeping tummy down on my chest. Surely, there are no SIDS deaths of infants sleeping on their mothers.
And so, I recognized clearly the strained smiles on the faces of my friends with whom I had just shared how after gasping at this friend’s tummy allowed policy with kid #2, I found myself lenient with tummy allowed policy on kid #3. No rolls to keep him on his back, no fancy anything. If the kid wanted to be tummy down he was tummy down.
You don’t see too many mothers of second or third children vehemently attacking other mothers. As first time moms, we feel pressure to get it right. We have these brand new things in our care, and how did they even let us leave the hospital with them? Don’t they know that we’re frauds? We know nothing about parenting? I vividly remember thinking through my life credentials – I did go to medical school, we did go to prenatal classes, I did babysit as a teenager – and looking for the red flag that would’ve alerted the hospital to say, “sorry, you’re not qualified for this.” I was certain I wasn’t, I just couldn’t understand how they would miss such a glaring error.
And so, these perfect little things in my hands, in our hands, and not yet screwed up, and up to us to keep them as perfect as possible. Breastmilk they got, and whatever other details I’d read about that might eventually help something or other. In her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says that anyone who’s survived childhood has enough to write about for the rest of their lives. But not my kids. At least not yet. They were perfect and if I could only do everything right, pick up at every cry, pack the healthiest, most organic baby food, wash all the BPA-free bottles, the non-toxic shampoos and soaps and lotions, the right diaper brand, and on and on, then surely I would keep them that way. I would maximize their chances of everything, and then they’d be happy forever.
By the second kid for most mothers, third for us, as pregnancy number one yielded twins, we learned that they survive. You remember the time you let them cry for 30 minutes to get them to learn to sleep through the night, how you were crying while they were crying and working really hard not to go in, counting the seconds, the minutes, feeling like the world’s most cruel, undeserving mother? Well, of course you do, it was traumatic. But you know what, your two-year-old does not remember that time at all! In fact, what the two year old might recall, if anything is recalled, that mom and dad looked a bit more human because they were sleeping a wee bit more.
Not that I advocate you abandon your kids or not invest in their well being. It’s just that, as one article I read with interest in the NYT about whether to buy a rear facing twin stroller because it might be linked to talking earlier pointed out, if you’re reading this article to decide if you need a new stroller, your kid will be fine. And so it is.
Kids are resilient, they had better be, for there is all sorts of adversity in store for them. And while neglect and abuse and a whole host of horrible things that happen to children have huge and lasting effects, the effects we spend the most time obsessing about probably make the least difference. I mean, sure there might be a small difference, but it’s hard to be certain and it’s probably not big and it’s part of this huge cumulative interaction of genes and environment. So you know, chill out. Do the best you can and if you’re really struggling to achieve what you want, try not to take it out on everyone else by insisting that it’s so important, so essential, that everyone not doing it must be a terrible parent. The worst. For you never know you might find yourself on the other side with the next kid.
For the record, do try to put your kid on his back to sleep. You know, at least the first one.