I Had Kids 24 Years Apart, And The Internet Killed My Parenting Instincts
There is a 24-year gap between my first my daughter and my twin girls. Yep, you read that right. Twenty four years, not months. I had my first when I was 18, and once she flew the nest, I thought it was a good time to start all over. I had my twins when I was 42. (In fact, my daughter has a daughter, and at one point, I was a pregnant grandma. But that’s fodder for another article). I raised a daughter in the 1990s, and I’m raising two daughters now in the 2010s.
When people find out that I had essentially two generations of children, the question they always ask (after what the hell is wrong with me) is, “What is the biggest difference between then and now?” That’s easy — the internet, or more pointedly, the fact that the internet killed my mommy instincts.
The first time around, I never once read a parenting article or book. Back then, I ran almost exclusively on my maternal instincts, no matter how crappy they were. My mom was my only source of parenting advice, which was dispensed sagely around the Capri cigarette dangling from her lips. Her advice might have been horseshit at times, but hey, she raised me and I turned out mostly okay, so what the heck? I didn’t really have other options. It was just her advice and my instincts. Miraculously, because of and despite me, my oldest daughter grew into a lovely young human being who contributes to society.
The second time around was a whole different ball of lint-covered wax. I realized, “Holy shit, I have the internet! The whole world of information is available to me! This is amazing.” And so it started before they were even born. I spent hours googling things like, “My babies hiccup too much in my womb.” My instincts (or my mom) would have told me, “You probably ate something spicy,” or “Your babies are exercising their lungs.” But according to Dr. Google, my babies probably most definitely had their cords wrapped around their necks and would die immediately if I didn’t get help. (True story: I actually thought this was happening after a long series of Google searches one day, and by the time my husband found me, I was in tears and practically rocking in the fetal position).
My doctor told me to stay off the internet. I didn’t listen.
It got worse after they arrived. I researched everything I could. I downloaded a plethora of apps to track eating, pooping, how many times a day they burped, milestones, mental leaps, playdates. It got to the point that I couldn’t make any decisions without consulting the internet first. By the time they were 2 months old, the internet had completely crippled me and sucked out every last drop of intuition I had. I stopped listening to my inner voice. I could no longer even be sure I had maternal instincts.
Now to be fair, the internet has been a source of wonderful things: I’ve met a lot of other amazing twin moms. I got my running stroller for a steal on Craigslist. I’ve been able to keep in touch with my mother who lives out of state. But with all of the judgment, the conflicting info, the catastrophic what-ifs, and the sharp-toothed comments, anyone could easily spin off into a dizzying journey of self-doubt and anxiety. At some point, it all came to a head. I had to step back and take a breath. And once I did, I found that there is value somewhere in the middle. If you want to avoid losing your mommy instincts to the void, here are some tips:
Find a way to ignore the judgment.
I had never heard of the “mommy wars” or “mom shaming” or the term “sanctimommy” until I was sucked into the rabbit hole of the internet during my pregnancy. To be sure, judgmental people have always existed, but back then, they took the form of your Great Aunt Sherry clicking her tongue when you picked up your crying baby too quickly and uttering a comment like, “Back in my day, we let our babies cry because it helped build up their lungs. That’s why your Uncle Willie can hold his breath under water for five minutes, because we let him cry for at least six hours a day.” Or “You’re spoiling that baby. No one will ever give him a job when he grows up if you keep picking him up like that.” But it was easy to ignore those comments, because come on, Great Aunt Sherry drank too much.
Unfortunately, now that same voice is echoing through cyberspace a million times louder every time you even think about googling a parenting question. The truth is, none of us have the right answer. We are all right, and we are all wrong, and we are all just trying to figure it all out as we go, and anyone who doesn’t admit this is about as trustworthy as Great Aunt Sherry.
Recognize that there is conflicting advice and info.
Beyond the shaming and judgment, there is just so much conflicting info. Wear your baby 24/7. Don’t wear your baby too much, or they won’t develop independence. Co-sleeping is good for your baby. Don’t ever co-sleep. Feed your baby homemade purees. Don’t feed your baby purees — go straight to table food. Put coconut oil on it. Put Aquaphor on that. Put breastmilk on this. It’s enough to drive a person insane. For every single piece of parenting advice, there is another piece that is exactly the opposite. I have tried everything — trust me. And they all work or don’t work. It depends entirely on who you are and what you believe and how you feel. Find what works for you and your family and ignore the rest.
Avoid going down the catastrophic what-if road.
Once you start looking for answers, sometimes too much information blossoms into catastrophic scenarios, and before you know it, you come out convinced that if you don’t start some early intervention on that tiny spot on your baby’s cheek, they’ll have to have a tumor surgically removed and reconstructive surgery by the time they’re 3 (I actually texted something along these lines to my husband once). I am highly aware that there are serious conditions and illnesses that need to be addressed and managed, and I am not trying to downplay the fact that many families are dealing with some incredible challenges. But this is not that. This is “Hey, my baby has a pimple on her face.” If you are looking for answers, limit your time searching. Come up with one or two possibilities, and then take your concerns to your doctor.
Stay away from the comments section.
Seriously, whatever else you do, avoid the comments section. This is the dizzying rabbit hole where the judgment, conflicting info, and catastrophic what-ifs come alive in vivid technicolor. Hours of my life have been lost to the siren song of the comments section. I have gotten so deep in that I’ve come out hours later blinking at the light, feeling a little dizzy and disoriented, a little green and a little angry — kind of like the waking up the morning after a bad night of tequila. No good can come from spending time in the comments section. (And trust me, I’m already prepared for the comments on this piece. I am writing a piece about the dangers of the internet for a website after all).
Trust your gut.
I know this one is the hardest. It is easy to second-guess ourselves and look for affirmation that we are doing this whole parenting thing right. When you need another opinion, turn to your trusted support network, online or in real life. But don’t underestimate the power of intuition. Your instincts are in there. Your gut is often right.
Nowadays, I still look things up online. A glimpse into my search history just today reveals “crafty things to do with toddlers that don’t require any prep time or messes.” But I have learned to take everything I read online with a huge block of salt. Nowadays, more often than not, I trust my gut.
And every so often, I call my mom for advice. Never mind that it’s been a hundred years since she raised a baby and is completely out of touch with the newest parenting trends. She’s my mom. I can hear her take a deep drag off of her Capri before she says, “Honey, they’re going through a phase. They’ll grow out of it. Trust your instincts.” It’s kind of horseshit advice. It doesn’t solve anything. But it’s definitive. It doesn’t make me feel like a shitty mom. And I know my girls will survive because of and despite me. My own instincts, like my mom’s advice, are coming from a place of love. I’ll take it.
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