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The Road To Parenting Hell Is Paved With Late Night Google Searches

I hate that my reality doesn’t line up with what the internet tells me.

Written by Christine Carrig
Unrecognizable young female lying in soft bed under warm duvet and using smartphone during insomnia ...
Sergey Mironov/Moment/Getty Images

Before I became a parent, people viewed me as a parenting authority of sorts. I was a few years into running a Montessori school in Brooklyn before having my first child. Becoming a parent showed that no amount of training in early childhood development could prepare me for the complexity of family life. But just as I approached my profession, I felt certain I could fill the gaps in my knowledge through rigorous study.

Late at night, with my phone resting on my growing belly, I would use information as my North Star as my body pushed me deeper into uncharted territory. I’d Google: When does a fetus’s heart start beating? How many weeks pregnant until you can feel your baby move? Why can’t I eat sushi while pregnant?

This continued right up until the birth: What are the first signs of labor? How long is a typical first labor? How close should my contractions be before I go to the hospital?

And it didn’t stop after we brought our daughter home: How many hours should a baby sleep per day? When can a baby take a bottle? How much tummy time should a two-month-old have?

The answers to these questions felt uncomplicated. Afterall, they were technical in nature. Their answers came in the form of a number or range of numbers, a yes or a no. There was no gray area. This certitude lulled me into the belief that parenting itself could be straightforward, manageable, predictable.

As my daughter got older and we had more children, eventually ending up at four, things began to feel less straightforward, wildly unmanageable and predictable only in their unpredictability.

One daughter didn’t sleep anywhere close to the generally accepted range. During her waking hours she was what a Google search might euphemistically call a “high-needs baby.” As far as I understood, this was a term for a kind of baby that caused parents a kind of exhaustion that sleep can’t fix.

She was almost three when her brother was born. At two and a half weeks old, he started crying constantly and, for the most part, didn’t stop until he was about nine months old. Google will tell you colic doesn’t last past six months. Our experience told us, intensely and relentlessly, otherwise.

My kids weren’t fitting into the neat ranges I’d come to rely on — and neither was I. Here I was, an early childhood expert, feeling painfully confronted by the impossibility of caring for my high-needs toddler and colicky baby while maintaining any semblance of the parent I thought I would be. Google searches were now showing me the ever-widening chasm between the parenting life of my calm, resourced, creative-snack-making fantasy and the parenting life of my sensory-overloaded, short-fused, peanut butter cracker reality.

And yet, reflexively looking outside myself for information that could ease my anxiety, as I had through early parenthood, only seemed to make things worse. One day, I discovered that dentists now recommend babies come in for their first appointment within six months of getting their first tooth (in other words, a full two years before I took my kids in). I was shocked by an article that provided research to support that yelling at kids is just as damaging as hitting them, and I finally put my phone away after landing on a Socratic script detailing how to ask your kids about their school day. Three minutes ago I thought of myself as a hygiene-conscious, non-abusive, curious parent. What was happening?

Not only that, but from all my “research” I was gleaning that I was meant to be playmate, best friend, chef, depth psychologist, chauffeur, truth-teller, praise-giver, snack-provider, role model, boundary-setter, extracurricular coordinator, all of which I wanted to be, but most of which I simply couldn’t. Eventually I started to wonder, who is setting this bar?

As a matter of fact, no one person is. All these unsustainable standards are simply an amalgamation of parenting ideals fed to us through an algorithm during those late night, vulnerable doom scrolls. Parenting ideals touted from a vacuum, removed from any context of the reality in which we are required to parent in.

The problem is, context matters. The reality of parenting entails balancing work and other responsibilities with the ever-present, visible and invisible, demands of child rearing. In a home with multiple kids, it includes the near constant inter-sibling strife. For most parents, it is

underscored by a turbulent range of emotions, day to day, minute to minute. In short, the disembodied advice of a search engine, inevitably divorced from the particularities of my kids, my capacity and my ever-fluctuating level of patience, can only get me so far.

I can look back now and see I would have been better served ceasing my Googling the moment it made me feel more worry and doubt than confidence and assurance.

Thankfully, it turns out that my kids’ teeth are fine, they don’t seem all that damaged by my occasional outbursts of frustration. And, as any seasoned parent will tell you, if you want your child to share all of their inner thoughts, you don’t need a Socratic script, you just need to take an important phone call in their presence.

Christine Carrig, M.S.Ed., is the founding director of Carrig Montessori School in Williamsburg,Brooklyn. She is the Writer in Residence at the Khora: Maternal Reproductive and Psychology Lab at Teachers College, Columbia University where she writes (more seriously) on the intersection between maternal development and child development. You can subscribe to her Substack or follow her on Instagram@christine.m.carrig. She lives in Queens, NY, with her husband and their four children.