Thursday, February 2, 2012

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You: Parenting Myths Edition

There is one myth in the parenting world that holds more sway than any other. One myth which leads people to do horrendously stupid things. One myth which spurs parents to take action in direct opposition to the recommendations of national and global health organizations.

And I'm going to tell you that myth.

Before I let you in on this secret, I just want to be clear about my intentions here. I don't intend to shame anyone. I'm not saying anyone I do or do not know may or may not be a bad parent. I'm simply pointing out this myth in an effort to help others. I want to expose the reality of this horrible misinformation to the benefit of new, old, and future parents everywhere.

Got it? Good. Let's get started.

MYTH: The best way to parent is to follow your gut.

Let's do another quick round of Things I'm Not Saying With This Statement (cause defending myself against trolls is my most favorite game!) I'm not saying that following your gut instinct is stupid. I'm not saying that you should ignore your parenting instincts. I'm not saying that mother doesn't know best.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that following your gut instincts without educating yourself on the possible options is not a great idea. Here's an example situation:

A new mom is wondering why her baby won't sleep for longer stretches. All the parenting books and the other (obviously perfect) parents tell her that the little bundle should be sleeping through the night by now - he's four months old. Her gut instinct tells her to listen to these older, wiser, friends who have been through this all before. So when they tell her to feed her baby solid food to get him to sleep, she does. Unfortunately, her friends were misguided and now her young son is constipated from the rice cereal she gave him. It turns out that the food her friends recommended had less calories than the milk he was getting so it didn't help him feel full at all. But it did give him gas and tummy troubles which are keeping him up at night even more than before.

This hypothetical mom, who has no other information, is now wondering what she did wrong. CUE MOMMY GUILT

This situation isn't helpful for anyone. If this woman had googled The American Academy of Pediatrics or The World Health Organization, she would have had access to a plethora of information that basically said "he's a baby, babies don't sleep through the night." And that's it, that's the answer to her problem, there WAS NO PROBLEM. And this is why I'm frustrated, this is why I'm writing this post. Because our gut instincts can be horribly misguided sometimes; just like any other input, they should be vetted.

Unfortunately, we are parents and not researchers. So many parents feel alone and scared and tired, they just want to find an answer to the problem. It's not as simple as that. It's not enough to read one article about sleep training and rush home to try that method. What if that method doesn't work? How many parents would go back and dig deeper to find more information? It seems like not enough, unfortunately. A lot of people would be livid if they read this post. "But every baby is different!" is the battle cry of the Warrior Mama and it's true. Which is EXACTLY why I'm saying that parents need to educate themselves. Every child is, in fact, different. So if you are determined to make Cry It Out work, you will keep plugging away at it, having no idea that there are other methods out there. And when you find yourself, listening to your baby cry for the fourth straight hour, weeping outside of the nursery, you will blame yourself when you should be looking for another solution.

So, young padawans, go forth and raise your progeny. Good luck, have fun, and follow your gut (after you do the research, of course.)