Orginally published by the Los Angeles Newspaper Group, Copyright 2014
The deluge of advice started early and hit me hard.
I was two months pregnant and the Subway sandwich I was eating was a no-no. Apparently, deli meat may (or, more likely, may not) be teeming with listeria bacteria, which can be deadly to an unborn baby. Oops.
That was just the beginning. I was told to avoid feta cheese, runny eggs, raw juice, sushi, tuna fish, herbal tea, Advil, and, of course, alcohol. I bought all-natural cleaners and detergents for my home. I wore rubber gloves to change the cat’s litter box. I didn’t carry heavy things. And I stopped sleeping on my back (doctors say it can cut off oxygen flow to the baby).
There was more. I was told to play classical music into my growing belly, do prenatal yoga to ease my aches and pains, and bond with my baby daily through visualizations and quiet conversation.
And, for the most part, I lived those nine months in a tired haze of anxiety, just hoping I wasn’t doing anything to mess up my baby before he got here.
When my son was born — healthy and screaming — the worry continued. I bought “The Happiest Baby on the Block.” I read Mommy blogs. I took a baby first aid class and enrolled my son and I in Mommy and Me, baby sign language, baby “gymnastics,” and a baby music class.
Everywhere, someone was telling me how I could be a better mother and how my baby could be happier.
Subsequently, I felt like the worst mother in the world.
Because there I was, sitting amid my hundreds (thousands?) of dollars in baby purchases and my baby still crying fitfully in my arms. No amount of advice can cure colic — I didn’t know that then. All I saw was that we were not living up to the potential all those books and products and Mommy-and-me well-wishers had promised us. With all that knowledge at my fingertips, I had failed.
Or so I thought.
What I know now is that I hadn’t failed my son. He’s a happy five-year-old now. Sure, he doesn’t know sign language despite the 13 months of baby sign classes he underwent as an infant. And, it’s true, the soccer class he took as an 18-month-old hasn’t quite turned him into a superstar… yet. But that’s OK.
Now that I’m expecting baby number three, I see the flaws in my thinking: I was expecting too much. Reading too much. Hoping too much for some sort of parental bliss that just isn’t possible. No parent is perfect. Most of the time, the best you can hope for is a day without a meltdown. A night with five hours of sleep.
But it’s hard not to feel guilty sometimes.
“Society’s race for the perfect parenting prize has become all-consuming,” “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” author Heidi Murkoff told the U.K.’s Daily Mail. “The internet bombards new mothers with information. No wonder that under this weight of such conflicting opinions, they struggle.
“When I became a young mother, the only activity to do with a baby was to put it in a pram and go for a walk,” she continued. “Now there’s every class imaginable — each promising to enrich your baby’s experiences and even expand their intellect. . . . The pressure any new mother faces is enormous.”
Consider: Today’s “mom market” stands at approximately $2.4 trillion — with U.S. spending on baby products standing at about $23 billion, according to industry monitors IBISWorld and Euromonitor.
The so-called experts are growing in numbers, too. In 2013, there were 13,848 International Board Certified Lactation Consultants in the U.S., up nearly 7 percent from 2011. And, the new business of “parent coaching” promises on-call Super-Nannies who charge anywhere from $25-250 an hour to help mitigate common child-rearing problems.
What does all this mean? Forget the 15-year-old babysitter next door. Today’s parent needs the sort of help that comes with either a masters degree or a supernatural affinity for baby-soothing. Mary Poppins? Sure, that’ll work.
But not for me. Now that I’m about to embark on my third little bundle of guilt, I’m going to do it differently. No books. No coaches. No unsolicited advice (except maybe when it comes to potty training).
This time around, I’m not going to choose a side when it comes to sleep training, or attachment parenting, or any of the cornucopia of modern-day parenting philosophies. I’ll let them watch TV when I need a break, I’ll give them my phone at restaurants if it means getting uninterrupted conversation time with my husband. I’ll skip bathtime some nights because… well, just because.
And I won’t feel guilty.
Because the only thing that really matters is that I love my kids, that I keep them safe, and that I teach them right from wrong. Anything else is a matter of my (and my husband’s) judgement.
Just ask Dr. Spock. Sure, he may be the author of the first big parenting book — “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” published in 1946 — but in the first chapter of that book, Spock discounts his own celebrated words by telling parents one very important thing:
”Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense. What good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best.”