I have to admit to hope mixed with dread when Today's Parent magazine hits my mailbox. That's because even as I pull of the pristine, plastic wrap, the question is already forming in my mind: "So, how have I screwed him up this month?"
With stories like "Expert Advice on Toddler Nutrition," "Why Kids Need to Hear NO," and "When Good Parents Have Bad Teens" screaming at me from the cover, how can I not feel that they're here to help? Or do I mean judge? And expertly I might add.
Having just had my son, I signed up, like most new mums I know, for a subscription to what I hoped would be my ultimate guide. I'm searching for the mythical "right way." But ironically, the more information I get, the more that way seems to meander through a very muddy swamp.
Mothers in fisticuffs
Now don't get me wrong, Today's Parent, Parents Magazine, Martha Stewart Kids and others of its ilk didn't come out of nowhere. Instead, they answer new parents' desperate desire to do a good job. And let me tell you, that desperation can be palpable. There's nothing more disheartening than a "Mummy and Me" walking group degenerating into fisticuffs over the merits of liquid versus powdered formula, or the pros and cons of lavender in your baby wipes.
Take the latest debate raging over toddler formula, or "liquid nutritional supplement," as Enfagrow likes to call it. Toddler formula, unlike infant formula, is for the 12 to 24 month set who are transitioning to solid food. Last month, Today's Parent devoted five pages to the story including a large photo of an adorable sippy-cup toting tot and a nutritional information chart comparing formula to whole milk. The story showed its bias towards milk by asserting that the company was only playing on parents' fears that their picky toddler is going to starve to death (take my son, Bob, and his occasional two Cheerio lunches).
But in all fairness, isn't that fear what the whole magazine is based upon: the overwhelming sense that through some minor oversight on our parts, our delightfully robust progeny will wither away to nothing? The final kick in the head, if you will, came in the next issue in the form of a letter to the editor. It was one mother's mini diatribe on the article admonishing the magazine for its bias (not to be outdone, they named her letter "Product Endorsement").
So, if I thought I knew what to do before, I definitely don't now. And the hype can fly at me from other directions as well, from places I never expected. Annoyingly, from my mother, my husband's mother, our childless friends, the mother of six at the grocery store, the octogenarian who wears her bra over her blouse (the mind reels). And I just have to grimace, ok, smile, and take it all in.
When talc attacks
One of the most frightening places for the circulation of parenting propaganda can be a prenatal class. Picture if you will a multicultural smattering of parents-to-be crammed into a suffocating hospital classroom. To be fair, at that point in my pregnancy, my skin was more suffocating than the room. And infuriating. And embarrassing. But that's a whole other story. Anyway, during this day-long indoctrination into "correct parenting," a debate arose about baby powder.
"No, you mustn't use powder on your baby," chirped one mum.
"But we've always used baby powder," said another.
"Talc is the main ingredient in baby powder and it's a mineral," said yet another.
Then, just to put the fear of God into me, the dreaded "C" word was whispered: carcinogenic. So I fled the room and raced home to jump on my computer. And there I found it, on the Cancer Prevention Coalition's website. That exposing kids to this "carcinogen" is "unnecessary and dangerous." I quashed the urge to fly around the house like a mad woman hunting for all the "killer powder" I had just received at my baby shower. The next web search yielded slightly different results but it was still not looking good: it concluded that there was no hard evidence to suggest that talcum caused cancer in infants.
Ok, not so much of a panic. Step away from your CDC approved decontamination suit.
Dr. Spock is in the house
But a third site was the worst. One word screamed at me from the page: asbestos! Did I dare await the definitive answer to my carcinogen fears to rid my child's life of this terrifying specter? I think not! Just to be on the safe side, I decamped to my parents' house while my husband cleansed the house of the offending item. I suggested the scorched earth method but he thought that was overkill.
So what can you do? Do you follow the so-called experts or do you fly by the seat of your pants like your parents did and hope you produce a kid no more or less messed up than you are? As Dr. Spock said in Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, "Don't take too seriously all that the neighbors say. Don't be overawed by what the experts say. Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense."
Now there's an expert who makes some sense.
As for me, I hope that Bob survives my bumbling attempts at parenting. If those endeavors are anything like my adolescent shots at lovemaking, things will get better with time. He's living proof of that.
Vancouver writer Melanie Wood is a recent escapee from the film industry.