Friday, May 31, 2013

Are We Smarter Than Our Parents? Likely, Not. But Why Did They Do Such Stupid Things?

My husband has this saying that may not be original, but rings true: "We won't make the same mistakes our parents did; instead, we'll make all new ones." As a new parent, it's a near-daily struggle to wade through all the advice and "research" available to help us raise our new little one. Until recently, I hadn't encountered much of the "when you (or your husband) were little, we did X," nor the accompanying suggestion that such methods must have been "right." Living hundreds to thousands of miles from relatives has a few perks, I guess. However, in the just last few months, especially as my son has really begun developing new skills, that changed and I've heard quite a number of anecdotes about how I or my husband did this or that at such and such an age and/or what the corresponding parent did in response. Indeed, many of these stories are cute, heartwarming, and/or of interest. For example, knowing when my husband got his first tooth, rolled over, or learn to crawl might give me a rough idea when the Blueberry might do the same things. A story about how I used to hide my shoes in my toy box is cute. However, less helpful and frankly quite perplexing are the tales of which baby commercial baby food I was fed or how alcohol diaper wipes were used constantly for the antiseptic/sanitizing purpose of preventing diaper rash!

If you've done any research on babies on how to raise a child in the last ten years, you know that the recommendations are very different than when we were raised. Formula is no longer king. Putting the baby to sleep on his tummy is a huge no-no. Making your own baby food is easy. Organic or minimally processed ready-made food is ubiquitous and cool. Avoiding the use of harsh chemicals on a baby's skin is a must. Drugs, including those by prescription, are potentially dangerous and to be avoided whenever possible. In efforts to explain and excuse the sins of our parents' generation, it's said "this is all we knew at the time", "this is what was recommended by the doctor," and so forth. I've said this myself numerous times as I try not to judge parents who raised now-healthy, intelligent children. But I can't help but wonder, especially with things I find so incredible (like putting a baby in laundry basket in lieu of a car seat), what were our parents thinking? Didn't they question the advice they were given? Didn't they have any common sense?

I suspect that one of the biggest changes in parenting and lifestyles in general in recent years is that we question more and have more information at our fingertips. Commercial products are no longer magical things. Instead, we question what we eat, put on our bodies, and even the air we breathe due to our cars or the power plant down the road. But it doesn't seem like our parents did that. Brand loyalty and dogmatic belief in their chosen method of parenting seem to have been the order of the day.

As you know, we've taken a crunchy-natural approach to raising the Blueberry. I breastfeed, cloth diaper, avoid as many chemicals as possible, and serve my son mostly organic homemade baby food. All of these things are choices I've made based upon available information, financial means, and lifestyle choices. In no way do I think they're the ideal/perfect way to raise a child. Nor do I think he'll necessarily be any healthier or smarter than the child raised on formula and Gerber jarred foods. While I think my choices are smart ones, I believe I'm aware of the consequences of such choices. For example, by not formula feeding my child was not provided with extra iron. Current research asserts that babies are born with a certain amount of iron reserves and such reserves are depleted around 6 months. Breast milk has less iron than formula, however it is absorbed more easily so it might be a wash. Moreover, the medical conclusion that babies need X amount of iron might be incorrect assuming they child is otherwise growing and healthy. My choice in exclusive breastfeeding was based foremost upon convenience and the belief that something naturally produced to sustain a baby by the same body that grew him in 9 months was highly preferable to powdery stuff containing God-knows-what made in a factory in China. By making my own food, I am taking what I can get at the grocery store in terms of freshness. By purchasing organic and providing a variety of fruits and vegetables, I might be buying pears from Chile or mangoes from Mexico. The evils of processed food are arguably tempered by the fact that the processing might begin with much fresher vegetables than I can buy as I have not found a good farmers' market near me. By cloth diapering, I trade avoidance of man-made chemicals for the risks of occasional ammonia or bacterial buildup due to my wash routine (in which I've chosen to depend upon commercial soap). I clean mostly with baking soda, vinegar and water, but don't kid myself that they're as powerful in germ-killing as bleach. In short, I've made my choices, know at least some of their weaknesses, and investigate alternatives regularly.

I don't hear any of that inquiry or trace of doubt in the vast majority of the stories from our parents' generation. Were they not taught to question? The surely must have been given the monumental political chances that occurred in their lifetime, even in the years before they had children. Or is it simply that time has allowed memories to become rosier than the actual events? Or that their children are now successful adults serves as some objective proof of good choices? Maybe in 20 or 30 years, I'll be telling my children what I used to do in the same holier-than-thou manner way I've had advice given or stories recounted. But I hope not. I don't consider myself any more humble than most, but I always hope I keep questioning and looking for new ways to do things. For now, I'll do my best to take what I can from these anecdotes, which are likely well-meaning. I'll try not to roll my eyes or snap when I'm told that there must have been something special in jarred baby food chicken that made the baby want to eat it (with the obvious suggestion that I'm stupid for feeding my child organic chicken rather than the processed stuff).

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