Monday, June 21, 2010

Are we a generation of over-informed parents?

One night after the kids had gone to bed, my three-year old son wandered into the living room where I was sitting, drinking tea and chatting with my Mum who was visiting from England.

"I don't want to go to bed, Mummy." He said, testing the waters.

Cute though he was in his stripy pajamas, I took him back to his room and tucked him into bed. He got up a few more times, and each time, I took him straight back. There's no messing with the bed time routine around here, because, well, we all know how sacred that quiet evening time is.

"You're more strict with your kids than we were with you and your brother." My Mum observed.


"I probably would have just let you stay up for a bit."

Thinking back to my own childhood, I realized it was true - it did seem like my parents were more laid-back than we are now.

"It's the bed time routine. It's set in stone." I joked. Only I wasn't joking.

We started this bed time routine when our first son was two months old, under the advice of the Baby Whisperer, since she seemed to know what she was talking about. It's one of many parenting books I read when we started our family, trying to figure out the right things to do.

My parents' generation didn't have access to the same abundance of information we're privileged with now. And I can't help but wonder if this all knowledge that's right there at our fingertips - the stuff that should make us feel better about our choices as parents - is instead making us more uptight.

It started when I was about six months pregnant with my first son: I had just left my job, and suddenly had all this time on my hands. As I began preparing for my baby, I came across mountains of information I didn't know about. There were books on natural birthing, books on breastfeeding, sleep training, nutrition, potty training, parenting boys, parenting kids with ADD. There were online forums for parents to discuss their issues. There were a thousand baby products that I might or might not need but which all looked very convincing.

I panicked. There was so much I didn't know and only a few months to learn it all. I started reading everything I could get my hands on. I bought books and magazines and read anything I could find online. I took a baby class (*cough* useless *cough*). The more information I found, the more overwhelmed and unprepared I felt.

By the time my son was born, I thought everyone including the mailman knew more about babies than me.

I was partially informed, but mostly terrified. And the excess of information was not helping.

It wasn't until my second pregnancy that I realized I'd spent too much time worrying about whether I was doing what the books said I should be doing, and not enough time trusting my own instincts.

These days, everything we want or need to know is seconds away. We can brush up on anything from the minute we decide to get pregnant to the time our kids leave for university and everything in between. And all without even taking a step outside our homes.

Our parents' generation didn't have the same sources of knowledge we have now. For one, they didn't have the Internet (imagine - the horror!), and they didn't have the enormous variety of books we have now. There's hardly a parenting topic left unpublished these days.

They didn't have baby monitors, diaper genies, Bumbos, organic swaddling blankets or strollers with more technology than a Ferrari.

And somehow, we survived!

Also, have you noticed how, when you ask your parents what they used for car seats, they never give you a straight answer?

Sometimes I wonder whether my parents' generation was simply better off without this wealth of information.

Maybe not, but still, it's a thought.

Don't get me wrong - I'm grateful for all the useful things I can find on my book shelves and computer. I'm glad I can find a nutritious family-friendly recipe in three minutes, chat with friends on Facebook and Twitter, look up what constitutes a dangerously high fever at 3 am., or buy the latest organic baby shampoo from Europe from my sofa.

But, sometimes I wish I could switch it the hell off and instead just listen to what my head is telling me.

Sometimes I wonder if all this readily-available information is turning us into a generation of control-freak parents, obsessed with always knowing everything there is to know about everything. Or is it just me? Maybe this is just the raving of a very tired woman with too many books on her shelves and too many bookmarks on her browser.

What do you think?
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Christy said...

I think you are so right. It feels like everywhere you turn there is some new discover on the 'right' way to raise children. And it's backfiring a bit.

I've seen studies about how parents won't let their children get dirty or exposed to germs and thus they develop more sickness and allergies later in life from not being exposed to it.

I wish I could turn it off too.

MommyLovesStilettos said...

I think you are right. My mom always tells me to chill out and remember that I turned out perfectly fine and she never had near the information we have now.

Loukia said...

You know what? I never really read any of those 'parenting advice' books. And although my boys do have a pretty normal routine with bedtime and stuff, I do let them get away with staying up late if they're not tired, and always giving in to another bottle of milk if they want. Some nights I'm up till 11 or 12 with them - horrible! But mostly, normal bedtimes. I just don't really go by anyone's rules by my own! And we each just have to do what is right for our children, you know? I think often times new moms are so stressed because they read in a book that their baby is supposed to be sleeping a certain amount of hours a night and if they're baby is not getting those hours, they feel like a failure... shouldn't be that way, you know?

..... Carmen said...

Would you believe it? Blogger ate my comment. I don't think it liked the nasty things I was saying about the internet. Needless to say, I agree with you.

James (SeattleDad) said...

I just wonder how amazing our kids will be as adults. Maybe they will finally cure cancer or travel to Mars.

Or develop a money shrub.

Elaine A. said...

I think it's a little bit of both. I do think we are better off in some ways. I mean if we didn't have car seats nowadays SO many kids would die in car wrecks (obvious much Elaine!). BUT, I do wonder what it would be like to be a little more relaxed about it all like our parents were. There's a balance there somewhere right?

And yes, even though it's wonderful for many reasons, "unplugging" from the internet is probably a good idea every now and then too. ;)

Mrs. Beer said...

Goodness, I guess there are pros and cons to having a wealth of information about bringing up children. It seems, however, that if you're a mother who is so determined to raise your child well that you delve into books and research, you will probably would be a good parent with information or without, because, well, you are clearly determined to be a good parent!

Mwa said...

Car seats??? Car seats? My parents had four loose children in the back seat. Car seats were for when we couldn't sit upright, and in fact I wouldn't be surprised if we just sat on my mother's lap in the front then.

My mother goes strangely quiet when I ask if she stopped smoking when she wanted to get pregnant, or when she found out she was, or even later.

Bear and Bones Mama said...

I try not to read up on everything. It drives me mad if I try, and it also scares the heck out of me. My mom smoked with all 3 of us, but was never a big drinker. Maybe an occasional glass of wine. I know they kept a wicker laundry basket in the back of their 68 VW bug to hold the babies in. Or else we sat on their lap. I remember standing in the front seat between my parents the entire drive from NJ to Florida. My kids? I won't even start the car unless their buckled into their uber expensive car seats. They wear their bike helmets for anything with wheels. And always the sunscreen. And swim shirts. And all the other stuff. I try to give them some independence tho, even the 3 yo. Playing outside where mom can't see. I'm lucky to live where I can do this. Ok, i've rambled enough, yes, I agree with you!

Cid said...

How did we survive? We not only survived but we thrived. I try to take the less is more approach with my three boys and no one has died or lost a limb - yet. We are lucky enough to live in a small town so they have also most as much freedom as I had growing up in the 70's. But I do wonder what kind of parents this generation of over-protected children will grow up to be?

LisaDay said...

I think info is helpful but moms still know best.


If I Could Escape . . . said...

I read everything I could get my hands on before having my first son. And, then carried around raising baby and toddler books well in to his preschool years. But, then I just kind of starting letting my child's temperement as well as my own instincts take over. Don't get me wrong, I still have the books and am a bit of a helicopter parent, but I'm much better than I was the first time around!

Christine said...

Sometimes I wish I could shut it the hell of too :-) But honestly, with my second I find myself going with my gut way more than I did with my first. Some of that comes from the fact that I have less energy to worry with, and less time to read books. But some of it comes from a greater confidence I suppose. In the end, I have found some resources that I go back to often and though I don't necessarily use any to the letter of the law, I do find tidbits and ideas and tools that I can cherry-pick from here and there. Sometimes, it's nice to just have someone or some resource just tell me what to do when I'm floundering.

Jan said...

I work closely with pregnant moms and with them shortly after the birth of their baby and my most frequently given tidbit of advice is to "follow your instincts".

I admit, when I was pregnant with my first, I read everything there was to read and listened to the "don't do ____ or else..." but didn't do any of this with my second son and they have both turned out pretty much the same in terms of behaviour, etc.

Information is power but it is also the root of a power struggle between our heads and our guts (instinct).

fiona2107 said...

Great points there!
I tend to agree that we have far too much information to wade through nowadays though :)

MummyMatters said...

I can totally see where you are coming from with this post. When I found out I was pregnant with Little Bean I went out and bought books upon recommended (Gina Ford) and was given books like The Baby Whisperer. I read them religiously whilst pregnant (kind of revising for my big test) but when Little Bean arrived I kept feeling like I was failing because I couldn't stick to the routines set out in the books. So I threw the books away and trusted my instincts, I'm happy to say that 2 years on I have a very happy and content little girl who never complains about going to bed etc etc and even though we had troubles with solid food is now a very well rounded little girl. I trust myself to do what is right for her and clearly she does too.

Maria @BOREDmommy said...

I hate baby books - and came to that conclusion soon after my son was born and realized that my mother's instinct kicked in - and when it didn't, I simply called my mom.
I agree that in many ways, life was much better in the past when everything was simpler, although clearly safety didn't seem to be as much as a worry as it is now.

diney said...

I didn't use baby books 28 years ago with child no 1 as there weren't many availble (Spock and Leach) and t'internet hadn't been invented so I just went on my own Mum's advice and my gut instinct and he's turned out a gorgeous, well rounded happy and sane guy! With No 2 born 10 years ago I did look at books and use resources, and she is such a princess and so complicated in comparison to No 1.... QED?!!!

Charlotte said...

I completely agree with you. While I don't have children of my own just yet, several of my friends are parents and I can't help but notice how much they panic with their children, afraid of germs and bugs and viruses... of course all are valid concerns, but our parents got along just fine using common sense.

In any event, thought-provoking stuff... You can't help but wonder if maybe all this access to information is completely necessary.