5 Surprising Ways The Modern World Makes Raising Kids Harder
Recently I became a parent for the first time, and it's the scariest thing I've done since I escaped that fire in the Clown Mask And Tarantula Emporium. See, parenting is something that's generally done by adults, and I have an ongoing suspicion that I am not one of those. I am terrified of phone calls. Taxes mystify me. I'm still not even sure how to pronounce the word "lackadaisical," even though I finally heard it said out loud the other day in an episode of Gotham.
"My adult skills are lackadaisical!" -me, but only in my head.
Traditionally, like most people pretending to be adults, I've been able to rely on my swell Internet-research skills to blindly grope my way through life, happily Googling recipes, cleaning techniques, and advice on what to do when a new Clown Mask Emporium opens next door. I've come to discover, though, that asking the Internet for advice on raising babies is the exact opposite of helpful. Turns out ...
An Abundance Of Options Leads Only To Conflicting Opinions
In most cultures throughout history, people were in basic agreement on how to raise a child. You fed it, cleaned up its poop occasionally, and tried to keep it out of the way of any herds of reindeer that were passing your village that day. Some of our ancestors' old ideas might have been wrong, but at least everyone agreed about them.
These days, the "not killing your child" experts still agree on some things: that you should always put a baby to sleep on its back, for example, and that it's still not a good idea to leave it alone in the local reindeer enclosure. But everything else? Try as you might to search books and the Internet for a consensus, you won't find it. You won't even find something that looks like a consensus if you step back from the screen and squint at it through a pair of those novelty New Year's Eve glasses that made sense in the 2000s but now block half of your visibility with the 1. Instead, you'll find a bunch of "experts" screeching angrily over each other like online gamers after someone spiked the country's Mountain Dew supply.
"Your baby is gayyyyyy!!11" -the Internet, basically.
Take the seemingly straightforward issue of getting your baby to sleep at night. As I'm sure you know, the little darlings come out of the womb wanting to eat, poop, and scream round the clock, which is why many experts agree that at some point you have to teach them to sleep through the night, the same way you'll eventually have to teach them to eat solid food and to avoid searching for My Little Pony pictures without Google safe search on. A lot of these people recommend that parents use a process called sleep training, which involves letting the child cry for a while when it wakes up at night until it learns how to fall back to sleep by itself. If you slack off on this, you might actually hurt your child, as lack of good sleep can affect its brain and health.
Not to mention yours.
But wait. A bunch of other experts claim that sleep training itself is harmful to the baby, and that letting your child cry for long periods will release stress hormones that will also damage its brain. In other words, until someone invents a baby with a sleep button, there's literally no way to handle this issue without being told by at least one person that you're a hideous monster who's harming your offspring. Oh, and also ...
Other Parents Will Force Their Child-Rearing Agenda Onto Your Happy Moments
Say you decide to bypass the "official" childcare sites and just ask other parents how they've personally dealt with raising babies. After all, these guys are the ones in the trenches. You'd think that the prevailing mood would be camaraderie, as everyone bitches about the conflicting advice everywhere and talks about how funny it is when your baby farts and then sits there looking confused about farting, the realization slowly dawning on its little baby face that it's stuck on this planet for many years and it's going to be farting for a whole bunch of that.
The horror. The horror.
But as you've probably figured out based on this entry title, this isn't always the case. Some mothers and fathers have decided to deal with the uncertainty of modern parenting via an orgy of calling other people bad parents. Which is better than a regular orgy in these circumstances, but still.
And the worst part about this cross-parental shaming is that you don't even have to go looking for it. For example, rapper Macklemore recently shared a picture on Instagram that showed him lying in bed next to his infant daughter, captioning it "There is nothing better."
That "Thrift Shop" song is kind of better.
Adorably inoffensive, huh? Let's see how many parents decided to congratulate the happy new father.
Way to cripple and then probably murder your own daughter, Macklemore, you fucking asshole. Meanwhile, every other parent reading it also gets a bonus dose of anxiety, because if Macklemore can't do parenting right, what hope is there for the rest of us? The only way to avoid this kind of thing is to skip social media altogether, but then where do we get our hourly Macklemore news? Nowhere? You might as well ask us not to breathe. And perhaps as a result of all this inter-parental stress ...
Social Media Turns Raising Kids Into A Competition
Online parenting advice won't just inform you that you're turning your baby into a brain-damaged serial killer with bad posture. It will also introduce you to a cesspool of passive-aggressive bragging that makes a meeting between several hipsters and your overly religious aunt seem like it would be a fun afternoon.
"I'm into Baruch, 2 Maccabees, that kind of thing. You know, the more obscure biblical texts."
Give birth to your baby via C-section? Someone will be around to tell you that they birthed a similarly sized baby using only their vagina, you weak, low-vagina-powered person. Succeed in pushing that tiny person out of your ladyparts, but use drugs to do it? Count on an old high school friend telling you that she did it drug-free while swimming with dolphins in the ocean and only interrupted her labor one time to successfully rescue a boat of refugees and an injured sea turtle.
"I used the nutrients in my placenta to grow these vegetables for disadvantaged schoolchildren."
My personal theory is that this type of woman (sometimes called the sanctimommy) is a common female equivalent to the mall ninja phenomenon, in which online tough guys talk up their badass (and usually nonexistent) warrior accomplishments. Society has traditionally rewarded women for their child-rearing skills and men for their strength and prowess in battle. We all like to think that things are different now, that men and women can earn respect without slaying enemy soldiers or raising strapping sons, respectively. But in some dark corners of the Internet, we remain as unenlightened as ever. In fact ...
People Still Rely On Outdated Ideas Anyway
A lot of old parenting advice was pretty awful, sure, but it did have some positive aspects. Back in the '50s, for example, experts were pretty good about telling parents to calm the fuck down and make sure they weren't wrecking their own minds worrying about their children. Things started changing in part due to the rising popularity of Freudian psychology, which had a lot to say about early childhood: specifically, that it was to blame for pretty much everything bad. Mental illness? Probably caused by your mother either unconsciously resenting you when you were a baby or loving you too much -- or possibly both. Adult sexual dysfunction? Had to be caused by bad parenting. Hit your little toe on the coffee table? Thanks, dad.
"I'm sorry, the flight is delayed because we all decided the plane looks too much like a penis."
Freudian ideas were eventually crushed underfoot by the advancing armored vehicle of modern science, but even that mixed metaphor couldn't completely erase their influence, and anyway, we had a new thing to get anxious about: neuroscience. In the early '90s, scientists were scanning the brains of children and noticed that an incredibly large number of brain synapses are formed in the first three years of a child's life, and that this growth could be influenced by outside stimuli.
"But what will we use for auditory stimuli? Macklemore won't be invented for another 21 years."
Journalists across the country carefully pushed back their frosted tips and dove into this subject, producing article after article about how goddamn important these years are to a child's eventual intelligence. Do something wrong during this crucial early period, the media warned -- don't stimulate your baby enough, stimulate him too much, laugh too hard when he farts -- and your kid might end up like Slow Cousin Pete, who is still trying to get his raccoon-hat business going at age 40.
The idea was so successful that its influence on educational policy continues to this day. With this cultural background screaming at everyone, it's no wonder parents lash out at each other or devolve into smug bastards. But the thing is ...
Most Of That Newer Information Is Bullshit
Talk to neuroscientists today and they'll tell you that most of the "first three years" panic was never based on real science. That burst of synapse growth in young children? It's pretty much a thing that happens on its own and doesn't necessarily need to be egged on by parents showing a kid barnyard animal flashcards until their fingers are bleeding with paper cuts. It turns out that a depressingly large amount of IQ is based on genetics and other factors largely outside the control of the average parent. So don't worry; the reason your Cousin Pete is stuck making hats out of raccoons is probably not because his mother didn't buy him enough brightly colored toys at 6 months.
It might have been all the meth.
This isn't to say that we should be ignoring our children or keeping them in boxes (or neglecting micronutrients), but chances are we're doing better than we think we are. And if you stop and think about it for a minute, most of the stuff modern American parents are obsessing about is kind of ridiculous. We live in the richest, most successful society the planet has ever produced. Our kids don't have to worry about war, malaria, shag carpets, or any of the myriad horrors that haunt humanity's past. Anyone with the time, literacy, and technology to look up parenting advice on the Internet is so extraordinarily privileged they should be on the floor right now weeping in thankfulness that they weren't born a peasant in 12th-century France, not beating themselves up about whether to swaddle.
But if you're an anxious person, like me, chances are you can't help but get stressed anyway. And that's why I've sworn off the Internet altogether and am now going to raise my children using only the advice of retro advertisements.
Drink up, kids!
C. Coville hopes that people will donate to childhood-improving nutritional programs and has a far less childhood-improving Twitter here.
The Internet is great for instructional videos on, say, tying a tie. If you ask it how to raise your kids, however, it'll tell you to make them run laps around the grocery store, as seen in 7 Insane Parenting Tips Real People Thought Were A Good Idea. Unfortunately, you're going to mess up as a parent no matter what. See why in 5 Ways Parenting Turns You Into A Dumbass.
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