Everything you never wanted to know about parenting

This is a deviation from the regularly scheduled programing about map-related research, but I did promise tangents in the blog byline… We will return to our regularly scheduled programming sometime – likely after this tiny mammal in my house turns 18 and heads off to McGill.

Having now read every book available in the English language on infants, I can tell you that only one of two anecdotes will emerge from any attempt made by any parents to do anything:

(1) We tried this one trick and now our baby sleeps 13 hours at night with two 3 hour naps during the day! Also does math! And light housework!

(2) I nursed him on demand around the clock and now his spouse is ambivalent about bedsharing with the mother-in-law 32 years later.

Some other great excerpts:

  • “Don’t allow your bedtime routine to last more than 45 minutes.” (WHAT HAPPENS AT MINUTE 46?!?! I’ll just assume that everyone spontaneously combusts.)
  • “You have to use sunscreen!!!!”
  • “Never ever ever, under any circumstances, use sunscreen. Your baby has a Vitamin D deficiency. I can tell, from looking out of the page.”
  • “Duct tape your baby into the crib.”
  • “Never even consider using a baby cage or anything other than organic free-range duct tape, you monster!”
  • “If you don’t let your baby cry it out for 10 hours, they will never learn to self-soothe.”
  • “If you let your baby cry it out for 10 minutes, you will give them PTSD.”
  • “Whatever you do, be consistent!”
  • “Try different approaches until you find one that works.”
  • “Your baby is too young to sleep 8 hours straight.”
  • “Your baby is too old not to be sleeping 6 hours straight.”
  • “You’ve given that baby a sleep disorder. Just give up now before you ruin things further.”
  • “One time, this one thing happened when a baby was 2 weeks old, and that baby grew up to be Prime Minister / a serial killer / a star athlete / a master chess player / a real creep / way too into Star Wars. Can’t possibly be a correlation! Must be a causal link.” (Pediatricians are especially great at drawing these types of data-based conclusions.)
  • “Breastfed babies have an IQ 1000 times higher than formula-fed babies.” (The pediatrician who actually said this to me clearly wasn’t too familiar with the IQ scale, which only goes to 11.)
  • “Formula-fed babies are 1000 times faster and wittier than breastfed babies.” (Omigod, why are people so invested in policing other people’s decisions!? Babies Need To Eat. Full stop. Unless you are feeding them thumbtacks, you are probably doing the right thing. If your pediatrician recommends feeding them thumbtacks, maybe you should think about finding a new one. Don’t take my advice – I am just thinking out loud over here.)
  • “You shouldn’t read other books about baby parenting because they’re too prescriptive. You should buy MY book though because it is in no way prescriptive as long as you follow these 8254 easy steps to cultivating a happy, healthy, non-mutant child.” (What’s with the mutant shaming?!)
  • “Night nursing will give your baby cavities.”
  • “Anyone who says that night nursing will give your baby cavities is a lying piece of sh*t and you should burn their house down.”

So, basically, as long as you always/never do everything/nothing, you should be fine/everything will be terrible.

All these “experts” drive me up the wall. Remember, “expert” is just another word for “@$$hole with a book deal.” Don’t even get me started on blogs and Facebook groups on any remotely parenting-related topic. People with keyboards are just @$$holes with keyboards. #mommywars

Lots of the books are written by pediatricians with x years of experience and x number of children (usually a different x-value). I find their appeals to the authority of “I am a pediatrician and parent” particularly galling because I don’t know your kids! For all I know, they are tiny terrorists! Why would I take advice from you, rando?!

On the other hand, when I call my aunt with four kids or friend who’s an OB, I appreciate and respect their anecdata because I know those kids are nice or that our friend wouldn’t give us wantonly terrible information. Thanks for all that, friends.

The most important things people have told me that I would like to highlight thus far (what are we, 100-odd days in? Expertise-sharing time!) in the parenting process are:

TRUST. Trust yourself. Trust your baby. Trust your instincts.

When I first read advice to “Trust your instincts,” I was like “WHAT INSTINCTS?! I DON’T HAVE ANY INSTINCTS!” Yes, yes, you do. Any parent who is paying half a percent of attention has instincts.

Not “I can anticipate my child’s every want and need because we are psychically linked” instincts (which is kind of what I thought I was supposed to be doing / feeling), but “Hey, he’s getting squirrely, it’s been a while since he napped, and every other status marker (food, diaper, etc.) is dealt with, so he must need a nap again” instincts.

You know stuff. Follow your heart. Do the stuff.

CONFIDENCE. This ties in to trust yourself. You don’t have to listen to anybody else. Yeah, your kid might not wind up going to McGill, but that won’t be because you swaddled her or let her cry for thirty seconds. It will be because you DIDN’T BREASTFEED or DIDN’T FORMULA FEED (whichever one you are doing is the wrong one, unless you are doing both, in which case you are twice as wrong).

All families are different and all babies are different. Unless your baby is the 50th percentile of ALL THE THINGS, and generally very middle of the road (and even if they are!), then some things will and won’t work (or even fit) for you and your baby at different times (swaddles, swings, newborn size onesies, whatever!).

As one friend told me, as long as you take all of the knives out of the crib, you’re doing okay.

Remember, the charlatans selling books on infant sleep aren’t real prophets–they are preying on your sleep-deprived self and auto-filled credit card information. After all, Jesus wasn’t a Bible salesman.

SUPPORT. SO MANY of these stupid, stupid, stupid child rearing / sleep training books are like “Well you really want to kid out of your bed so your partner can stop sleeping on the couch. Your partner has needs, too, you know!” ‘You gotta put that baby down for naps so you have time to clean the house and make dinner.” “You are a failure as a human being and a terrible wife / mother / doormat.”


What has been helpful is the amount of support we have gotten from family, friends, and, yes, hired help (let’s give a big woohoo for postpartum doulas!). Living far from family with a new baby is hard, but we have had so many great visits from helpful family members and friends, we have great local friends supporting us, and we have a postpartum doula. Plus we have each other, which while a very wishy washy thing to point out, is apparently not the case for 99% of parenting book writers.

If your family suuuucks, then I am sorry, but hopefully you can hire help! If not, ask around your church or join an online support group or, last ditch scenario, call the fire department.

CONSISTENCY. Babies literally just got here. They have no idea what’s going on. Bed time might sound a little post-Industrial Revolution, but having a consistent routine (versus maybe an EXACT schedule) seems like it can really help babies (and probably kids, but who knows anything?! no one).

Adults dig rituals, too, if you think about it. Wake up, have a coffee. Get to work, check Facebook. Patterns, habits, whatever you want to call it, seem to be a thing for which humans have an affinity.

Considering that your tiny mammal is going to grow 10-40 times their size by the time they’re done baking (assuming a 10 lb baby who grows up to be 100 lbs or a 5 lb baby who grows up to be 200 lbs), their bodies are changing every minute of every single day, so knowing that you will read them a story and then put them to bed can be one thing that kind of barely helps them hold it together during the otherwise traumatic experience of LIFE.

If you are INCONSISTENT one day, that is okay, too. Cut yourself some slack. Everybody is like “no has to mean no, don’t even give in once!” and that is very good advice, but if you can’t follow it every second of every day, it’s okay. Tomorrow is another day. You have time to straighten things out and if something’s not working, you can always try something else! I mean, maybe my kid is going to be pretty messed up, so don’t trust me – just trust yourself and don’t feel bad unless it makes you feel good to do so (which seems like it might be oxymoronic, but you do you).

PATIENCE. Babies don’t always care that you’re being consistent. They have youth, adorableness, and surprising pinching strength on their side, but you have the greatest tool in the parenting arsenal: patience. You can just wait for them to accept things (putting them in a car seat, taking them out of the bath, going to sleep).

You can help and encourage them to accept things (doing homework, eating vegetables), but waiting it out can work just because you have an iPad with a backlog of Dr. Who episodes and they don’t. (Unless you gave the baby an iPad in which case see “they are never getting into McGill,” above.)

That’s it. The five easy (or not so easy) tips that I’ve culled from family, friends, and an array of stupid, stupid, stupid parenting books.

May the wind be always at your back, etc.

Go forth and kick ass.

Special thanks to EM, TM, RY, EC, KP, LK, JKZ, TP, and all the other great parenting role models out their for their support, hilarious text messages, and frequent delivery of burritos.

Please send more burritos.


Here’s a great link from JH: “New Parenting Study Released” by Sarah Miller, 24 March 2014, The New Yorker.

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3 Responses to Everything you never wanted to know about parenting

  1. Pingback: Just a little (link) love: Hamilton edition | A Gai Shan Life

  2. Agree on the stupidity of parenting books. We did like Our Babies Ourselves, which basically takes a bunch of anthropology research to say it’s all good.

    (I don’t think the consistency is that important either. Some babies set their own routines, some don’t. Some babies thrive on schedules, some don’t care at all. So long as you’re paying attention to your kid, you’ll figure it out. I will say that with small babies, once you think you’ve got the routine thing figured out, everything changes. That part does seem to be pretty constant.)

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