parents judging parents: part one of probably a million

let’s discuss a topic that has been discussed to death in certain corners of the blogosphere: parents judging other parents. now that i am a parent, i can kind of understand why it happens. i try really, really hard not do it, but sometimes i really feel that other parents are wandering in the hinterlands of la la land. i’m sure they feel the same way about me.

i follow a few parenting blogs & communities, so i am going to share real examples. like the first-time mom of a brand-new baby who was concerned that her two-week-old groaned & grunted in her sleep an awful lot. “is there anything i can do to help her?” she asked. “i’m worried that she’s in pain!”

i shared my vast stores of wisdom, being the mother of a now-eleven-week-old. i explained that ramona also groans & grunts in her sleep a lot, & that it’s normal, albeit very annoying. it’s because infants have faster sleep cycles than adults, or even older children, & they groan during their frequent light sleep stages. it has nothing to do with pain. jared & i were losing our minds with her during our first few nights at home, convinced that all the grunting meant that she was wet, or hungry, or in desperate need of her pacifier. we made that classic rookie parent mistake: the baby is making noise so it must need something, so i will jostle it & inevitably wake it up in an attempt to meet its non-existent needs! on more than one occasion, i decided that the grunting was due to a wet diaper & stripped the diaper off…& any parent can see where this story ends, right? me, covered in poop, because the grunting was poop grunts & ramona wasn’t done yet.

i suggested that this parent do her best to acclimate to the grunts & trust that her baby will cry when it truly needs something.

her horrified response: “i am NOT going to let my child cry!”

well, okay. good luck with that. personally, i don’t have a choice. ramona cries when she’s having her diaper changed or being given a bath, to say nothing of all the times she goes from peaceful sleeping cherub to screaming banshee child in the span of a single nanosecond. but far be it for me to impede the path of the world’s most vigilant mom.

did that sound judge-y? see? it’s hard.

one community i follow is full of other moms of new babies. most of those babies are a bit younger than ramona, since she was born earlier than i anticipated. a shocking number of these babies are on medications for stomach problems like constipation & reflux. a staggering number are being given rice cereal already. honestly? it makes me sad. these parents talk about their babies’ symptoms: “he sometimes goes 24 hours without a poopy diaper!” “she lifts her legs up & grunts & turns red. she seems to be in pain!” “he cries every two hours! & they are angry cries, not hungry cries!”

i could go on. it makes me sad that these parents are so worried, they are twisting themselves into knots of anxiety & keeping their pediatricians on speed-dial over normal baby behavior! babies lift their legs & grunt when they poop because they have no self-awareness & don’t know they’re behaving in an impolite manner! it looks like pain to us, because we’ve been conditioned to suppress our grunting instincts, but a baby doesn’t know! it’s perfectly normal for a breastfed baby to go for 24 hours–or more–between poops! the whole point of breast milk is that it’s highly digestible! & babies have frequent growth spurts! a baby that cries between rigidly-scheduled feedings–especially a teeny newborn baby that is only a month or two old–might simply be growing & needing nourishment more often than the schedule allows!

i learned in the NICU that much of what doctors look for when it comes to tiny baby problems is based on parental reporting. if a parent reports that their child seems ill or in pain, the doctor will look for a problem. in the absence of an obvious problem, they may fall back on prescribing a medication that won’t really do any harm to a baby that doesn’t need it, or suggesting another solution that seems relatively harmless, like rice cereal.

with problems like “reflux” or “chronic gas,” there isn’t really any test that definitively proves a diagnosis. & there is no treatment that definitively solves the problem, because so often, part of the problem is a parent looking for a problem. i looked up the symptoms of reflux in young babies. ramona had a few of the symptoms. sometimes she chokes & coughs during a feed. sometimes she arches her back after a feed. but is it because she needs medication? or is it because she’s a baby & she’s still mastering this whole eating thing? i remember when i was four years old, i was drinking a glass of water, but i also wanted to lie down. so i figured, why not lie down & drink my water? i wound up choking on it because it’s really hard to drink & lie down at the same time. but babies don’t have a choice because they can’t sit up yet. if i space & hold ramona is too much a reclining position, or tip the bottle up so much that it drips into her throat, she is going to cough & cry. that’s my mistake; it doesn’t mean she has a health problem.

some babies do, of course, have various health problems, but i’d estimate that fully half of the babies in this community are being treated for digestive issues–& the overwhelming majority were born full-term & healthy to healthy mothers. how much of it is bad luck & how much is people looking for problems & pathologizing normal infant behavior? i know i’m no baby expert. but i’ve taken the opposite tack of just assuming everything is normal unless it’s really obvious that it’s not.

i’m sure this is a topic i will revisit a lot because i feel like i’m seeing or hearing something new every day that makes me think, “surely you cannot be serious,” when it comes to various parenting issues. like the woman who really wants everyone to know how dangerous ultrasounds are. “ultrasound waves have been known to change the migration patterns of whales! if they’re affecting whales, what are they doing to our unborn babies?!” or the woman who keeps her kid home from school on days when his class has a holiday party so that he won’t be exposed to delicious candy but worries that he’ll be bullied if he gives his classmates homemade valentines. lady, your kid is the poor bastard that isn’t allowed to eat candy. surely that’s the greater bullying risk? why not just make him carry a briefcase while you’re at it? or all the parents that are shocked–SHOCKED!–that i take ramona out on the town with me all the time when she is only eleven weeks old. she’s been to the grocery store & the bank & radio shack & two different bars & the post office & all kinds of places. i don’t even remember what her first outing was because she goes somewhere almost every day. meanwhile, these folks are packing for baby’s first walk around the block like they are trying to summit everest. one woman i know just too her three-month-old on her first trip outside the house LAST WEEK. three months in the house with a baby! i love ramona more than life itself, but i would go crazy. & what the hell is really going to happen to a baby that goes outside? will it be slaughtered by an axe murderer? or fall into a puddle of norovirus? i didn’t have a baby so i could be a prisoner in my own home! i want the kid to get some fresh air! & i also want to be able to, like, buy stamps sometimes! or even (god forbid) try on some jeans. yes, i have totally taken ramona with me on pleasure shopping trips just for myself.

i think people judge, in part, because they know they are being judged themselves. & sometimes judging helps you figure out what kid of parent you want to be. sometimes you don’t even realize how strongly you feel about something until you see some other parent making a choice that you find really upsetting. but i do think we all have a really tough job & we could all stand to step down a little. except for on the topic of baby headbands. baby headbands are straight up not okay & i will never not judge the parents that put them on their poor, defenseless baby girls. i feel that those babies always look at me with these big haunted eyes, trying to say, “a giant horrible flower is eating my head & its only purpose is to communicate to strangers that i have a vagina. please save me.”

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Hope says:

    Ok, first of all I have to admit that I put my baby in a headband for a photo-shoot. In my defense, she was wearing an “I Stink” onesie and I thought that the contrast between the two was hilarious (the headband was a gift).

    We also have a family joke about headbands, so I will threaten to put my daughter in one just to annoy my sister.

    And now I want to make a little tiny button that says “I have a vagina!” and put it on a pink headband. :p

    I find myself getting judgmental more often than I probably should. I think it’s a coping mechanism. Parenthood is hard work and we’re bombarded with choices and studies and articles and there’s not really a right or a wrong way to do things. But the stakes seem so high. People always blame the parents when a kid “goes wrong.” Plus, I want my daughter to be happy and successful. So, when that little voice inside me goes “tsk tsk, she didn’t even *try* to breastfeed,” it’s really just me trying to make myself better about all of the extra work it takes to exclusively breastfeed when switching to formula would probably be so much easier. When you judge another parent, what you’re really saying is “damn straight, *my* parenting choices are the right ones.”

    I am making more of an effort to say “whatever works,” both about myself and about other parents. This is hard stuff, and there really isn’t one way that’s the right way.

    Although I will continue to judge people who put DVD players in the back of their SUVs and then use them even when they’re just running out to do a few errands. And I refuse to feel bad about doing so. Kids need to learn how to amuse themselves.

    1. ciara says:

      i too will probably judge people with DVD players in their cars. but then i wonder what ramona will be like when she’s, like, five or something. maybe it will be just unbearable to take her places. hard to say.

      i totally understand WHY parents judge other parents. parent judging is really no different from the judging we did of other people before we became parents–it’s all just coming from a place of insecurity. with the difference being that parenting is one of the most insecurity-producing things you can possibly do, & also that so many non-parents still feel free to judge parental choices. i don’t feel particularly insecure about my parenting choices, so i don’t feel especially inclined to judge that much. mostly i just feel bad for parents who run themselves ragged with their anxieties & wish there was some way for them to chill out & be easier on themselves.

      for example, lately ramona has developed this tendency to choke on her bottle. you can see it coming, & she’s okay when you take the bottle away & pat her back & give her some time collect herself. i don’t really know what the problem is, but i suspect that it’s just parental error in how we hold her when we feed her. i prefer to sit on the couch & hold her in a cradle hold propped up on some pillows because it’s more comfortable for me, but i think that reclines her too much so she chokes if she’s not staying right on top of swallowing. when i hold her more straight up & down, she does a lot better.

      but i know so many parents who would be rushing to call their pediatricians about this choking business, thinking something is seriously wrong with their babies. i don’t know. maybe i’ll be singing a different tune if we go in for her four-month check-up & learn that there’s something really wrong with her, but for now, i just try to make basic adjustments to her care & not freak out.

      i do think you should make the “i have a vagina” headband.

  2. andrea says:

    I’m pregnant and due in September, so pregnant lady judging is sort of a fresh topic for me right now. Until I learned my lesson, I would google certain things to find out if they were safe. By now my absolutely least favourite sentence is, “Why would you even risk it for [a turkey sandwich/a heating pad/etc]?” It implies that I’m willing to jeopardize the health of my future child from my some trivial, fleeting pleasure, when really what I’m trying to do is sort out the real risks from the internet paranoia. Obviously, the internet is not the best place to look for this, and I’ve now confirmed that for any little thing you might worry about, there is a thread on a message board to ramify that worry like an echo chamber.

    Don’t know what it will be like when this little rugrat is actually born, but if all these inter-parental judging keeps up I’ll probably struggle to make friends with other moms, which would really be a shame.

    1. ciara says:

      there’s a website called the pregnant chicken that has a list of like every single thing that could possibly be dangerous for a fetus (or that people say is dangerous) & the attendant truth. it’s pretty awesome & i suggest checking that out the next time you’re feeling confused about whether or not getting a mocha or something might hurt the baby. (& congrats, by the way!)

      i’m not sure if pregnant judging or parent judging is worse. pregnant judging is tough because, as a pregnant lady, you’re usually pretty freaked out yourself, so sometimes the judgments can really sting. but parent judging lasts so much longer…like the entire rest of your life. & as hope & i were discussing, if you are having insecurities about your choices, any judgments you get from other people will be even worse.

      so far, i am finding it kind of hard to make friends with other moms, mainly because of the whole judging thing. i mean, if one more person tries to tell me about the 24-hour breastfeeding cure, i might scream. exclusive pumping is working so far for me & my baby, leave me alone! but it’s also wintertime, people are hibernating, & ramona isn’t old enough yet to go play in places where kids & their parents congregate, you know? i think it will be a little easier to meet people once i can set up play dates & stuff.

      i do think it’s important to make friends with other parents though, because it’s good for the kid, & also because it seriously is so difficult to maintain your friendships with non-parents once you’ve had a kid. i didn’t expect it to be as hard as it is. which is a post for another day.

  3. Kim says:

    This old mama completely agrees with you on the huge, unnecessary headbands. I wonder if they cause the babies to have headaches.

    1. ciara says:

      i have wondered the same thing. i have read that it does, or even that it can cause brain damage from the elastic squeezing the baby’s soft head. but that seemed a little alarmist to me. more likely, the baby is just embarrassed because it knows it looks ridiculous.

  4. kathrynnolfi says:

    I totally agree with you about getting out of the house. The neonatologist was adamant that we not go anywhere for 3 months at least! And she was only 5 weeks early. I couldnt do this. She’s 3 and a half months old and has been to 3 movies, on countless bus rides and library trips and amtrak.

    My sister in law stayed inside for three months with her son and didn’t even go on a walk! And she wonders why she was so miserable.

    I mean, precautions are important. I was afraid of sick people coughing on my baby. But, being at risk for ppd made it essential that i do things outside of my basement apartment.

    1. ciara says:

      huh. i guess ramona’s doctors must have said something about keeping her inside & away from germs upon discharge. i know they gave us a whole song & dance about it at our discharge class, about how we should do all of our grocery shopping & baby stocking up before we bring her home so we won’t have to take her to the germy grocery store or whatever. but i forgot all about all that advice until just now. i mean, she had to go to the pediatrician like five times in her first month home for various check-ups & weigh-ins. could there be a germier place than a pediatrician’s office? ours keeps the ids there for check-ups on one side & the kids there for sick visits on the other, but there’s no way there’s not some contamination. so why take her to the grocery store or whatever? especially because she’s always in her wrap, so it’s not like she’s touching anything or being touched by anyone.

      ramona has only been home for two months & i would truly lose my mind if i was trying to stay in the house with her & never go anywhere–even for a walk!–for three months! we take her for walks all the time! i can understand precautions too, but sometimes the stuff that is best for a baby according to the books is just not practical for real life (or even necessarily the best).

  5. Mandy says:

    This post is so bang on. I have never in my life felt more judged than I have now that I am a Mom. I swore when I was in the hospital and my first week home everyone was destined to make me feel like I was going to kill my baby. For starters before he was even born people kept warning me to watch that my cat doesn’t attack the baby or smother him to death (my FIL mentioned this to me on a regular basis). This led to me being paranoid that I couldn’t pee or have a shower because everytime I turned my back the cat surely would be plotting a way to kill the baby, meanwhile the cat is insanely friendly and very protective of the baby. While in the hospital formula was pushed on me so many times I finally accepted their case of free formula (that promptlly got stashed in the back of his closet) because there was no way that I was going to be able to exclusively breast feed and that one bottle here and there wasnt going to hurt him. Thats fine I know that formula is perfectly safe for babies. But how I feed my baby is my decision to make. Not yours.
    Before we were discharged we had a visit from the Pediatrician… “You MUST take him to a doctor within 48 hours of being discharged.” my reply was “Its December 27th. I am pretty sure that my dr is off for the holidays” his reply “Well then take him to a walk in or emergency”. Right because On Christmas Eve I read that our local hospital was having an influenza epidemic and was encouraging people not to come in unless they were in dire need of medical attention to help stop the spread. And you want me to take my 72 hour old HEALTHY newborn into the cespool that is an emergency room/walk in? Right. I think I will wait until next week and take him to my own dr. But until I saw my own Dr. I stressed and worried that something might be wrong with my son because “Jaundice can be toxic” the Dr. told me, not that my son had elevated levels in the hospital its just routine for a Dr. to check and make sure they are still okay. But again, paranoid for NOTHING!
    A few days later…. Public health nurse comes to visit. Nice woman but gives me the song and dance about the length of time between feedings and how I should be waking him up at night, dont swaddle him if you think he is cold put two sleepers on him, sleep only on back, don’t co-sleep. Because I was an insane new Mom made paranoid by everyone’s “helpful” advice I dont think I slept for more than an hour at a time. My son is a flailer when he gets tired, the arms and legs get going and he cries and cries and its next to impossible to get him to go to sleep until he has physically exhausted himself. Then once I set him down his hands go up to his face and he wakes himself up. After about a week of this nonsense, I decided it was either he stayed downstairs in his playpen and cried himself to sleep while I went upstairs to bed or I swaddled him up. So swaddled he was and lo and behold he fell asleep after a 10 minute feeding session and slept for 5 hours! Since I don’t want to swaddle him all the time for naps and what not I tried laying him on his belly for day time naps. He used to nap for like 20 minutes at a time, and BAM 20 mins turned into a couple of hours and a much happier baby. I couldn’t imagine how bat crap crazy I would be by now if I hadnt tried these things.

    I am very much like you in that I figure pretty much everything is normal. He sniffles/sneezes or coughs I check for a fever. Since he has never had a fever I assume he is going to be fine and we carry on with our day. Not to say I haven’t checked in with Dr. Google a few times but my rule of thumb is unless he is unconsolable or running a fever that wont break with tylenol, he is fine, it is normal, and it will pass. I have decided to stop stressing about every little thing and enjoy my little man because while the days can be long the weeks are always short and they are flying by at an alarming rate. I would hate to look back one day and see that I didnt enjoy my time with him because I was so paranoid that there was always something wrong with him.

    1. ciara says:

      i hate the cat thing. i have a friend who is pregnant right now, due in two months, & she posted a photo on FB of her cat sleeping in the baby’s crib. & all these people replied & were like, “oh no, you gotta stop that cat! cats are so dangerous for babies!” only when the baby is too little to defend itself at all, if maybe the cat lays directly ON the baby’s face. but both you & i know that when baby is that little, it won’t sleep anywhere but on your chest anyway, so it’s not really a concern. leave the cats alone!

      i too was informed that we had to take ramona to the pediatrician within 48 hours of being discharged from the NICU. & not to one-up you, but…she was discharged on christmas eve. luckily, the pediatrician understand that sometimes emergencies happen & babies are born even during the holiday season, & they fit her in on the day after christmas. but i had to call around to several answering services to get the appointment.

      don’t get me wrong, having ramona in the NICU was awful, but one silver lining was maybe the fact that we got to observe people taking care of her for a few weeks before we were responsible for her full-time. i can’t say what i would have done had i been released back into the wild with a newborn after only two days or something. i didn’t know how to swaddle a baby, or bathe one, or hold an infant to nurse, or warm up a bottle, or ANYTHING! even getting ramona dressed or changing her diaper was really intimidating at first. but we got to see the nurses & doctors handling ramona with tons of experience, & they watched while we learned the basics, & by the time she was released, i felt at least marginally competent. & because she’d been under the noses of health care providers for 24 hours a day for weeks on end & they were always telling me how healthy she was, i really didn’t worry about her at all. i think this helped me adjust…after a fashion. i mean, i had over a month of PPD that was probably related to the traumatic circumstances of her birth, but once i got over that, the baby thing got pretty easy.

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