Thanks, but no thanks

Almost as annoying as the amount of parenting advice out there--not just out there, but falling like volcanic ash where ever new parents happen to be standing--is how unbelievably vague so much of it is. If you're going to follow me around with nonsense about Wally's pants being too short and how I should make sure to wipe his face (should that go before or after making sure he doesn't get hit by a car?) or the fact that he's getting wet (was that not the point of the hippo sprinkler in the playground?) at least aim for a little more consistency than Sarah Palin when giving information that could be of some possible use.

1. Can you drink or can’t you while breastfeeding? I know doctors have to categorically say you can’t so that no one misuses the term moderate drinking like they do every year at the office Christmas party. But whenever I asked about it back in Wally's first year I’d fall into a conversational sinkhole:

(me) Is it okay to drink while breastfeeding, I mean like one beer or whatever?

(friend, coworker, person behind me at ATM, clerk at the liquor store) As long as you’re not pounding cosmos and margaritas.

So it is okay to drink one beer or a glass of wine?

As long as you’re not pounding cosmos and margaritas

Obviously I know that’s not okay. Did I say, "Is it okay to pound cosmos and margaritas while breast feeding?" No. Why are you dancing around being even the slightest bit helpful by ruling out such a ridiculously extreme case? Why can’t anyone just say “Yes, it’s okay. One beer is okay. Yes.”

2. (me): If he only wants to eat on the go, should I let him, or should I enforce "mealtimes"?

(person who clearly needs to look up the definition of "busy") He needs to eat.

(me) Okay, so I should let him eat healthy snacks on the go.

(other person) Make sure he's not picking all day long.

(me) But grazing a little is okay?

(other person) Children should eat what they're given.

When it comes to parenting everyone knows best--especially the people whose children moved to Singapore after college and never came back--but they'll never give you a straight answer. Wally had lots of trouble sleeping on his back as a newborn. When he started to roll over at 2 months I kept asking, is that okay, for him to sleep on his stomach? Well, everyone said, just be sure you always put him to sleep on his back. (Did they mean if he rolled over, that was his problem?) If it was really okay, why couldn’t they leave it at that? It never sounded convincing.

I feel like I'm talking to my high school French teacher. The answer to every student's question was "That's a case by case basis" but she could never think of a case. Everything depended on the speaker. We could never get a yes or a no.

I guess the best advice -- and there are some free spirits out there who've been willing to give it to me-- is do what works. And "what works" can change minute to minute. Some days your toddler will be just fine sharing "cool cars" with other kids in the sandbox and you can keep reading that first sentence of Taming the Spirited Child over and over pretending you're actually getting a little free time. Other days you'll see the "grabby phase"* coming from a mile away, and it's your job to grab him out of there before the monster trucks go flying. When it comes to health and safety, there are hard and fast rules (and surprising ones -- peppermint oil is highly toxic, don't ask me why I know). But when it comes to most of the day to day stuff we agonize over, I haven't found any other way but seeing which situations and patterns and reactions work best (depending on the mood and time of day) and trying to make the greatest number of those happen. And even "what works" doesn't always work. Still, it's a good rule to follow. Harder for me is biting my tongue when the woman in the laundry room says I should cut Wally's hair because it's getting in his eyes.

(“Yes, it’s okay. One beer is okay. Yes.”)

*coined by neighborhood mom Kristin Ames


  1. Yes, one beer is okay, but as long as you are not pounding cosmos and jack daniels.

  2. The Europeans haven't adopted the "one beer equals fetal alcohol syndrome" that we have in the States. They're also less aggressive about some medical screening, perform fewer procedures and have better outcomes in many cases. Maybe they're onto something.

  3. Two or three an evening seems about right to me. And still breastfeeding (don't tell the Americans!)...


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