As a prospective parent, I am doing what many prospective parents do, and reading as much as possible about raising a baby, in the hopes that all this reading will help me to raise my child well. I read books, the children’s section of newspapers. I read blogs. Lots o’ blogs.
The blogs are the best — and the worst — of the lot. For the most part, they do not actually offer advice but share experiences. And this makes the next part easier:
I intend to ignore all the advice I read.
Which is not to say that I will not parent in a manner that is in line with the advice, just that I will not be following said advice. Instead I will be making the decision myself, based on the situation at hand and my own parenting philosophy.
So, whether it is the insights of an old friend trying to get his daughter to join him as he leaves the house, or the Redneck Mommy’s tips to surviving a medical emergency (which she knows far too much about) I will be absorbing, but ignoring.
The reason, of course, is that every parenting approach is made with limited knowledge and a particular parenting philosophy (most often unstated). No two situations are exactly alike. To take every piece of advice and implement it would be an incredibly inconsistent approach — confused indecisive unprincipled parenting, if you will.
Not to mention that, in fifty years or so, people might be shaking their heads at our choices the way they shake their heads at images like this:
So instead I collect experiences.
Bloggers are good for this — authors of blogs have a tendency to tell their readers about the travails of their parenting role, rather than try to instruct other parents in how to solve the same problems. The approach to writing about problems is one of “look at this horrible situation I had to deal with”, with an optional “here’s what I did about it”.
It’s rare to find a mommy- or daddy-blogger who says “this is the right way to parent and this is the wrong way to parent.”
Another resource I’m enjoying is What to Expect the 1st Year. It is pretty simple, in that it gives baby milestones and lists almost everything bad that could happen. Again — it is a collection of potential experiences, though more abstract than those found in blogs, scrubbed of the personalities of the author, partners and children.
These experiences give me something to chew on. I can ingest them, think about them, wrap them around my own parenting philosophies. And somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind (or, more occasionally, somewhere near the surface) these combine and help me to be prepared for the myriad of problems that might arise over the next few years.
The source of information I like least, but cannot stop reading as they are the best thing I have available on the subject, are newspaper stories about the latest research. As anybody who likes to follow scientific discoveries already knows, newspapers do not have a good track record when it comes to writing about science.
Baby science is no different.
For instance, this article in the Toronto Star discusses breastfeeding and diabetes, based on a study in The American Journal of Medicine.
The article is an excellent example of science journalism — by which we mean it is awful. It discusses the outcomes of the study as if they are a certainty, while avoiding mention of exactly how much a woman’s risk of developing diabetes is elevated if they do not breastfeed.
The author has interviewed the researcher, and provides a mere five sentences from that interview. And the article lists many of the raw numbers, but not all of them. It studiously avoids mentioning the rate at which breastfeeding mothers and non-mothers developed diabetes.
These are problematic, but forgivable. A larger problem is that the author does not discuss — and probably does not know how to analyze — the quality of the research itself, or what it means. Most often, results published in newspapers are preliminary and still considered unproven in the scientific community at large (though certainly interesting and worthy of further research). They tend to be small pilot studies which show interesting results making them worthy of larger and more conclusive studies.
Science reporters — or perhaps their editors — either cannot tell the difference between the two, or do not care about them. Certainly, they never tell you that the results should be taken with a grain of salt (due to methodology, statistical significance, or other factors), or let you know whether or not this result has been corroborated with other studies (probably not, or it wouldn’t be news).
This leaves a hole in my reading pattern, because one thing that I would like to know is what science actually has to say about some of the choices we make when raising our children. Is there someone out there who writes about this? Someone who examines the studies that are making the rounds in the papers, and can let us average citizens know if each piece of research is well done or methodologically flawed, et cetera?
Because this parent needs another information stream, to be sure that he is ignoring things properly.