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Adventures of a stay-at-home, skeptical, homeschooling dad (etc.)


My advice to new parents

Several people I know have recently given birth, so I thought I'd put down some things I have been thinking about for a while. Namely, the topic of advice. As a newish parent myself, I know there is a fine line between "giving helpful and timely advice", and "annoying the crap out of a new parent with useless scaremongering". My usual advice is "do not give or receive parenting advice", but I thought I'd take a minor detour around that for a bit. So now, because I know you care what I think, here is my advice:

Don't panic about anything

Really. The first six months can be summed up as "hold the baby, snuggle the baby, feed the baby, comfort the baby, clean the baby's butt". If you're doing those things, there's not too much else to do.

Don't worry about spoiling your infant

You might be able to spoil a toddler, and you can probably spoil a preschooler, but you can't spoil an infant.

  1. Don't worry that you're holding it too much.
  2. Don't worry that you're breastfeeding it too much.
  3. Don't worry if you have to have it in your bed at night.
  4. Don't worry that you take it everywhere.

Don't take earnest advice too seriously

If someone tries to tell you that if you do (or don't do) X then some terrible/inconvenient consequence Y will surely happen, nod and smile politely. Then, if you feel like a confrontation, ask for evidence, or if not, look it up later on WebMD or Mayo clinic or other real medical site (sorry, "Mothering Magazine", "Natural News", and "that woman at my gym" don't count). Chances are it's completely optional, or is even the exact opposite of what the person says.

So, if someone tells you that if you co-sleep, your baby will surely suffocate or become too dependent on sleeping in your bed or something else, just smile and nod, and quietly ignore it. If someone tells you that if you don't co-sleep, your baby will never develop a proper emotional attachment to you or have some behavioral problem later, just smile and nod, and quietly ignore it.

Every piece of advice is just someone's theory or anecdote. For every anecdote of X leading to Y, I'm sure I can find several anecdotes of X not leading to Y. The only advice you should give real weight to is advice backed by actual, repeatable, scientific studies. Not small, shaky, one-off studies funded by advocacy or marketing groups, or badly reported on by Yahoo news or Parenting magazine, but large, repeated studies put on by major health institutes or groups.


  • Don't pay too much attention to parents' forums or usergroups (they're guessing just like you).
  • Don't pay too much attention to parenting or health magazines (they're big into sensationalism and abysmal science, and seem uniformly terrible).
  • Don't pay too much attention to other parents (especially your own).

While you can certainly look for outside opinions, good ideas, and good arguments for and against a particular idea, remember that pretty much everybody is making it up as they go along. Parenting ideas are subject to fads, and often nobody can tell you that one particular parenting method is better than another.

Basically, find out what you should really worry about. If there's real evidence behind the advice, take it for what it's worth. If it's just someone's opinion or anecdote, also take it for what it's worth: possibly a good idea, possibly a bad idea, possibly just some completely optional choice you can make. Don't sweat it.

If you can, breastfeed

Several real actual medical studies show that breastfeeding is associated with some beneficial outcomes. Even if it's just part time or a small amount, it could be beneficial. Plus, no need to buy and carry around bottles and cans etc. All that said, don't panic if you can't (for whatever reason): millions of babies were bottle-fed and a) survived, and b) turn out perfectly healthy.

Don't worry about germs

If you're changing its diaper often and cleaning off the poop, that's pretty much it. There's no need for frequent baths. There's no need to sterilize everything or to avoid getting dirty. Sure, you probably don't want your baby to get coughed on by someone with the flu, or fall into raw sewage, but all those little germs and colds and dirt and pollen will not hurt and are probably good in the long run.

Don't worry the child is not warm enough

Dress it like you'd like to dress given the temperature.

Our daughter was born in late June, and summer here is, how do you say it: hot? I remember being at an outdoor event in July. It was literally 99F, and she was dressed in her usual outfit of a) a diaper, and b) nothing else. We had several people very earnestly ask us if we were sure we didn't want to put a onesie on her? Some socks maybe? Will she stay warm enough? Hmmm… Is it possible they are unaware of the basic biology of warm-blooded creatures and Newton's law of cooling? Are they not aware it's freakin' hot? I'm pretty sure the infant hypothermia rate for July is practically nil.

The child doesn't care what it's wearing.

As a minor sub-point, a baby girl is barely aware her feet exist: she will not care if you put her in a blue onesie or fail to duct-tape a flower or bow to her head. Likewise, a baby boy will not be offended or traumatized by a purple or pink outfit.

It's actually pretty hard to fuck up a kid

Echoing the earlier point, there are very few things in parenting that are known with any degree of certainty. There are a few: Keeping their butts clean is good, breastfeeding is good, loving them is good, vaccinations are good, not dropping them on their heads is good… That's about it. Other than that, everybody is making it up, guessing, and hoping. So, when you consider the sheer variation of parenting styles (attachment vs ferber, early solids vs later, disposables vs cloth vs elimination communication, etc), and you consider that nearly all children reach adulthood more or less intact, you realize most things people obsess over probably don't matter all that much.

I'm sure all kinds of things can all affect the development of a child for better and worse, but anyone telling you X definitely causes Y without giving actual evidence is just plain guessing. Even if true, it's probably much more of a percentage chance than a cause and effect certainty.


Relax. Do (actual) research. Love your kid.

2012-06-05 #parenting   #dumb-arguments