Why Are Parents Eschewing Grandparental Advice?

When it comes to turning to our own parents for help – especially with parenting – many of us are reluctant.

“I can do it myself!” my three-year-old constantly screams at me. No matter the task – from buckling his car seat chest clip to climbing on the jungle gym – he wants his mother to do nothing more than observe from a distance. He hardly ever needs me.
That is, until he does.
When he can’t get the clips lined up just right, or a slide ends up being scarier than he expects, he calls for me to come help him complete the task. I’m happy to step back when he needs space to explore his own strengths and weaknesses, and I’m just as happy to jump in when I can be of assistance.
But when it comes to turning to our own parents for help – especially with parenting – many of us are far more reluctant.
Just like I do with my bulk diaper orders, I frequently find myself turning to the internet for parenting-related needs. Advice, companionship, and the latest recommendations from professional health organizations are only a few clicks away. While my parents are a stable source of support for me, they aren’t typically awake at 3 a.m. to answer questions like, “Are BPA-free sippy cups safe for toddlers?”
I’m far from alone in this trend. More and more parents are turning to the internet and social media for parenting advice, leaving behind the centuries-old tradition of seeking help from their own mothers. One study found that Millennial parents were twice as likely to seek out information on the internet than to ask advice from other people. Another Pew Research Center study found that 75 percent of parents reported using social media for parenting-related information and social support.
I’ve definitely done the latter. My mother lives 2,000 miles and two time zones away – she isn’t likely to know if the playground down the street is still closed for repairs, but a quick post on Facebook will get me answers almost immediately. Parents raising young children today belong to a generation more mobile than any before it, meaning many are raising their own children far away from familial support.
But while proximity may be a factor, generational differences may be driving young parents’ skepticism about turning to their own parents for advice. According to research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academics Societies, grandparents tend to use the same childcare practices they did when they were parenting, even though outdated methods may be dangerous.
Nearly a quarter of grandparents surveyed in the study were not aware that infants should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Two-thirds of grandparents did not know that wounds heal better with a bandage, and 44 percent still believed that ice baths were a suitable remedy for very high fevers.
Today’s parents have the benefit of more research into children’s health and safety than ever before, but the recommendations and advice are often difficult to keep up with. Grandparents, most of whom have not raised an infant for several years, are less likely to be familiar with current recommendations, meaning any parent today who has left their baby with his or her grandparents has also likely left an instruction list that looked like this:
“If they take a nap, make sure she goes to sleep on her backs – NOT her stomach or side. And absolutely nothing in the crib with her either. No, not blankets. Definitely not stuffed animals. And if you absolutely have to go somewhere – make sure the car seat is rear-facing. Nevermind, I’ll put the car seat in for you. Actually, just please don’t go anywhere. And definitely no juice in her bottle, and please no sneaking her bites of food. And try to keep her away from the TV while you are at it.”
To which every grandparent has responded (out loud or in their head): “I raised you just fine, didn’t I?”
Before we start arguing that we were lucky to survive the parenting practices of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, we must admit there is a downside to our increased reliance on peers and the internet. A survey in Time Magazine found 58 percent of Millennials found the amount of parenting information available to be somewhat, very, or extremely overwhelming, compared to 43 percent of Baby Boomers. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that – unsurprisingly – many websites offered inaccurate information. For example, only 43 percent of 1,300 websites examined for their information on infant sleep contained recommendations in line with the American Academy of Pediatric’s guidelines. And while blogs or social media might be a fine place to find information about diapers that don’t leak, when it comes to advice on topics such as vaccination the information available can range from misleading to downright dangerous.
While grandparents might not be the best source for up-to-date scientific recommendations, they can offer the benefit of experience. Brooke Scelza, an anthropologist researching breastfeeding practices in Namibia, found that women from the Himba ethnic group isolated from modern cities called were more likely to breastfeed than women in the United States. But that’s not because they find it easier – instead, most benefit from the help of their mothers and other women in the early days.
Any trip through parenting message boards in the U.S. will reveal topic after topic with titles such as, “How to Say No to Visitors After Birth” or “No Grandparents Immediately After Birth; How to Tell Them.” The conventional wisdom that parents need time alone to bond with their newborn, rather than hosting guests, might set new mothers up for isolation, even as it aims to protect them from unhelpful visitors who leave behind more dishes than sage advice.
Of course, not all new mothers have warm relationships with their own parents. And the “I did it this way and you turned out just fine” line can certainly cause a new parent to question her own instincts. But while the internet may be able to offer the most up to date parenting advice, it lacks the warmth of in-person support from someone who cares about you.
Today’s parents face a host of worries that ours did not – from pesticides in food to BPA in drink cups to how to filter out an excess of information. Still, it can’t hurt to pick up the phone and say, “Mom, what did you do when I just wouldn’t stop crying?”
If nothing else, it might help to hear someone say, “I don’t remember. But you turned out just fine.”

My Mom's Generation Doesn't Have to Understand My Divorce

After my divorce, I’ve overheard a 100 times: “What is wrong with your generation? In my day, we just coped.”

This is the first in an embarrassingly long time that I have felt compelled to write. Although it is an opinion piece that would only be “felt heard” by my generation, this conversation is with my mother’s generation.
I am 40. I have two small kids and I am divorced. It was my decision to leave the marriage. Yes, I knew who he was when we got married. No, I didn’t think he would change. What I didn’t know was just how radically I would change.
How could I not? How do you become a mother and stay the same human being? You don’t. And your husband stays the man you married. I don’t see fault on either side here. Why didn’t anyone tell us this shit? We were given a ton of advice on giving natural birth and breastfeeding until the child was eating solids but some of us couldn’t or didn’t want to be those moms. God forbid you should need the help of a night nurse. Unintentionally, our mother’s advice made us feel judged and somehow less than.
I’ve overheard this a 100 times: “What is wrong with your generation? In my day, we just coped.”
 
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We’re also told how we are a “disposable generation.” You tell us that in your day you didn’t just throw things away because they were broken. You fixed them. That’s not how I see it. I see how my generation grew up in homes where their parents lived “scrappily ever after.” How mom and dad slept in different beds, barely spoke at dinner tables, never forgave one another for past transgressions. Marriages were carried out as though they were death sentences.
Were women were too afraid to leave? I don’t blame anyone for not leaving. Divorce is the most terrifying experience. If you think divorce is the easier option, you have clearly never been divorced. So, when I hear remarks like “you should stay together for the kids,” it makes me seethe.
I speak only for myself here, but I have spoken with enough other women to know that my sentiments are not mine alone. So let me tell you a bit about my generation. We believe in changing careers – studying and receiving post-graduate degrees in English and then become pilates instructors. We change our minds. We’re organic. We accept that life is about change and instead of fearing it, we embrace it. We don’t believe that just because you made your bed you need to lie in it. We buy new linen and make another bed.
No, I don’t believe the grass is greener on the other side. I don’t think there is a perfect man out there. I believe in integrity and loyalty. I love people and relationships that are raw and real. I believe in roots and feel gratitude for my Jewish heritage. I also believe in wings. And in my truth.
My children are my priority. Their happiness and their needs supersede my own. Every single day. So when a woman from my generation makes a decision to leave a “safe marriage,” it is made with thinking, reconsidering, revising, overthinking, crying, praying, and seeking advice – and most of this is done with the children in mind. After marriage counseling, the first advice I sought was from a child psychologist. Because they are my priority.
I am repeating myself because I believe we are seen as selfish. We are not. We are also not stupid. I knew full well the financial implications of running two homes, but, because my generation is financially independent, I was confident in taking the calculated risk. Not because I believe marriage is disposable, but rather because my soul doesn’t have a price.
I didn’t want my children to grow up in a loveless home, where their mother had zero respect for their father. I was the worst version of myself in that marriage. I’m not blaming him at all. Within that relationship, my light couldn’t shine. What kind of role model would I be if I stayed? What would I be teaching my little boy and my little girl? I left the marriage because I felt unloved and invisible. And we were only 10 years into the relationship. I was taking my mother’s advice on how to be married: just one day at a time.
Then the axis of my world tilted.
When my cousin and I were 37 she dropped dead. In the garden. On a Thursday. Heavily pregnant. Again, I changed. How could I possibly be the person I was before that Thursday?
I stopped taking my mother’s advice on how to be married. After Thursday, I realized that I wasn’t living my life. I was coping. Getting through it. And it was no longer good enough. I wanted more. I wanted to feel loved and seen. I didn’t feel this was asking too much. My husband just wasn’t capable. Maybe I didn’t bring out his best either.
I don’t know how I had the courage to leave, with a 17-month-old and a three-year-old, but I did. Yes, it would, on many levels, have been easier to stay, but none of those levels meant anything to me anymore, because Thursday.
I married him with my head, not my heart. I married him with a check list – developed by your generation, not mine. The thing that wasn’t on the list but definitely should have been: Were we best friends? No. We were never friends. We didn’t have enough in common to be friends. Now that we’re divorced, it’s easy to be civil because there’s no hatred. Because you have to have love to have hate.
All divorces are different. The upside of divorcing someone completely emotionally unavailable is that there is very little drama. Obviously we sometimes disagree about things and there are the odd “fuck you” texts, but as a whole, we co-parent really well. For years, all the teachers that have taught both our kids have said they are so well-adjusted you would never know they’re from a broken home.
A term from another generation. Their home isn’t broken. They just have two homes. It’s different. Anyone who has grown up with parents who bicker and argue and openly despise one another can tell you – that’s a broken home.
What is seen as the kids being shunted from one home to the next isn’t a true reflection of the reality. My kids flow seamlessly between their two homes. This has made them flexible, adaptable human beings who aren’t afraid of change. They know the routine and if there are changes to it, it’s discussed with them. Sometimes a PT uniform or a dudu blankie is forgotten at the other house and it gets dropped off. Big fucking deal.
My kids see their dad every day because he takes them to school. This was put in place because that child psychologist told me they need to see him often. Easy. I don’t talk to my kids about what a pathetic dipshit I think their dad is. I’m not an idiot. They adore him – why would I hurt them like that? And he affords me the same respect.
The parenting plan is organic. The kids’ needs change and we evolve with them. For the sake of what is best for them. If they’re hurt or sick, obviously they want their mom, and their dad respects that. We both just want what’s best for them. No, my kids aren’t from a broken home. They’re from two very caring, very considered homes.
I have no idea what I’ll tell my kids about marriage. Do I think it’s a good idea? Right now I don’t believe in it. Obviously. I’m scarred and that’s normal. Will they be damaged by my decision? I don’t know. Do I lie in bed for many, many hours thinking about it? Yes.
I believe you don’t get to live life without getting damaged. Life is a mad ride: Sometimes it hurts and sometimes you laugh so much your stomach and face hurt. Can we protect our children from any of it? No. Can we stop Thursdays from happening? No.
I just want you guys to know that we’re doing our best. Just like you did. And you know what – you fucked us up too. Staying in unhappy marriages for the sake of your kids, taking dummies away too soon, not letting us sleep in your beds. Whatever advice you were listening to at the time, you were making the best decisions you could because you loved us.
So, from the bottom of my heart, back off. Stop judging and comparing us to you. We’re not you. Not better. Not worse. I’m pretty sure I’m nowhere near done making mistakes because I’m not done living my life. Sit back and enjoy the show. It’s going to be amazing, I promise.

We Have to Dance Even When the World Is Sh*t

“Mommy,” Maria asked, leaning into me enough that her loose curls brushed into my lap, “if Nona is dead, is it okay for Gabby to keep dancing?”

Times like this I worry. I worry about you guys and about myself too: the feelers of the world, the people who take this news storm (innocent people dying senselessly, another musician gone too soon, men wearing rompers) and internalize it until out of self-defense and the need to keep doing laundry we become desensitized zombie versions of ourselves, stepping languidly through the fogs of our lives but not feeling much of it at all lest we crumble into piles of ash in the middle of the cereal aisle.
Maria was eight years old when my mother died. When I told her, she took the news on the chin as she does with everything –an almost imperceptible droop in her shoulders the only clue that she was affected by the words settling in. She stayed next to me though, sitting with me on the front steps in the showoff-y splendor of the September sunshine.
Together we watched Gabby, then three, dance in front of us, twirling circles in the lawn. “Mommy,” Maria asked, leaning into me enough that her loose curls brushed into my lap, “if Nona is dead, is it okay for Gabby to keep dancing?”
The question has stayed with me a long time. It’s not the answer to the question that I struggled with either. The assurance that it was okay – necessary even – spilled out of my mouth so quickly and with such force that one of her curls lifted in the breeze of my breath.
No, what I have turned over and over again in my head since then is the why. With all this misery in the world, why would anyone dance, ever?
Because there is just so much, isn’t there? The Buddha said that life is suffering and anyone who has lived a life at all can attest to that: we lose so much in a lifetime that it’s borderline cruel.
There’s the loss of youth and the loss of our children’s youth and the loss, eventually – if you live long enough – of the people you love the most.
There’s the loss we’re feeling right now of faith in the free world and the ability to believe in pillar principles of sanity like freedom and justice for all.
There’s the loss of these artists, one after another – the people we grew up watching make songs and movies and art that tapped into the things we felt alone in and that made us realize while pain is individual, this suffering is universal.
Then there’s that big loss we all pretend ain’t coming by losing ourselves in our phones or our beds: the great cosmic irony that to have been given this gift of life at all is also to know you will someday lose it, too.
You’d have to be ignorant, one could argue, or even insensitive, to dance in the face of such things.
Bullshit, I say.
This is precisely why we must dance, and I don’t mean in spite of the suffering, either. We have to dance ourselves through the suffering. We have to court that shit, get up close to it, extend a hand and make a dance partner out of it, twirl it around in the front lawn until we are both so dizzy that we can’t tell anymore where suffering ends and joy begins.
Because there’s a big truth and beauty in this life of suffering. And that is this:
Suffering and joy are born of the same things. Without love, there would be no loss. Without joy, no pain. Without the greatness of their art, we would have no artists to mourn. Without a country and a people we so deeply love, we would have nothing and no one to feel drawn to protect. To miss. To mourn. To lose.
There are many things I wish I had done differently in the aftermath of my mother’s death, but not the least among them is this: I wish so hard that I had just grabbed Maria’s hand and pulled her down from those steps and onto the grassy dance floor. I wish I had danced, even if it took me a while to find my rhythm. Even if what came out looked more like a convulsion at first than a celebration. Because eventually I think the three of us together could have made something quite beautiful out of that pain.
I think my mother would have liked that very much.
I know I would have.

Are You Taking the Grandparents For Granted?

Grandparents don’t just make life easier – they make our kids happier. They make us better parents and they help in ways we often don’t consider.

It’s easy to forget how much we rely on our kids’ grandparents. Most of us – about 60 percent of parents, to be exact – rely on them regularly to help raise our children. Plenty of us call on our folks as babysitters when we want a night out, or send our kids to see grandma and grandpa after school while we finish up at work. Our lives just wouldn’t be possible without them.
It’s something we all realize, in a way – but it’s not always how we think about our parents. When my wife and I pick up our son from one of those long stays at his grandparents, we tend to focus on the negative. We’ll notice all the little ways he’s changed: how they’ve spoiled him again, or how he’s picked up some of those traits our parents have that drive us wild.
Sometimes, on the way home, we talk about how much better things could be. One day soon, we promise ourselves, we’ll get our finances worked out, and then we won’t need to drop him off at the grandparents anymore. It’ll be better, we tell each other, when we don’t need to have them around all the time.
It’s our own frustration about not having more time, but if we could think about it clearly, we’d realize how lucky we are. We tend to write off our son’s grandparents as nothing more than discount nannies who help make our schedules work – but they do so much more than that.
Grandparents don’t just make life easier – they make our kids happier. They make us better parents and they help in ways we often don’t consider.

Grandparents connect kids to their family

My wife and I often imagine what our lives would be like if we could afford a live-in nanny. Or a governess, perhaps. Or, at the very least, to send our son to a half-decent nursery. How much would he learn, we wonder, if he could spend his time with professional educators instead of being plopped off with his extended family?
But that’s just the problem: nurseries aren’t family. It might be true that a professional caretaker can teach kids a few more things than their grandparents can – although it might not be. The jury’s out on that one. Some studies say that grandparent are better teachers and some say that nurseries are.
Either way, grandparents offer something no nursery can. Grandparents connect kids to their families. When our kids are spending time with grandma and grandpa, they know they’re with someone connected to their parents. They’re developing a bond with their family and with someone who is going to stick around for the rest of their lives. That’s a much deeper connection than they can make with a paid caregiver – and it keeps them connected to you, too.

We evolved to be raised with the help of grandparents

We’re supposed to be getting help from grandparents – from an evolutionary perspective, at least.
It’s a relatively new idea that two grown-ups are supposed to move out of town and off into a distant city, far away from everyone they know, to tackle raising kids all by themselves. This new idea was brought to us by a new world, and we’ve lived with it so long that we almost think it’s natural now to only see the grandparents at Christmas. But it’s not.
Parents aren’t supposed to raise kids on their own. We usually get help, and it makes such a big difference that there’s actually a theory that we wouldn’t have evolved without grandparents. Early humans, some researchers think, were only able to take care of their kids because their grandparents chipped in and helped. Were they not there, the human species wouldn’t exist today.

Grandparents help kids learn better

When parents accept help from other people, their kids learn better. Those helpers back up the things we teach our kids, and that makes them take the lessons more seriously. The idea that manners or reading are important stops being just something mom and dad like to go on about. When grandma and grandpa back it up, the kids realize every adult believes this and they start taking it more seriously.
They also see things in our kids that we miss. We spend so much time around our kids that we get locked into one idea of who they are. We see them fail at something, and we think they’re just not ready, even after they are. But when grandparents show up, they can break through that stagnation.
It’s happened to me. When I started teaching my son to ride a bike, I saw him go down hard so many times that I started to think he just wasn’t ready. We’d wait another year, I decided. Then his grandfather came over and insisted he hop on one more time. This time, I let go and he kept those pedals moving. It would never have happened if his grandpa hadn’t forced me into it.

Grandparents need their grandkids

It’s not just that our kids need their grandparents. Grandma and grandpa need their grandkids, too.
Grandparents thrive on doting on their grandkids. It’s not just that it makes them happy to see their grandkids run around and to spoil them with treats – it actually affects their entire quality of life. Grandparents who spend time with their grandkids have better mental health, physical health, less depression, and a better overall quality of life.
Our parents need their grandkids as much our children need them, and there’s no way to do that without bringing them together. There’s a chemical reaction that happens when our parents touch and play with our kids that brings them together and makes them happier, and it just can’t happen over Skype.
That’s what we forget: It’s not just about us and how much time and money we have. Our parents are a part of our children’s identities. They’re a part of our family. We need them for more than just daycare – we need them for our kids.

Why I’m Not Going to Bathe My Kids This Summer

My kids can wallow in their own filth this summer and enjoy every minute of it.

I don’t plan on bathing my kids this summer.
Summer is a time for getting dirty. It’s for grass-stained knees, dirt behind ears, and pasty-white sunscreen streaked over red cheeks. Summer is when sweaty hair clings to the back of the neck, popsicles drip down shirts, and berries stain lips. There’s nothing clean about summer, and I don’t see any use in pretending there is. My kids can wallow in their own filth this summer and enjoy every minute of it.
There is scientific evidence to back up my bath-less approach to the season. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that newborns do not need regular bathing – other than their diaper area – until they are crawling, eating foods, and actually getting dirty. In fact, frequent bathing of babies can even lead to dry skin and eczema, some researchers caution.
Likewise, the American Academy of Dermatology says that children between ages six and 11 only need baths once or twice a week, unless they are sweaty, dirty, or went swimming in a lake or river. Michael Welch, M.D., the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on allergy and immunology, argues that exposing children to a dirt may actually protect them. As children’s immune systems develop, they benefit from exposure to viruses, bacteria, and yes – dirt.
Granted, these experts don’t say never bathe your children, which is what my ideal summer would entail. But don’t worry – we do have a blow-up pool and a garden hose. I think that should suffice.
 
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Really, is there anything better than a parenting method that lets you be lazy and feel superior to other mothers at the neighborhood cookout?
Just picture it: “Oh you bathe your child every day? Well, I’m sure that’s fine for you. I’ve done my research and the experts say that’s actually terrible for children. But we each have to make our own choices, and of course I respect your terrible one to endanger your children’s health and well-being just so you can snuggle a sweet smelling child every night. To each their own.”
Of course, I would never actually say that to another mother. Unless she were to ask if my kid was really sneaking his fifth Oreo from the potluck dessert table. To which I would have to reply, “I don’t know, probably. Why? Wait, where is my kid?” That’s when I would have to bring up the bath thing.
Whenever my mom visits, she grimaces a little every time I lay my still slightly-sticky children down for the night. “You aren’t going to do a bath tonight? You girls had one every night. It was part of your bedtime routine – it helped calm you down,” she says, in that but-I’m-not-judging-you tone of voice grandparents often slip into.
The fact that she gave us baths every night confirms a suspicion that I’ve had for a long time – that she was either a much better mother than I can ever hope to be (likely), or I really was the perfect child (also likely). Because giving my children a bath before bed does not wind them down. In our house, wrestling pajamas onto two boys at bedtime is the equivalent of putting a Halloween costume on a wild beast. But after a bath, those wild animals turn into wet, slippery seals who are now even better able to slide through my grasp.
There will come days this summer when I actually do need to give my children baths – ones that aren’t of the “strip down and run through the sprinkler a few more times” variety. When they come inside so muddy that I can’t put them in bed without getting their sheets dirty, it’s time to acquiesce. Because if there is one parenting task I find more tedious than making sure children don’t splash all of the water out of a bathtub, it’s doing laundry.
Besides, there is something delightful about taking a nice cool bath at the end of a long day of summer play and slipping on clean pajamas…then sneaking back outside to catch fireflies.
In our house this summer, bathing will be kept to a minimum. But the dirt won’t. We plan on spending every moment we can outside – catching frogs, wading through creeks, and letting watermelon drip down our chins. It’s hard to find joy without getting a little messy on the way. And I have no plan on squashing that fun with an exhortation to “please stay clean.”
If last summer is any indication, they’ll probably run fast enough that most of that dirt will fly right back off anyway. If it doesn’t, I’ll be waiting there with the garden hose.