I've been wondering about this a lot lately as I have taken to parenting via Google.
Ideally and historically, women have turned to their own mothers for sage advice about the trickiest troubles of childrearing. Sociologists would tell us that we learn how to be parents by a lifetime of being parented. If we’re lucky enough to still have our parents when it's our turn for midnight feedings and early-years wrangling, we count on them to be a fount of wisdom.
Of course that hope goes right out the window the second you take that first drive with your mom (or mother-in-law) and the baby cries herself blue in the face.
"I'll just take her out and sit her on my lap," she'll offer.
"Oh, don't do that. Car seat laws, you know," you'll reply in horror.
"When my kids were little we didn't have those," she'll retort with a long sigh.
It would also seem that the laws of man don't hold the same weight with some mothers hailing from the 60s era, who would rather have a cooing child in their laps than the distraction of non-stop screaming for a half-hour ride. After all, they burned their bras, got male-only jobs, shut down government and helped end a war, damn it.
"How can this be safer than my strong and loving arms," she'll ask in earnest.
"It just is. Believe me," you'll say with the full conviction of possessing overriding vote.
Between the time when I was a child and now everything about childrearing has changed.
Car seats have gone from tubes of metal slung from a backseat, with little more than a tiny lap belt for restraint and a steering wheel for distraction, to space-age capsules with astronaut-quality harnesses. Walkers have lost their wheels; crib slats have become more tightly spaced and hard-soled shoes have gone the way of the dinosaur.
Modern moms have hundred's more experts willing to sell us their books than merely Dr. Spock.
It almost seems as if mothering has moved as far away from instinct as one can imagine.
In addition to a shifting understanding of safety, parenting styles have shifted right along with changes in social mores, and the fallout can even set modern mothers on a head-on collision course. Studies upon conflicting studies are pitting us against each other.
Circumcision, breast feeding, room-in or nursery, kangaroo-carry or cry-it-out, stay-at-home or working mothers; every potential decision is a landmine waiting to explode. It really shouldn't be surprising since we've all come to accept our children as the most important aspects of our lives. How could we NOT do what's best for them every second of every minute of every day?
While my own mother has eagerly soaked up all the changes of 21st-century mothering; often telling me about the trends before they happen, I know I'm in the minority.
I've got friends who's moms are mortified that their two-year-old grandchildren are still nursing or aren't potty trained. As soon as the bygone mom opens her mouth, eyes roll and fingers open and close in puppet mimicry.
All this study, it seems, is also causing us at times to mistrust our instincts, even though that's really we make most of our decisions on parenting: We go with our gut and when what we try fails, we try something else.
But even though my own mother is a font of medical wisdom, whenever I have a question about what to do about the behavior or some other situation, I still find myself asking Dr. Google's advice.
Within nanoseconds Dr. Google comes through with 18,000 or so answers, and I do what comes natural. After I've trolled all my on-line mom's groups and decided a course of action, I pick up the phone.