Monday, March 24, 2014

Parenting in the Internet Age

Two weeks ago, I was flattered to be invited by a friend, a nutritional counselor who now stays home with her daughter, to join her Facebook group of mothers who were into healthy foods for their Littles. Last night, I removed myself from the group after two weeks of feeling guilty about what I feed my kids, and how much more research I should probably be doing into their diets.


This feeling of guilt is not new. Since pregnancy -- or probably before -- I've been overwhelmed by the amount of things I'm supposed to know about raising children. I've posted about the exhausting number of (usually contradictory) advice books, but this guilt extends beyond choosing parenting tactics. A connected, educated mother can now dedicate her life to researching: what foods to eat and which to avoid; appropriate toys to purchase and those to avoid; how much plastic to permit in the house; how to discuss gender; how to educate (in school, at home, Montessori, religious, etc.); space to give or rules to set; and So. Much. More. It's exhausting. It's overwhelming. It can be paralyzing.

I sometimes find myself rocking my youngest daughter in the middle of the night, stroking her feathery head, and wondering if I'm even doing the right thing. Giving her love feels right, but is it setting a bad pattern? Encouraging a sleep crutch? Or responding appropriately to her needs? Why is snuggling suddenly so stressful?

I think the Internet, when combined with an inquisitive, research-trained mind, can be the downfall of the modern mother. Research can be endless, changes often, and is not always conclusive. Information can be overwhelming. And the pursuit of such research can be crippling to the actual act of parenting.

Before I toss out the baby with the bathwater, though, I also adore the Internet while parenting. I joined Facebook right before Sylvia was born, and I spent many long hours nursing her in one arm and feeling connected to the rest of the world while typing with the other. On long afternoons at home, a quick scroll through my phone helps me feel connected to other mothers. Status updates and posts from fellow moms make me feel like others are in the same boat, wading through the same struggles, and I feel buoyed and comforted by their fellowship. We are a scattered society -- most of my closest friends and family live hundreds of miles away -- but the Web keeps us together. My circle requires a Wi-Fi connection.

So I guess my real struggle is balance. How can I effectively use the Internet to see if that rash on Amelia's side is worth a doctor's trip, and then laugh with friends about Sylvia's latest conversation, but not fall down the rabbit hole of obsessing over BPA in my canned goods? If you have advice, that's some Internet research I'd happily take.