To circumcise or not, to vaccinate or not, to breastfeed or not, to co-sleep or not: Parenting young kids has become a series of capital-W watershed choices that are presented as ways to make or break your child—physically, emotionally, developmentally. The stakes are always portrayed as the highest of high, with nearly every single debated issue (and there are LOTS of them) leading to this one conclusion: “If you do [or don’t do] X, your child will suffer grave consequences or even death.” But, hey, no pressure, right?
Since there are always horrifically true cautionary tales on both sides of every single one of these debates, both sides have plenty of ammunition to scare the bejesus out of parents. From deciding whether to let baby sleep on his back or tummy, to deciding whether to let older children walk to the park alone, mom and dad repeatedly get the message that life itself hinges on their decisions. It’s exhausting, and brand-new parents definitely bear the brunt of it. So, to me, it feels cruel to wag an angry finger at those parents who, for example, didn’t vaccinate their kids at the height of McCarthy-ism (Jenny, that is, not Joseph). We’re all just trying to figure out what information to trust, and make sure our kids don’t get toasted.
Parenthood is a series of forks in the road, and I suspect the signage we face at these forks has become much messier and more involved than it was for generations past. It’s damn scary to keep trying to play by ever-changing road rules, as information keeps getting repackaged, reversed, or revised. It’s also scary to realize that even if we play by the numbers—or, on the opposite end, just sit at the fork and hope the winds will decide the proper tine to blow us down—there is the potential that we’re going to harm our children. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t. Your actions can lead to horrible consequences. Your inaction can lead to horrible consequences.
The Disney measles drama is what’s on my mind as I write this blog. To me, it’s just one more reminder that, in the Information Age, a Critical Thinking class should be required coursework for parents. Heck, why not for everyone? As a society steeped in information and with crisis after crisis being presented to us in a steady flow, we need now more than ever to be better equipped to separate data from opinion, judge for ourselves what deserves our attention, recognize a spin when we see it, and draw logic-driven rather than mob-driven or fear-driven conclusions. That’s not an easy task if you aren’t taught the skills to accomplish it. I for damn sure could use a refresher course, much more than I needed one of those cute little hospital classes on taking care of a newborn, as it turns out.
I write these words after reading this angry dad’s article. I’m not cheerleading everything he wrote (as there are many parts where I find the data points interesting but don’t draw the same conclusions as he does). I certainly haven’t walked a mile in his shoes, but I can see he’s wearing his thinking cap and trying to encourage critical thought. That deserves some praise. As he put it in his intro: “I hope when you’re done reading that you say to yourself, ‘he gave me a ton to think about.’”