By Heather Jones
There’s nothing better than a positive, affirming, viral Facebook post, especially when it comes to parenting. This parenting thing is tough, and it’s even harder when everyone is a critic. We often feel compelled to justify the choices we make to avoid side-eye from other parents who are supposed to be in this journey with us, dammit.
So when Abbie Fox posted a photo series showcasing children holding up signs documenting parenting choices made by their mothers, the response was overwhelmingly positive. Yes, the mommy-shaming needs to stop. Who cares what other parents do?
“Well…” my little lone voice squeaked from the back. I do. Don’t get me wrong, most of the time I am “live and let live.” Want to breastfeed? Fine. Formula feed? Fine. Hand-puree organic vegetables from your own garden? Do it. Shove a handful of fries at your eight-month-old for breakfast? Go for it. I don’t care if your child ever owns a cell phone, or if they spend five hours a day watching YouTube from birth. Most of the time, parenting choices are just that: choices.
But not all of these choices are on a level playing field. Some aren’t even in the same stadium. A set of siblings in one photo proudly holds a sign that reads, “We slept in cribs with bumpers, sleep position[er]s, and blankets.” I’m happy that worked for them, but this isn’t a parenting choice. This is a documented hazard. In fact, in the comments on that photo were moms sharing stories of how they lost their babies to this practice. Not at all the same thing as screen time usage.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports, “Approximately 3,500 infants die annually in the United States from sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); ill-defined deaths; and accidental suffocation and strangulation.” This staggering statistic indicates that safe sleep practices are vital, not simply preference.
The AAP recommends ways to create a safe sleep environment, including:
• Place the baby on his or her back on a firm sleep surface such as a crib or bassinet with a tight-fitting sheet.
• Avoid use of soft bedding, including crib bumpers, blankets, pillows and soft toys. The crib should be bare.
• Share a bedroom with parents, but not the same sleeping surface, preferably until the baby turns 1 but at least for the first six months. Room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
• Avoid baby’s exposure to smoke, alcohol and illicit drugs.
While some families might know these risks and choose to ignore them, it isn’t something to be promoted or celebrated. It shouldn’t be brushed off as an equal parenting choice like most parenting choices.
Also in the photo series was a child holding a sign saying he was on an alternative immunization schedule. Vaccinations never belong in the realm of parental choice. Yes, at this time it is up to parents to decide whether or not to vaccinate, but unlike breast vs. bottle, it is absolutely other people’s business whether or not you vaccinate your children. It’s not about parental choice; it’s a public health issue.
The fewer people vaccinated, the more a disease spreads. Since no vaccine is 100% effective, and some people are unable to be vaccinated due to health and allergy reasons, we rely as a society on everyone who can be vaccinated to get vaccinated and keep these diseases from reaching those who are vulnerable.
What happens when we treat immunization as simply an option given to parents to take or leave? Well, ask Europe. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that due to a decrease in vaccination, the number of measles cases in the European region has gone from 5,273 in 2016, to 23,937 in 2017, and so far in 2018 there have been over 41,000 cases.
Even vaccines that aren’t as effective as the MMR make a difference. If more people had gotten the flu shot, perhaps little Jude would still be here.
So yes, I will have something to say about your choice not to vaccinate. In addition to it not being based on any credible science whatsoever, and putting your own child at risk, it puts the rest of us at risk, too.
Not included in the photo series, but one I see a lot, is car seat safety. It is not a personal choice; it is physics. Choosing to put a winter coat on a child in the car, or having the chest strap too low, or forward facing too soon, isn’t about choice, it’s about documented, black and white safety. Physics does not care about your parenting.
So while the sentiment behind the photos was great, and there are some very valid messages in there, we need to be careful about equating genuine safety information and education with shaming for innocuous choices. We need to ensure that as we strive to get away from this culture of shame, we don’t end up advocating for or excusing dangerous practices in the process.
No parent should be shamed. We are all doing our best. But part of doing our best is helping each other out when we are unknowingly putting kids at risk. If I am doing something unsafe and not realizing it, please tell me. I might be embarrassed initially, but I want to know. And with kindness, I will do the same for you.
To see the full viral photo series, click here.
About the Author
I am a freelance writer and mother of two young boys. I am a regular contributor to online parenting publications such as Yummy Mummy Club and the Savvymom group of sites. I’ve been a featured writer on the CBC, HuffPost, Ravishly, and others.