Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Choosing Second Best For My Kid

There's no shortage of people arguing about where things should fall on the scale of best to worst with regard to parenting strategies and choices.  The most common instance of this that I've witnessed since becoming a parent has been the breastfeeding vs. formula feeding argument.  As a parent who was able to breastfeed rather easily, I've never once considered formula for my kid because I've never had to.  I breastfeed for my own reasons, some of them selfless and some of them selfish, and I intend to continue to do so until Aias weans himself which I hope will happen after he's 2 years old given that the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that this is the #1 thing to do (you know, the #1 choice for a kid).  That being said, I have no beef with people who don't breastfeed.  As much as I'm a super boob milk advocate, I don't plan on taking out a pitchfork and storming the houses of people who feed their babies formula. That's just not my style. But anyway, this post isn't about breastfeeding and how I always choose the super-dee-duper best for my child, it's about how I don't.

Every once in a while when another breastfeeding mother discovers that I'm still nursing Aias, they breathe a sigh of relief as though they can finally vent and confide in someone about how fantastic breastfeeding is and how they just don't understand how someone could choose to formula feed their baby.  After all, why would anyone ever choose second best for their child?

I've been thinking about this a lot.

The first thing that comes out of a nursing mother's mouth when you criticize their nursing a toddler is "well, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests you nurse your baby exclusively for at least 6 months and that you continue to nurse them until they are a year old, and the World Health Organization recommends that you breast feed your toddler for at LEAST the first 2 years of their life." I'm willing to bet I've heard this phrase about 1,000 times in the past 2 years. In fact, I'm certain that about 500 of those times were me saying those words myself.  When I say it, it's just a nice way of saying:


Well, kind of.  You get what I'm saying. If this happens in the Facebook arena, this dialogue is sometimes followed by link after link to research everywhere saying that breastfeeding is the #1 choice.  Oftentimes these links are either given to people who formula feed  (whether by choice or because they have to) or passively aggressively posted where they'll be sure to see it, and sometimes the question is asked "So why are you using formula if the #1 best choice for a kid is breast milk? Huh? HUH?"  How can someone even respond to that?

So like I said, I'd been thinking about this whole "why would you choose the 2nd best for your kid when you can choose the #1 best for them" thing.  I thought to myself, "would I ever choose 2nd best for Aias? Have I ever?"

The answer is yes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is a well respected organization and as I mentioned above they also suggests exclusively breastfeeding a baby until 6 months and then for at least 1 year.  People believe in this organization, they value this endorsement of breastfeeding.  I've quoted this endorsement many times, and I've even thought to myself "this is the #1 choice for my child, so why would I not do it!"  After all, the AAP SAYS IT IS SO!

Do you know what else the AAP suggests? They also suggest that your children under 2 watch absolutely, 100%, ZERO television. What, what? I've gone and changed the subject now. (I told you this post wasn't actually about breastfeeding!).  What the heck does this have to do with anything?

This is what it has to do with it: in the past 2 years, I've probably read nearly as many reputable articles about how awful television is for babies and toddlers under 2 years old as I have articles on how fantastic breastfeeding is (or how evil formula is).  However, each day my 22 month old watches probably 30-60 minutes of Curious George.  Curious George being, you know, a television show.  Sure, I tell myself "hey, at least we don't have cable!" or "hey, at least it's just on Netflix!" or "hey, at least he isn't exposed to commercials" or "hey, at least it's not Dora the Explorer which is plastered over a million useless products with the sole intention of marketing overpriced garbage to kids."

All of my justifications and excuses aside, here are the facts:
- Curious George is a television show whether it's on Netflix or not
- My kid is under 2
- The AAP suggests that kids under 2 watch ZERO television
- I let him watch it anyway, even though the AAP says I shouldn't

What would be the #1 best choice for my kid? Watching no television before he's 2.
What choice do I make for my kid? Putting Curious George on the tv while I take a shower/send an email/make dinner/fold laundry.

So why am I able to read articles endorsing breastfeeding and to act on that advice and take it so seriously, but I'm also able to read articles on the evils of TV and basically completely ignore the recommendations which are arguably as important as the breastfeeding recommendations.  We're talking the same organizations endorsing these recommendations!   It's not even that I don't believe television is horrible for kids under 2, I TOTALLY 100% believe it! I believe those articles saying it's awful, yet I still let Aias watch Curious George! I am fully educated on the matter and yet I choose to actively go against this advice even though I know my child would probably be better off if I didn't.

I don't understand myself.

Breastfeeding is hard work, yet I chose to plow through it.  Canceling Netflix and not putting Curious George on the screen is NOT that hard.  It's nowhere near as hard as breastfeeding.  Why is it that I put so much weight on a reputable organization endorsing breastfeeding but when that same organization tells me that TV is garbage and my kid shouldn't watch it at all, I suddenly just shrug that information off?

Maybe it's that I watched tv growing up and I figure "I turned out fine."
Maybe it's that I feel like I have no choice but to let him watch it because I feel like it's all that will occupy him while I get things done around the house.
Maybe it's that I feel it's convenient to let him watch it, and that it would be incredibly inconvenient to NOT let him watch it.
Maybe it's because I figure the benefits of watching Curious George outweigh the consequences of watching it?

Maybe it's because I'm only human.

I really have no clue, but it's interesting to think about.  Here I am being fully informed of the "dangers" of something and yet I allow my toddler to do it anyway.

Do I feel guilty about it? Maybe a little, but I shouldn't have to.  Will I pull the plug on Curious George? Not likely.

I wonder what it would take to get me to change my behavior?  What sort of article or research would I have to read to actually unplug that tv?  I wonder what kind of parent this makes me?

I'll tell you this much; it makes me the kind of parent that doesn't measure the competence of another parent based on their decisions, whether I perceive their decision to be the best or the worst.  I only hope no one will be showing up at my house with a pitchfork to take Aias away because they want to save him from Curious George and his awful parents that don't always choose what's best for him.

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