They say being a mom is one of the hardest jobs ever, and that’s mostly because there are so many damn rules. From the moment a woman gets pregnant, she’s told what to eat, what to drink, how she should give birth, and what she should do with her baby after its born. Most parents want to do the best possible job raising kids, so we pay attention to each and every piece of advice. But, it’s not always easy to heed experts’ words of wisdom.
Sometimes the only thing parenting advice does is make us feel guilty. Most recommendations are one size fits all, and it’s easy to feel bad if you or your child don’t fit within the narrow lines of conventional wisdom. It’s important to listen to advice that can keep your kid safe, like how to buy the right car seat or which foods are major choking hazards, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for not being able to base our parenting decisions on each and every expert opinion. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a mom is trust your gut and figure out what works best for you personally.
Here, 6 parenting rules you might not be able to follow, and why you shouldn’t feel bad about it.
1. Babies should sleep with their parents…for a year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) just decided babies should sleep in the same room as their parents for at least their first year of life. The new recommendations are supposed to help prevent SIDs, but the New York Times recently pointed out those claims are questionable at best. What’s more likely is that both the baby and its parents will sleep like total shit for 365 days, even if the baby would’ve been just fine moving into its own room at five or six months old. Most parents start out room-sharing with their baby, because it’s easier, but once babies can sleep through the night, they’re often moved to their own space so mom and dad can get some rest, have sex, or just relish in having their own space again. Room-sharing might be the best choice, or it might not. Either way, sleep is priceless during the first year, and parents shouldn’t feel guilty for doing whatever works best.
2. Moms should give up caffeine during pregnancy.
Some doctors are cool with pregnant moms drinking coffee, as long as they limit it to about a cup a day. Others are staunchly anti-caffeine, and as a former coffee-guzzling pregnant lady, I can tell you that public judgment about caffeine is off the charts. Ordering a coffee while visibly pregnant will earn you all the dirty looks. The thing is, studies about the effects of caffeine on pregnancy are kind of all over the place. Some suggest it’s harmful, while others show it’s no big deal. Talking to your doctor and limiting your intake is prudent, but don’t listen to judgey assholes who try to shame you for your latte. You’re growing a human, you’re barfing every 20 minutes, and you’ve got cankles. If anyone deserves a treat from Starbucks, it’s definitely you.
3. Babies should have zero exposure to screens before 18 months.
The official AAP recommendation used to be no screen time before age 2. Now, they’ve made it more “lenient” and changed it to no screen time before 18 months, because that’s so much easier. Look, unless you’re Amish, your kid is going to see and be fascinated by some kind of media before they’re 18 months old. They think their own hands are the most entertaining thing in the world. If you’re watching Netflix while feeding your baby, they’re going to be all over that shit. Obviously, your baby shouldn’t spend its days watching soap operas, but a Baby Einstein video while you do the dishes isn’t the equivalent of feeding your baby rat poison. How about we just change the recommendation to, “No parking your newborn in front of the latest episode of The Walking Dead” and call it a day?
4. Moms should breastfeed each baby for at least 2 years.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, and then continued breastfeeding “up to age two and beyond.” Breastfeeding is a worthwhile endeavor, but two years? Most women aren’t going to be able to pull that off. Not everyone wants to or is able to breastfeed.
Plus, our society kind of sucks at supporting breastfeeding moms. We give them virtually no help, no paid time off with their babies, and no where to pump at work, but then expect them to keep it going for 730 days? Having a new baby is hard, and only about 29 percent of moms are still breastfeeding after six months. Maybe instead of guilting moms for not breastfeeding long enough, we should start handing out gold stars just for doing whatever you have to do to keep your baby fed.
5. Women should gain 25-35 pounds during pregnancy.
This, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Look, I’m a mom of two. My first pregnancy, I worked out, was careful about my diet, and gained 60 pounds. During my second pregnancy, I barely had the energy to get off the couch, didn’t watch my diet at all, gained 15 pounds, and was back in my pre-pregnancy jeans three weeks after giving birth. Is this anecdotal? Of course. But I share it because pregnancy weight gain is different for each pregnancy and each person. Instead of giving women with a wide range of body types, lifestyles, and health statuses a rigid range of acceptable weight gain, maybe just tell us to drink lots of water, get our 3-5 servings of fruits and veggies in every day, exercise regularly, and let our bodies work out the rest.
6. Kids should only eat healthy, wholesome foods.
OK, this isn’t a hard and fast rule set by any big fancy organization, but moms hear it all the time. We try to feed our kids the healthiest food possible, but they certainly don’t make it easy. Your baby might love figs, quinoa, raw bell peppers, and heaps of avocado, but once they hit toddlerhood, everything gets turned on its head. Suddenly, avocado is too mushy, bell peppers are “too bell pepper-y,” and chicken nuggets are basically a food group. They’ll bounce back from this, of course, but not before everyone from the AAP to pediatricians to our mothers-in-law make us feel guilty for it. Instead of sweating the small stuff, we should be encouraged to offer a wide range of foods, keep trying, talk to your doctor about a multivitamin to get you through the hard years, and relax.