Letting Go of BabyCenter Guilt

There’s nothing quite like receiving your weekly BabyCenter update e-mail to make you feel like a complete parenting loser. I signed up for these e-mails while still pregnant and loved getting my weekly fill of what my developing baby was doing. After she was born, I still enjoyed reading what skills I could expect her to master next.

But then it happened. Cordelia’s development didn’t match up with the tidy, compact e-mails. She started to fall behind what the “experts” said she should be doing each month. I began to worry, to examine what I was doing wrong as a parent, and attempt to fix those problems.

I purchased all of the Baby Einstein and Leapfrog toys to stimulate her mentally. I forced her to partake in tummy time several times a day to build the strength she’d need to crawl. And yet she was still slow to say her first word, slow to sit up on her own, and at nine months other babies were crawling circles around her, while she sat there and cried in frustration.

The BabyCenter milestone charts said the majority of babies were starting crawling at eight months, and had mastered it by ten months old. The chart also pointed to my failures at verbal communication, as she was nowhere close to saying mama or dada at eight months. For the record, she still doesn’t say mama. (Yeah, just a little bitter about that.)

This week I received my regular e-mail, giving me tips about potty training, and of course linking to their fabulous selection of potty training supplies for sale. Holy shit, I’m supposed to start potty training? She can’t even say poop yet!

I also read the following:

Some toddlers can even make simple two-word sentences such as “No more” or “All done.” And, as a sign of your child’s growing self-awareness, she may even start referring to herself by name: “Claire go,” for example. But because pronouns can confuse toddlers, it may be months before your toddler can say “I go” or “I need …”

Apparently the verdict on why Cordy’s head is so large is now leaning towards “thick skull” and away from “lots o’ brains” since two word sentences haven’t been heard here yet. As for knowing and saying her name? Ha. She’ll come if I call “here kitty kitty”.

To make things worse, each article at BabyCenter also has a comments section, where readers can comment on their own experiences about these topics. This is where the competition begins. Imagine that one mom you know who brags that her little 14 month old genius can now type her name on the computer and her art is the beginning of a new post-post-modern style. Now multiply that mom by 10,000.

Thanks to the anonymity of the internet, many of these women continue to one-up each other in order to prove they have the most advanced kid on BabyCenter. Your kid can count to six? Well, this kid can recite pi to 10 decimal places! Your kid can put on his own shoes? Well, this kid can lace her shoelaces with a cord she braided herself in colors that match today’s outfit!

Luckily, I no longer rely on these BabyCenter milestone updates to gauge my daughter’s progress. I also have given up most of the mainstream parenting books out there. I’ve reached the point where I now understand that there is no single pattern of development, just as there is no single way to parent your child.

In fact, I often find myself falling away from the experts and looking to my friends with kids and parenting blogs more and more now. Some of the best advice I’ve received has been from other parents who are presently out in the trenches, learning as they go along.

I see child development and parenting in less rigid terms now; it’s actually a fluid process of trial and error, of synthesis and modification. And I think one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that nothing works for everyone. I’ve seen others struggling with and debating this over the past week. It seems so easy for guilt to overtake us and leave us in a funk of self-doubt. Whether the topic is sleep training, working or staying home, preschool, TV-viewing, or organic foods, anything that threatens the optimal development of our kids forces us into waves of guilt.

So here is my advice: let it go. Let go of What to Expect and Dr. Sears and BabyCenter. Let go of the milestone charts and one-up parents. Let go of the experts who haven’t been parents of toddlers since before Nixon was President. Simple, right?

Instead, listen to your heart and follow your instinct. Pay attention to that voice inside you: it isn’t your pediatrician, your mom, or the Baby Whisperer. If you are making choices that are the best for you, your child, and your family, then you are doing the right thing. Ignore those who tell you there is only one way to do something. There are lots of ways to do anything, and sometimes you will have to try several to find what works best for you.

Also, talk about the issues that do bother you. If you have a blog, get them out there in black and white. (Or whatever colors your design uses.) Ask friends for their opinions, and use the advice you find helpful and discard the rest.

As for me, I think I’m past due to unsubscribe from BabyCenter.

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  1. Hey you,woohoo on seeing the light! I’ve been like that since before Zoe was born when I got fed up with all the well meaning advice. Welcome to guilt free motherhood where the only right person is YOU!!

  2. Such wise words and good advice. All you can do is follow your heart … and unsubscribe from Baby Center!

  3. I am with you on this one. When I had my daughter, she was first, and it was pretty much read everything I could so I would know what I was doing. It was nothing but frustrating.

    Then Benny came along, and he was a whole different story. He developed completely different than Maddy did. Maddy could say her ABC’s at 1, Benny not until 3.

    Everyone is so different, and grows and learns at their own pace. Cordy will do all of the things that she is supposed to do at her own pace, not Baby Center’s!

    And just know, you are doing the best thing for her, just loving her and praising her for what she does now 🙂

  4. Grab my hand and we’ll runaway together. That stuff is so ridiculous. I hope everyone out there reads your post.

  5. I just got my new BabyCenter email update the other day! If you go through my email inbox you’ll see I haven’t actually opened any of those updates in months. It started around the time I felt like running away with all those other failed moms because Chicky Baby couldn’t use a knife and fork by age 9 months.
    I’m with you, I get more information from other women who are actually going through it versus the “experts” whose children have children by now. Good post!

  6. The information from “Real” moms is way more reliable. I found my toddler is great at some things and behind in others. I think it all balances out!

  7. Good for you! Mine go straight to the trash no reading involved. I threw out all the baby development books after my first son had his stroke. I realized that for a special needs child like him they were utterly useless. I still worry a bit when I see other mommies blogging about their two year olds chstting up a storm but then I remember that my mother in law had to deal with my brother in law not talking much either until he was much older. He is a smart guy and you would never know he was late to talk. Now with #2 I am totally relaxed.

  8. You mean Cordy isn’t potty trained yet?? What about reading, can she read? *My* toddlers have been taking the intro to ancient roman history at the local community college all semester, and they LOVE it!

    Seriously, this post is right on, and the sooner you (the universal you) recognize this truth as a mother, the easier it’s going to be.

    I hate babycenter with all of my soul, for just the reasons you mentioned (though it’s true I still occasionally check out the food allergy board, and I always read Bringing up Ben & Birdy)

  9. Standing up. Bringing hands together, slowly, firmly. And again.

    You others – rise up with me and begin. slow. clapping.

    Wait until it reaches a roar.

    Now, let’s all storm out and cancel our BabyCenter subscriptions! Parents of the world unite and destroy the BabyExpertarchy!

    Revolutions start with us. (Thanks Christina)

  10. Mrs. Davis says:

    Unsubscribe now and be free! Be free of the expectations and the competitive moms and the “experts” who know exactly when your child should walk and talk. Baby Center drives me nuts.

  11. I couldn’t have said it any better. As a mom of two, I know from my own experiences that you speak the truth!

  12. I’m glad I’ve never even HEARD of baby center, and I can only imagine all the one-upsmanship (upswomanship?) that goes down. But the thing is it’s probably 98% BS anyway. I like your approach much better.

  13. (MrsF I think the PC term would be one-upspersonship..LOL)

    OK, on to my actual comment. You know 3 of my 4 kids were preemies, so they never-ever-ever matched up to what standards the “web experts” expected of them….Talk in short sentances? Whoa! He could maybe mutter out a MAMA!!

    It didn’t help that I also am fairly active in some “parenting Circle” message boards, where the kids are all the same age, and yes. There is a lot of “my kid is smarter than your kid” crap there…it sucks. I actually HATE when I see polls on the skills of my groups preschoolers because it is almost certain to send me into panic-attack-mode! LOL

    I think Cordy kicks ass….I think my boys kick ass….As long as we raise our kids to believe they are ass-kicking people, I think they’ll be away ahead.

    OK, so maybe they won’t be curing cancer by grade school…but they got a LOT of years ahead of them…LOL

    Love ya, babe! LOL

  14. I love this post and I couldn’t agree more. Leave the experts to their studies and research and let the real moms, the ones who’ve been there, done that, do the sharing. Someone needs to start putting it out there in black and white!!!

  15. lynsalyns says:

    I gave up on those charts a long time ago. Em can’t stack blocks or eat with a fork. I freaked because she can’t eat with a fork. Yeah. F*** the charts. And I LOVE Cordy’s name. She’s perfect and brilliant. Don’t fret.

  16. It is so so so true. I stopped reading those somewhere around my son’s 10 month of life – I was always beating myself up and then wondered – WHY! My son didn’t walk until 18 months – now at 2.5, i can’t keep up with him – a good lesson for all moms….

  17. Anonymous says:

    I know you wrote this a while ago, but Well Said!! I just left Babycenter because I was sick of all the mommies fighting with one another. I was tired of all the stupid questions from moms like: “the books says he should be teething by now, but he isn’t yet. Should I call the doctor?” Ahh – I couldn’t believe some of the stupidity when it came to parenting. Get off the books and use your instincts! That’s what makes us moms. We are not perfect, but neither are the stupid books!

  18. It’s too bad they don’t post a disclaimer stating that every child develops at a different rate and not to worry if your child hasn’t reached these milestones on every page.

    Oh, wait.

    I get it, though. It’s exciting to get kudos for your ideas. Even if they aren’t all that novel.

    I’ll admit it though, I also hate Babycenter.

  19. Anonymous says:

    I just left BBC all they do is fight. Its so freaking stressful

  20. It’s been what, 7 years since you wrote this? It still holds true. Probably more true. It was wonderful to have the resources and my fellow pregnant women to turn to when I had no idea what was going on or what was normal or what to expect, but now that I’ve got almost a year of mothering down and a smidgen of confidence I can’t see the milestones nonsense as anything other than nonsense and I have no use for the petty bickering and stupid, stupid questions. I will break my baby center habit soon and be better off for it.