A few months ago, completely out of the blue, I was informed that my then 13 month old daughter was never going to walk. Ever. That’s a heavy statement, with heavy implications. Never going to walk? We’d have to sell the home we just bought and move to a place with a wheelchair ramp. I’d have to make sure every vacation we ever took was fully accessible. My dreams of coaching the soccer team my tomboy would eventually play on would be destroyed. I looked at the person delivering this terrible prognosis and responded with an eye-roll and a pretty loud “shove it up your ***”.
You must be thinking that after hearing such devastating news I was just taking my fear and anger out on the poor doctor. Except it wasn’t a doctor who told me my daughter is never going to walk, it was a woman standing next to us in the subway station. I was running errands that day around the city, and I had my daughter in a baby carrier on my hip. According to this woman, if I carried my daughter around “all the time” in “that thing” she would never learn to walk because her leg muscles would blah blah blah blah (I stopped listening). That’s nonsense, utter complete total nonsense, but this woman believed in it so strongly that she felt the need to warn me about it.
I should have asked that woman if it would have been more beneficial for leg muscle development to plop my just barely standing baby down right on the subway platform.
Getting terribly out of date (and often unsolicited) baby and parenting advice from older generations is inescapable. Many things that we “knew” about parenting even 20 years ago have been proven to be wrong. Things like rubbing alcohol on a feverish baby to lower her temperature, or insuring a full night’s rest by putting your infant to sleep on his stomach in a fluffy crib full of blankets and teddy bears, or force feeding a baby that doesn’t feel like eating because it ‘looks skinny’, used to be sound advice, but have the potential to be quite damaging. Rubbing alcohol on a baby can cause alcohol poisoning. Babies should sleep on their backs in ‘empty’ cribs to prevent SIDS, and suffocation. Force feeding a baby can cause choking, and vomiting (and a fat baby isn’t necessarily a sign of a healthy baby).
So how do you deal with it? You’re supposed to respect your elders, right? But with age comes wisdom, not medical expertise. I’ll admit, I’m not good at dealing with it. When my daughter was only a couple of months old, she was screaming and crying at the supermarket and nothing I did seemed to make her feel better (turns out it was just gas). An older woman came up to me and told me that I should soak a cotton ball with whiskey and put it in her bottle nipple to calm her down. That’s a really bad idea. Aside from the alcohol, the baby could ingest and/or choke on cotton through the bottle nipple. The old woman kept going on about how she did it and her kids turned out just fine. Then she said “when I had my babies that’s what everyone did”. My screaming baby (and apparent anger management issues) caused me to snap and respond with “When you had your babies we lost a third of Europe to the plague”. Bad advice can be dealt with through education, but teaching is hard with a screaming baby in your arms. Perhaps the best way to deal with it is to just say thank you and then ignore it.
Rachel Figueroa-Levin is a soapmaker, cofounder and educator at Urban Babywearing, a hyperlocal Inwood blogger and organizer, a political/life/religion/parenting satirist, and all around trouble maker. She is also the creator New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Spanish-speaking alter ego @elbloombito. You can reach her via twitter @Jewyorican.