21st Century Parenthood: Newborns Are Useless, and Other Musings

I am writing this exactly 35 days, 4 hours and 51 minutes into my life as a father. I can attest to the experience being grand and challenging. Incredibly pure joy and intoxicating elation felt for the smallest moments shared, of smiles and stares (and silence). Incredibly trying sleep deprivation creating zombie-like states and hair-trigger moods for my wife and me.

Parenthood is a remarkable thing. I can think of no more significant change in life, other than perhaps the moment I exited my mother. We basically start life responsible for 0 people, and, under “normal” circumstances, slowly work our way up to responsibility for 1 person — generally over 18-21 years, although certainly results may vary as to when responsibility for a full “1” is actually reached. Then we get married, and perhaps we’re responsible for slightly more than 1. But when a child arrives, we are very firmly at a minimum of 2 people for whom we’re responsible. I mean, human newborns are truly useless. The relative stage of cognitive development of a human newborn is literally less than half that of even the newborns of our genetic brethren, chimpanzees. I won’t even mention that dolphins are born swimming and lions are running at 20 days old. So, clearly it’s on the parent to get that baby through babyhood.

College was a fun evolution of freedom. Getting a job and paying all of my bills was satisfying. Marriage was not that crazy a change after cohabitation. But nothing really prepares us for having a child. Human gestation works pretty well in that 9 months is a reasonable amount of time to get ready. The mother’s growing stomach is a reminder of things getting closer. Even if the baby comes prematurely and the parents hadn’t painted the room or bought all the gear, it’s tough to say that they never knew it was possible and were totally mentally unprepared. But no matter how prepared we are, the change is dramatic. It’s paradoxical that for an individual — particularly the majority of us who have not spent a ton of time around babies — parenthood is a totally foreign experience. But for humanity, there is nothing more common. Literally, people are having this experience less than every quarter second. In the time it takes to read this article 10s of babies will be born and twice(ish) that number of parents created (or blessed with another child). So here is an experience that — to me — might as well have been a moon landing. But to the world, it is as common as breathing.

Such an experience lends itself well to the marketplace of ideas/series of tubes we know as the Internet. A totally foreign experience for the individual, but one in which billions of people can claim expertise by virtue of empirical knowledge. Having never searched for parenting information until recently, I can now attest that a good chunk of the server farms out there guzzling power are devoted to shelling out parenting advice to questioning newbies like yours truly. Handling this data deluge is an interesting new phenomenon of the 21st century life. There are the “experts” like the tried and true WebMd and it’s growing assortment of top 12 lists, or one-stop clearing house BabyCenter (a J&J company -did someone say synergies?!?). Then there are the blogs — from Free Range, to Scary, to Feminist to Blacktating — which though seemingly no longer updated wins a mention for its awesome name.

My experience perusing many of these sites is that if I click on 100 links, I’ll get 150 answers to the same question. So, I really end up kind of in the same place I started — which is generally knowing the answer to my question, but looking for validation (or ammunition for why my view is more correct than that of my spouse) — but with an hour of my life spent down the clicking rabbit hole. I won’t even mention medical journals and peer-reviewed articles — the deep cuts of parenting advice.

What I find from my experience and that of friends is that parents end up taking advice mostly based on writing style. “Oh, I like how this person says it.” Or, “Oh, that is so me.” Given the info overload, we really just end up choosing the voice we like to hear. I imagine there are people out there saying, “This mother blogger has a MD in Pediatric Oncology, but I really don’t like how Dr. Know-It-All regularly skips the Oxford comma. Apparently they didn’t cover that in her 12 years of medical school. But this other woman is so sassy, she’s got attitude and I love her unpretentious tweet style. Plus she’s had 6 children. @dedbeetmom89 must know her stuff.” I wonder if back in the day parents ever sent their sons to go bullfight based on their love of Hemingway’s economy of words. That’ll make junior into a man.

My household’s current blog of choice is Lucie’s List. Why does my wife love it? I think part of it is because we have a dear friend named Lucie (unrelated to the list). My wife would argue that the blog’s insights have been good and her assessments frank. But I think the writing voice, and website design, have made all the difference. And the technology — the email subscription hits my wife’s inbox without fail and always contains humor and a worthwhile note. In this way, the 21st century world is likely similar to the old — s/he who gets the message out best will win, not necessarily s/he who has the most scientific content. Me, I personally support the blog because Lucie’s mom has a degree from my alma mater, the University of Florida. Seems like a qualified parenting expert to me.

Want to share your own sound parenting advice, musings or questions? Email me at 21stCenturyParenthood@gmail.com.