It's 3 AM. Your baby is doing X. So you Google "How to get baby to stop doing X," which returns 3-4 methods about how to get baby to stop doing X, 3-4 arguments about why it's just fine for baby to do X, and dozens of claims that baby is really doing X because you're doing Y, or Z, or A.
There are two large issues with this late-night searching. First, the chorus of results includes so many different and discordant voices. But when you're looking for sleep solutions at 3 AM, all these individual voices blend with your screaming child's voice, making it impossible to discern which advice is likely to be most helpful. Toss in the fact that many of those voices are telling you you're doing it wrong, and whatever situation you're facing will only get worse.
Second, the advice might actually appear to work. Baby stopped doing X! But relying on whatever anonymous source you found sets you up for later problems. Any one of the pieces of parenting advice you land on could come from a sample size of 1. In the sciences, a single anecdote or case study cannot be used as evidence because the sample is too small. An n of 1 can momentarily save your sanity as a parent, because you can rest in the delusion that you found the magic solution to get baby to stop doing X; however, relying on this kind of advice perpetuates a lot of the myths we collectively hold about childrearing, resulting in more frantic late night Google searches and more parents feeling woefully inadequate because their babies are still doing X.
My advice to parents is this: stop Googling parenting advice during your dark nights of the soul. Instead, do your research when you're most able to read it with a critical eye. And when you do that research, focus less on getting the "right" answer to your parenting questions and more on finding parenting resources (books, websites, older and wiser family members, etc.) whose philosophy closely mirrors your own. For me that's writers like Michel Cohen, Pamela Druckerman, and Joanna Goddard. Your philosophically-aligned sources might be different. Because there are so many different ways to parent--and so many different parents doing the parenting--the issue is less about being "right" and more about finding those resources that speak to who you are and challenge you to be the best version of yourself.
Note that nowhere did I mention you could just wing it and never read a single sentence about parenting. As a Type-A, research-driven person, I just can't fathom that. If you're here reading advice about parenting advice, you probably can't either, and so I give you 7 tips to help you navigate the deep waters of parenting research.
Questions to ask of any new parenting resource
- What does the resource say about baby sleep? There may be no more contentious issue than how to put a baby to sleep. If you find a resource's position on baby sleep convincing, you are likely to find other information in line with your view of parenting.
- What does the resource have to say about eating? Some resources will tell you that a four-month-old can eat anything that will blend. Others will tell you to introduce just one food per week. Others will tell you not to introduce anything at all, opting for milk only for six months to a year. All of these methods can lead to healthy happy babies, but not all of them will gel with your philosophy of eating. Treat the food sections of these resources much like the sleep sections above: a way to gauge the fit between the resource and your parenting philosophy.
- How does the writer describe the role of a parent? If you're looking at a book, read the introduction; if you're looking at a website, read the "about" page. If you don't see yourself (or the self you're striving to be) reflected there, that resource probably isn't for you.
- What are the writer's credentials? Do those credentials seem appropriate for the subject matter? Not every baby resource needs to be written by a pediatrician, but if you're looking for advice about pediatric surgery, you might want to limit your search to include only those writers in the medial professions. At the same time, don't equate credentials with academic degrees. Sometimes, all you need is a dose of self-deprecating parent humor. Great writers from all walks of life can offer this service.
- Who is the writer linking to and/or citing? We tend to think of a citation or link just as "proof." And citations and links certainly fulfill this purpose. But they can tell you so much more about a writer's affiliations and worldview. Links and citations can give you a good sense for a writer's parenting philosophy.
- What can you learn from the ad content? Nearly all bloggers producing good content need income to create that content (snackdinner, for example, receives advertising revenue from Amazon and Google). But blogs plastered in advertisements might be privileging advertising over content. That's not a hard-and-fast rule. But if a site is full of ads and you're suspicious of the advice, you may want to move on.
- Can this resource challenge your views? Avoid living in an echo chamber where you only hear your own views repeated to you. Even the most ardent MSNBC viewer can benefit from the occasional Fox News piece. Likewise, paying attention to many different parenting voices can help you be more flexible as a parent. Consider following the social media accounts of a few parenting resources you disagree with: you'll be surprised at how often they can challenge you to think differently about your parenting.