Shortly after moving into our new home, we received a visit from an ADP representative trying to sell us a faster, better security system. I responded as I do to all door-to-door solicitors not offering Girl Scout Cookies: no. The rep looked at the stroller behind me in the entryway. He tilted his head and tsked. "You have a child at home." A suggestion that, in choosing not to do business with a stranger who came to my door, I was putting my child in danger. I'm generally suspicious of anyone coming to my door to sell me anything--don't they know about the internet?--but a home security company rep seems the perfect disguise for checking out homes. I had no fear of that here. His stroller move was so polished that I'm sure the strategy, if not the specifics, came from an employee training module.
This was not my first safety shaming. Before I was even showing, I visited the baby boutique down the street shopping for the jogging stroller I'd use to get back into shape post-baby. A clerk approached me and asked when I was due. When I told her which stroller I was considering, she told me, horrified, that I shouldn't purchase it in black, because if I pushed it into traffic oncoming cars would hit it. Furthermore--and this is a direct quote--I shouldn't buy a stroller with any kind of inclined infant seat because it is "literally the worst thing you can do for your baby." I must have a better imagination than this woman, because I mentally rattled off a list of dozens of things worse than letting an infant sit up a bit.
I did buy that running stroller. From another store. In safety orange. I couldn't take any chances with that oncoming traffic lest I forget, after my 35 years of practice, that I should look both ways before crossing the street.
It's not so much the outward displays of concern for my child's safety that bother me; dozens of well-meaning family members, friends, and complete strangers have suggested that my kid is dangerously cold, or dangerously hot, or walking dangerously close to water, or sleeping in the stroller at a dangerous angle. I don't think I'm taking irresponsible or unreasonable risks with my child, nor do I think any of those commenters think so either. Children are our collective most valuable resource, so it's reasonable that we're all fussing about them.
What separates these kinds of well-intentioned safety checks from the baby store and home security examples is millions of dollars. Many industries have a lot to gain from convincing parents that certain home security systems, strollers, carseats, bottles, cribs, and pajamas are safer than others. Many parents, understandably concerned with their children's safety, purchase ever-safer (or perhaps just ever-more-expensive) products to ensure that safety. But is any of it actually safer? How do we separate safety from safety theatre? What's well-intentioned advice based on the best available knowledge, and what's just safety shaming?
I'll tackle that question over the coming months, starting with babies and peanuts.