What do Gerber Puffs and politicians have in common?

It’s not just empty calories and empty heads. |  rawpixel  for  Unsplash

It’s not just empty calories and empty heads. | rawpixel for Unsplash

On lazy weekend mornings I play a game of pretending to be asleep so I can look at snackdinner’s analytics. It’s fun to see how many people popped in during the week, as well as the little flags representing the countries these readers are from.

The best part is reading the late-night searches that led parents here. This past week, the top two were “gerber puffs warning” and “mitch mcconnell evil.”

Neither of these searches is surprising. It’s hardly the first weekend people questioned McConnell’s motives. The Gerber Lil’ Crunchies choking story is a zombie reborn with each new group of parents. You can click on the above links to see my takes on both questions, but here’s a quick summary: You don’t need to fear Gerber Lil’ Crunchies. You should fear Mitch McConnell. When it comes to both the puff and the politician, you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

Taken together, these two searches speak volumes about what it’s like to be a parent in the U.S. in 2018.

Our puff panic represents parents’ obsession with safety, our ever-alert vigil for the next hazard that could harm our children.

We are terrified about how everything can change in one moment—how our fleeting absence from the room or just a turn to the sink can maim or kill our kids. We can’t actually stay in the room all the time, or continuously face our children. So we pour all of fears into the puff container. We google about the choking dangers provided by popular children’s snack foods and work to rid our pantries, couches, and car floors of them.

During these intense years of panicking over hidden dangers ad near-disasters, we occasionally pause to think about the future. If they aren’t felled by stale cereal, we hope our children will grow into a kinder and more generous world than the one we live in. And so we start to question whether or not our political leaders are kind and generous, or at least moral.

But our frequent panic-googling and babyproofing doesn’t leave much time for us to translate our political questions into action. We’re too busy protecting our kids from their tiny worlds to focus on changing their big world.

So what do the puff and the politician have in common, aside from all the cheap shots about empty calories? They’re expensive. They lack substance. They’re tough to fit in an already-overflowing diaper bag.

They’re also empty in another sense: they’re containers into which we pour our worries. The Gerber story resurfaces again and again because our culture invites and even celebrates parental fear, such that fear is bound up in our definitions of good parenting. good parent is the fearful parent. That same kind of fear infuses our politics: fear that bad things will happen to you or fear that good things will happen to people who are not you.

We’re better parents when we’re not having our fear constantly stoked. We’re better citizens when we’re not having our fear constantly stoked. We need to stop panic-Googling about extremely unlikely dangers and start searching for ways to help make that kinder more generous world.

So, two simple steps for this week: 1) Be at least a little bit more open to your favorite parenting blogs going political, because parenting is political. 2) The next time you catch yourself googling about a “hidden danger” to your kids, stop and do something. Turn your boundless capacity for abstract panic into concrete action.

If you need to disengage for a little bit, that’s cool too. For that, try the third search that got people to snackdinner this week: “free toddler pumpkin hat crochet pattern.” If you make one, your child will be complimented by strangers, which will afford you a great opportunity to re-engage with the world around you.