Is Too Much Information Making Our Generation of Moms Paranoid?

Being a mom these days is pretty amazing. We can find decent wine for under $10 a bottle, shop the latest in kids’ fashion with our fingertips, and glean inspiration for everything from rainy-day toddler games to one-pot pasta dishes in less than five minutes. Finding OB’s and pediatricians whose practices align with our beliefs is easy, and if you can’t do something yourself, you can find something or someone to do it for you. (Hi, Roomba, you are legit my best friend).

But along with all the wonderful things that the internet, social media, science, and technology bring, I’ll go ahead and say it: The constant barrage of information can be overwhelming. In the good old days of momming, the goal was to keep kids fed, clean, and somewhat happy. While I wouldn’t go back in time to an era when we didn’t know about the importance of crib safety, skin-to-skin, or sensory exploration, sometimes I just want to throw my hands up in the air and be done with all the stress.

Being a mom of two, and since writing about parenting is my job, I am in “mommy groups” of all kinds. Both in-person and on Facebook, there’s a group for every single part of my mommy needs: crunchy groups where I can chat about breastfeeding, birth month groups for moms who had their kids at the same time as mine, local groups for playdates—the list goes on.

And in all of these groups, as in every circle of mom-friends, there are plenty of women who consider themselves experts. Sharing, linking, emailing, posting articles, opinion pieces, and studies. On the benefits of breastmilk and the ills of screen time; arguing both sides of the Great Vaccine Debate to the point that everyone is in tears of frustration within minutes; touting “natural,” unmedicated birth as the Holy Grail of delivery; etc.

Look, I get it. I want my kids to be safe and happy. Hell, I want to be safe and happy. And I appreciate that science has gotten us to an amazing point where we know a lot that our parents and grandparents didn’t know. I’m grateful to be armed with the facts on organic food, sustainable products, and so on. It fills me with a sense of accomplishment when I reach for sunscreen and shampoo that aren’t jacked-up with harmful chemicals. I love breastfeeding. But at the same time, all this information is turning me into a crazy person. And I’m not alone.

I know a woman so tortured by her decision to circumcise her son that several years later she’s still in therapy dealing with it. Another who invested thousands of dollars in new rugs for her home, only to toss them all a year later when her baby started crawling because she couldn’t stop picturing chemicals flying around, absorbing into her daughter’s skin. (They were wool rugs).

For me, life as a young mom is a constantly tortured dance. I’ve written about my postpartum anxiety, but this is something more. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many nights I have spent reading articles about free radicals, toxic shock, and the pros and cons of red-shirting kids.

Take starting solids: My pediatrician said to try rice cereal at 4 months, my own research said to start with pureed veggies around 6, the mom groups said Baby Led Weaning is the only way to do it, or you basically suck as a mother. I thought about the cereal but looked at my little, laughing baby girl and pictured her gut potentially ruined forever. I spent days wondering if my or my brother’s celiac disease diagnosis had anything to do with my mother introducing carbs too early.

I can’t see myself handing a chicken bone to a baby, and I didn’t want to risk the stomach issues, so we did mushed veggies and fruit at 6 months and lied to both the doctor and the mom groups about the choice. At 8 months old, the baby is still not that into food, and of course, you can find a blog post somewhere to support any theory, including the one that I’ve ruined her by not going the BLW route. And on and on it goes, the guilt, the fear, the paranoia.

My 3-year-old is strong, independent, and loud. She’s had a few skin rash situations and some unexplained fevers in her day, but for the most part, she’s given us an easy run medically. And yet, I am perpetually in a state of fear that I’m doing something to mess her up.

Is the tablet we let her watch educational videos on for a half hour in the evening going to ruin her vision? Or her brain? Are her bouts of eczema a direct result of the crappy, chemical-loaded baby wash I used on her in the early days before I became an “enlightened” (read: paranoid) mom? I could fill up entire days, journals, conversations with similar questions. Because for every part of this journey, for every choice we make, there soon seems to crop up some new wave of information that makes us feel like absolute crap.

These kids are my world. It’s not just about fed, clean, and somewhat happy. I want them to excel, have healthy skin, be empowered, eat the best things. Mostly I want them safe. In a world that seems to be constantly knocking at our door with new dangers, I want to protect them from it all. But every day it feels like there’s more to add to the list. And it’s exhausting.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t know all this stuff. I want to just let the toddler dig into some chemical-laden wrapper snacks, park them in front of the TV so I can get some stuff done for myself, and slather on an eczema cream we can actually afford—and basically pretend that Google doesn’t exist.

And so we take a break, just a little one for a day, or even an hour. And I bleach my bathtub or make a processed dinner, my own quiet rebellion. Just don’t tell the pediatrician on me. Or even worse, the mom group.

Photo: Getty