“Just put a little rice cereal in his bottle,” my mom said. I wanted to. Lord, I wanted to. And if I’d had a dollar for every time I’d heard it, I could have quit my work-from-home job and saved myself an awful lot of headache.
The first thing you should know is that my mother is perhaps one of the most sincere, well-meaning people on the planet. So when she hands out parenting advice like hard candies, she’s not showing off her hard-earned maternal prowess after having somehow raised three children into adulthood without letting us choke to death on a cupcake or tumble off the roof. She’s genuinely trying to help.
Which brings us back to the rice cereal.
My son and only child had just turned 2 months old. He was a great little sleeper. He was an extraordinarily happy child.
And he could not. Stop. Spitting. Up.
Laundry felt like a cotton-scented nightmare I’d never dig my way out of. Our hardwood floors looked like Jackson Polluck got drunk and had a field day in the dairy aisle. If I ended the day in a shirt that wasn’t crusted stiff and smelled like 4-week-old unrefrigerated yogurt, I counted myself lucky.
Our pediatrician had patiently reminded us that “all babies spit up,” and that if our chubby-cheeked, smiling little boy wasn’t writhing in pain from acid reflux, the problem would eventually work itself out. I wanted to tell her that in the meantime, she was welcome to come wash two loads of his onesies a day or scrub the sour milk smell out of my sofa.
So when my mother, guru of all things maternal and Baby Whisperer Extraordinaire, walked into my home that chilly weekend armed with helpful suggestions on how to dam the river, I listened, desperate. And, like many a well-meaning Boomer before her, she suggested rice cereal.
“It won’t hurt him,” she explained. “My mom did it. I did it with you. A little castor oil wouldn’t hurt, might not hurt either.”
When I hesitated, she added, “Women have been doing this for years.”
On its face, it made some sense. After all, who was I, a new mom of all of 12 weeks, to question the wisdom of generations of mothers before me?
And yet, even as I scrubbed crusted milk out of the crevices of my baby boy’s car seat for what felt like the forty-seven thousandth time, I just knew. I knew his little gut wasn’t ready for solids. I knew there was a risk he’d choke. Even more, I’d read the many, many studies that have proven time and again that this method doesn’t help reflux. I knew.
But as new moms, we often cling to the expertise of those who’ve walked this wild confusing road of motherhood before us. Whether it’s our own moms, our grandmothers, or that sweet older lady at church who managed to raise eight children on a shoestring budget while her husband was in ‘Nam, we hold tight to their guidance like a beacon that might somehow guide us through this sleep-deprived, panic-induced journey in which most days we feel like clueless blind men stumbling through the fog.
And who can blame us? It’s only natural to search for a lodestar among the chaos, even to the point of being intimidated by the inevitable eye-roll from a been-there, done-that veteran mama if you dare to question her methods.
But while it’s true that there is value in home remedies and anecdotal advice, here’s the thing: We must also give ourselves the freedom to ignore advice. It’s okay not to do something “just because your mom did it.” It’s okay that we’ve moved past the days of kids riding in forward-facing car seats, of chickenpox parties and padded crib bumpers and baby powder.
Of rice cereal.
So when my son was 6 months old and caught a stomach bug, I smiled when my mother suggested I give him water to make sure he didn’t get dehydrated. I nodded as she explained I should wean him from nursing on demand, switch to formula and “get that baby on a schedule.” I still listen politely as she repeatedly tells me I should put him down in his crib with a comforter “or else he’ll get cold.” All those things worked for her, and that’s okay.
I, on the other hand, threw them out with the stained clothes.
My son is 7 months old now. He still doesn’t sleep with a blanket, but he clocks 12 hours a night. Our schedule is more along the lines of relatively ordered chaos, and he’s still ridiculously happy. He still spits up a bit, and I still don’t put rice cereal in his bottle. And he eventually got over the stomach bug.
There will likely be myriad things we do today with our babies that will no longer be common practice when the little boy I’m currently watching eat his own feet on our (now clean) carpet is holding his own baby for the first time. But as things change, we’re allowed to, too. And while I still don’t have anywhere close to all the answers, I’ve learned no one else does, either.
So it’s okay to do things your way, mama. Even if it’s not the way your mama did it.