Why is a parent’s best never quite good enough?

My Parenting Perspectives column for June 14:

It looked like a mosquito bite on my daughter’s left thigh. She wanted me to put a Band-Aid on it, so I did. Five weeks and a trip to the walk-in clinic later, and 3-year-old Eve still has a red, bumpy, nickel-sized rash on her leg.

As I debated between another round of antibiotic cream at home and another trip to the doctor, a battle raged in my head. Am I the overprotective mother seeking medical advice for the equivalent of a scraped knee or the negligent mother whose daughter’s leg will be amputated because of the infection I let fester?

And why is it always one extreme or the other in my head?

The truth is, either way I’m caring for my daughter, doing the best I can. But for so many moms, myself included, our “best” just never seems like enough.

About this time, I started paging through a book that had been loaned to me, “The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women.” Printed in 2004, four years before I became a mother, I saw myself (and the saga of Eve’s red rash) reflected in its pages.

The book’s authors, Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels, discuss the “new momism” –¬†that intensive mothering requiring a level of perfection impossible to obtain has become a cultural norm. That the buck stops with the mama deer. No one else can provide for our child the way Mom does. And, the authors say, the media and corporate America have cashed in on the concept, simultaneously presenting the image of the perpetually happy, utterly fulfilled mom and the next-big-scary-thing-that-will-harm-your-child.

“We are supposed to be as vigilant as Michael Corleone’s bodyguards but appear as relaxed as Jimmy Buffett in Margaritaville. One way to survive these contradictions is to buy as many child protecting/enhancing products as possible. Reasonable precautions have morphed into unrelenting, wallet-emptying paranoia,” Douglas and Michaels write.

I like to think I’ve avoided these trappings. Sure, Eve has car seats and a bike helmet and we installed a gate on our stairs¬†– all reasonable precautions, some legally mandated. But I’ve resisted the home sterilizing systems and video baby monitors and sleep positioners. (I did, however, recently register for a wipe warmer for the baby I’m expecting in August, a wholly unnecessary luxury, for sure.)

When I browse the aisles of safety products or get press releases from companies pitching items every new mom must have (The BabySpa by Baby Diego! The Nap Nanny Chill portable recliner!), I think about generations of babies who grew up without these “essentials.” Heck, these kids slept on their tummies in cribs bathed in lead paint, rode in the front seat of the car and played on toys with exposed metal springs.

And they survived.

It’s a matter of objectively looking at the dangers and taking prudent precautions, of recognizing when we universalize the miniscule chance of a risk coming to fruition. And knowing our best is enough to protect our children.


Sherri Richards is pregnant, has a 3-year-old daughter, and works for The Forum. She blogs at http://topmom.areavoices.com

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