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Getting off the Overparenting Train

Photograph by Getty Images

A few days ago, I finally deleted the Wonder Weeks app from my phone. My son is 10 months old but, truth be told, I’d stopped looking at it somewhere around week four. Besides the fact that sleep deprivation and the app’s Dutch-to-English translation didn't mix well (it was like reading an Ikea manual at 4 a.m.), it just didn't seem that helpful. I was never sure if my son's inexplicable behavior was because of a "wonder week," or maybe it was just because he was hungry. Or tired. Or, you know, 4 weeks old.

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I was surprised, because that type of app is normally right up my alley. I love to research and analyze things (to death, sometimes). But my ambivalence toward the Wonder Weeks was just one of the first in a series of shifts in my post-birth outlook. It started with an epiphany in the hospital the day after my son was born (and by epiphany, I mean total meltdown). I realized that rigidity and overthinking weren't going to foster one of the things I most wanted for my baby: for him to grow into an adaptable, confident person.

Culturally, we’ve definitely complicated parenthood, so the urge to overthink makes sense. Ever visit a cloth diaper or car seat forum? I have, and it isn't pretty. Never mind the fact that I practically needed an engineering degree to understand all the details—I felt like if my interest in these issues was simply sufficient (find a safe car seat that will fit in my car vs. extreme car seat evangelism), I obviously didn’t care about my child. If we don’t spend days researching and analyzing every single parenting decision or developmental step, we’re bad parents, right?

Wrong. And with all that pressure, it’s no wonder parents feel overwhelmed.

In my mere 10 months as a mom, I’ve depended on instinct far more than I thought I would; and second-guessed myself less. Even though my pregnant self would be surprised by some of the decisions I've made (funny how that works, when the actual child is born and has ideas of his own). Still, it's hard to tune out all the noise. I'll leave you with some things I keep in mind when the inclination to overthink kicks in.

There’s no way I can control everything. And frankly, if I could, it wouldn’t be good for my son.

Say no to the baby industrial complex: If there’s a baby problem, there’s a product to fix it. Take sleep: From 20 different swaddle devices to myriad sleep sacks, you could keep your kid out of regular pajamas until she is 5. I think often we feel like since these products exist we must use them, even if our kid is fine without them.

Avoiding information overload: There’s a constant onslaught of information (and fear-mongering misinformation) from a million different outlets. If I believed every parenting news story I saw, I’d be living in a cave huddled over my kid for the rest of my life, feeding him only the organic kale I grew myself in the cave’s sunny patch. For issues that are actually relevant for my son, I rely on a few trusted experts who've actually studied good data, and I ignore the rest.

Taming the need for control: I’m constantly trying to reform my control-freak ways, and in a way, being smacked in the face with the unpredictable nature of parenthood was liberating. There’s no way I can control everything. And frankly, if I could, it wouldn’t be good for my son. It’s very important to my husband and me that we cultivate flexibility in our son, and being controlling doesn’t encourage that.

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Opt out of extreme motherhood: In recent decades we’ve seen motherhood become professionalized, while at the same time grow into an all-encompassing identity for many women. Individually those trends are worrisome, but together I think they create a terrible cultural climate when it comes to parenting. Kids aren’t projects; they’re people. And I love being a mom, but wrapping my entire identity up in my son is way too much pressure—on both of us. By doing a little bit less overthinking as parents, I think we end up doing a lot more for our children.

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