Survey Says!

(The following is a column I wrote for the May issue of Central Penn Parent magazine. I was asked to write about gender differences in baby care based on a survey Evenflo conducted. Instead I wrote a column calling the survey results hogwash.)

Let me preface this by saying I don’t believe mothers are liars, exactly. I think we’re just “book smart.” We know what the right answers are, even if we don’t personally put them into practice. At least that’s my best guess for the contradictory results found in Evenflo’s recent “Savvy Parents Survey.”
And by “contradictory” I mean “completely incompatible with reality.”
When I saw a press release for the survey, I was intrigued by the claim that it found “moms and dads build baby’s brain in different ways.” But when I was given the full survey results I found very little to support this. What I did find was that moms were supposedly considerably more relaxed than dads about their baby’s development and their overall parenting skills.
This, of course, is false.
I know because I am a mom. Also because I’m surrounded by moms, I’m involved with online networks of moms, I spend time with other moms at playgroups and story times, and I have a mom. And I can tell you, without any formal survey needed, that most moms are not more relaxed than dads when it comes to babies reaching developmental milestones.
We’re borderline obsessed.
It’s not our fault. In the first trimester of my first pregnancy, I was given at least six books on pregnancy, baby care, breastfeeding, and something mysterious and frightening called “the fourth trimester.” My husband, on the other hand, was given a smattering of advice — mostly about me, which he can sum up by whispering “Be careful!” while simulating a man tiptoeing on a tightrope over a hormonal volcano that’s spewing lava and incoherent accusations.
My point here is that from the get-go we mothers are the ones wired with information. We’re the ones with the manuals, the inside scoops, the tips gleaned from pregnancy message boards and parenting magazines. We are the designated drivers on this bumpy road toward parenthood, and the navigation begins at the moment we see those two pink lines on the stick.
First we’re given those Your Pregnancy Week by Week roadmaps, and we get used to being told what our baby’s doing, how he’s developing, and what size fruit he is. Then the baby arrives, and the “helpful” emails continue, only now they’re about how your 3-week-old might be smiling by now or how most 4-month-olds are rolling over. We read the fine print at the bottom about how every baby develops at his own pace, and we know it’s true intellectually, but we don’t internalize it emotionally. We secretly want our bundle of joy to be an overachiever, or at least a middle-of-the-pack kid. If his development falls behind that month’s email guidelines, we fret. We can’t help ourselves.
But we know better, which is why when a researcher calls to survey mothers of babies younger than 18 months old, we answer “correctly,” not necessarily honestly. That’s the only way I can explain how 25 percent of moms surveyed say they don’t worry about how their child will progress developmentally, whereas just 9 percent of dads say they don’t worry.
And 64 percent of moms say they are “calm, cool and collected” about their child reaching developmental milestones, whereas only 43 percent of dads say they are all zen about their kid’s progression toward being a walking, talking, tantrum-prone toddler.
But perhaps the greatest evidence of skewed reality is shown by the “neurotic” numbers:  12 percent of dads label themselves “neurotic” when it comes to how much they worry about their child meeting proper developmental milestones. Know how many neurotic moms are out there, according to the survey? Only 1 percent.
Yeah, right.
Look I’m not saying all moms are anxious about their child’s development and second-guess their own approaches toward helping that development along. (Noooooo...) And I’m not saying dads aren’t interested in their baby’s development or that they’re not taking an active approach toward helping Junior learn how to sit up and eat with a spoon. In fact, I think they are much better at balancing realistic expectations with slightly irrational parental concern. But the online juggernaut boasts that it reaches more than 8 million U.S. moms each month with its email updates on developmental milestones and other parenting-related articles and tips. Know how many dads it reaches? So few that it doesn’t even mention them.
We moms are arsenals of knowledge and anxiety. It’s our privilege, our job, our guilt-spewing cross to bear. And all that knowledge means we’re also smart enough to know we shouldn’t be neurotic, which is why only 1 percent of us is. Wink.

Robyn Passante is a freelance writer and mother of two young boys who are developing just fine, according to the latest Babycenter emails.

1 comment:

JJ said...

I'm one of the handful of dads who gets the BabyCenter emails, but I have to admit I stopped reading them a long time ago precisely because of the anxiety they were beginning to cause when Truman wasn't on their arbitrary developmental curve.

He's 9 months now and has only recently shown a passing interest in crawling, doesn't really care to eat solid foods other than yogurt and Baby Mum-Mums and always seems to be at least a month behind the other kids at daycare with his physical development.

And as long as the doctor keeps saying everything is cool at his check-ups, that's fine with me.