Anecdotes, Advice, Facts, and Figures

I’ve only had cursory interactions with pregnant women and mothers around my own age, but my incompatibility thus far has me pretty concerned about the day they will be my peers. Specifically, when the conversation turns to advice.

It’s worth mentioning that if you take a random normal person I’m going to be awkward with them… The difference is that normal people don’t usually spot something about me that they feel we have in common to start up a conversation (like I see strangers strike up conversations with my pregnant or mother friends).

I’ve been living far away from the vast majority of my friends for quite some time, and the bigger the percentage of my communication that takes place via the written word, the stranger my speaking style and less organized the content of my conversations.

Also, as I went to school in a sheltered environment (Waterloo is almost a nature preserve for geeks) I’m still developing my conversation skills. This includes the ability to disagree with people civilly, whether I simply think they need correction or we’re actually debating.

It starts with learning the things that really don’t matter (I am as close to certain as I get that there no charades episode of “Friends” but I let that one go (and yes, I’m still proud of myself for it)).

To top it all off, if it comes down to a disagreement over facts, I am desperate to see who is right. Sure, I like being proved right, but more importantly, I hate continuing to be wrong. I’m just as happy to be proven wrong because I won’t keep repeating something outright false.

Then there are two problems: deciding the difference between fact and opinion, and deciding which facts are important. I mostly have the former down-pat, but I’ve been told my threshold for importance is lower than others’.

The main example was about food. My thing here is that for people to create informed opinions, their information has to be correct. Examples that come to mind:

  • There IS caffeine in green tea and white tea
  • If you are capping your coffee consumption to two 8-ounce servings, one Venti is too big. Do not get me started on Trentas.
  • In Canada, high-fructose corn syrup is usually (always?) Glucose/Fructose in the ingredients list. It’s in Coke and some lemonades.

If you tell me the opposite of one of  those statements, directly or as a premise to another statement, I will correct you. It’s just who I am.

So, pregnancy advice gets pretty sticky. I almost caused a scene in person, and had some tense moments on the internet later, talking about the difference between moderation and outright-banned foods.

  • Caffeine: OK in moderation.
  • Unpasteurized cheeses: never OK.
  • Restaurant-prepared raw meat: judgement call. (I’ve heard a very convincing argument that since proper food handling in a restaurant renders sashimi as safe as cooked meat (via flash-freezing), the only risk you are taking is that their food handling might have been bad, which is the same risk you take when you eat cooked meat at a restaurant too.)

Then there are the anecdotes. I’ve already run in to one of these “But I did X and my kids turned out fine” arguments, luckily by-proxy and not to my face. A friend’s mom was baffled that I didn’t come back for a hot tub and pulled this via my friend. So I lined up a few sources and sent them along in an email that night. I won’t be able to let these sleeping dogs lie without at least some practice, and I imagine not even then. It’s not about me needing to be right; it’s about me checking if I’m right and then letting them know they’re not. I would also follow up with an email were I wrong, so they would know that too.

And if they push back… “I took hot baths through all my pregnancies and …”* sounds exactly like “I smoked through all my pregnancies and …” to me. It’s NOT advised, and the fact that your kids were fine anyways does NOT mean that there isn’t a negative correlation.

(*I’m equating hot baths and hot tubs because when I draw a bath the way I like it, it’s hotter than some hot tubs I’ve been in, and I get lightheaded and all red. Warm baths are something else. You’re just supposed to keep your body temperature from rising a lot.)

Separately there’s the problem of me wanting to give advice if I see practices that violate premises I believe to be fact. Your kid has to sleep on their stomach or they will never go to sleep? That’s a parenting decision. But I’ll ask you about it, and it doesn’t mean that the Back to Sleep campaign wasn’t an important social issue and parents should try it first. And I while I also understand if they won’t sleep without blankets (although I would rule out all kinds of sleepers first) I could never take the risk of putting stuffed animals in the crib. [Note: I’m extremely paranoid on the subject as the baby born at the only birth I have witnessed died of SIDS.]

A friend told me interesting guidelines for giving advice: don’t give it if you’re not OK with someone rejecting it. I don’t see myself being able to follow that simple-sounding rule when it comes to health and safety, which pretty much all parenting falls under. There are things you absolutely don’t do: they range from “obvious” (don’t shake a baby) to subtle (no honey for kids under 1 year old). And that’s not even touching the overwhelming majority of things that are grey area, when it’s unclear if it’s even “you can’t” / “you shouldn’t” / “your call”.

(A Google search should back up everything I’ve stated as fact here. A staggering example of a correlation between a Back to Sleep campaign and incidence of SIDS is here, and a stark reminder of what a stark crib should be NOT decorated with is on the parent page)

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