I have a good friend, Alycia, whom I've known since college. She's bright, has a great sense of humor, and is generally a lot of fun to be around. She is also, in my opinion, a crazy mom. Not wacko crazy, but her obsession with preventing germs from coming within miles of her 1-year-old puts her a little over the edge.
I have another friend who's fanatical about her daughter's diet. Her refrigerator contains items like tofu hot dogs and freshly squeezed organic carrot juice, and she never lets sugar pass her 3-year-old's lips.
Me, I pride myself on not being crazy. If one of my kids drops a grilled (on white bread) cheese (the processed kind) sandwich on my (reasonably) clean floor, I pick it up, dust it off, and hand it right back. Still, every so often, I can't help worrying that maybe I'm the one who's off base.
Face it: Objectivity isn't easy when it comes to our own child-rearing choices. So we asked the experts about various mothering styles. Here, their insights on what's silly -- and what's sensible.
A one-woman germ patrol, this mom is always on the lookout for telltale signs of germs that can cause colds. When you're around her, you're forever fearing that your child may -- horrors! -- sniffle or cough, resulting in one of Mrs. Germophobe's nervous "you're-putting-my-children-at-risk" looks.
Reality check: The fact is that kids get an average of six colds a year, says Eric Neibart, M.D., an instructor of infectious disease and internal medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City. Thus, at any given time, a good 10 to 15 percent of your child's peers are contagious. And the culprits are impossible to detect, since colds are contagious a few days before symptoms appear and from two to ten days after. "Even a doctor can't tell you exactly when a cold is no longer transmittable," Dr. Neibart says. So unless you care to raise your child in a bubble, he's going to catch colds -- lots of colds. And that's okay. For the most part, colds are more of a nuisance for kids than a serious health problem. As for proper cold etiquette? Keep your child home until any fever or lethargy has subsided. Then, once he's feeling better, let him go about life as usual.
She plays Mozart CDs for her infant, uses flash cards on her toddler, and spends her week chauffeuring her children to and from karate, art, soccer, piano, ballet, and more. After an hour with one of her French-speaking, tennis-acing prodigies, you ditch your secret hope of an Ivy League education for your preschooler (whose extracurricular activities include playing "Princess Barbie Gets Married" and painting her shoes with nail polish).
Reality check: "There's simply no evidence that overexposing young children to flash cards, Mozart, or early-reading programs leads to higher intelligence or even better SAT scores," says child and adolescent psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., coauthor of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper- Parenting Trap. Yet our culture pressures concerned parents to begin early if they want their child to be academically competitive. "That attitude is doing much more harm than good," Dr. Rosenfeld says.
"Overemphasis on reading or memorization, without attention to a child's interest, can backfire," he says. "Kids can become frustrated if formal teaching begins too early. You may end up with a child who's less eager to read and write later on. Studies show that kids who are most likely to be successful in life are those with loving, caring, close relationships with their parents -- not those who've gone to countless enrichment programs. Relationships, not activities, are the foundation of a good life."
That's not to say early-childhood stimulation isn't important, says Marilou Hyson, Ph.D., an expert on child development at the National Association for the Education of Young Children. But you don't need flash cards (which teach specific skills and facts without context or a foundation of knowledge). Instead, read your child a story, check out the ladybug crawling on your fence, dance to your favorite music, or draw pictures.