Too Much Information

I’ve been thinking lately about the challenges of parenting in the Information Age. (You thought from the title you were getting a post on something juicy, didn’t you?!)

It seems to me we’re all on information overload. I realize this is a First World issue, a sign of privilege unknown in much of the world and even in many places here in the U.S. I am not ungrateful. I love the Internet; I clearly use it regularly. It’s my source for pretty much everything: recipes, tutorials, decorating ideas, world news, communication with long-distance friends, shopping, music… I did grow up in a time before the Internet and remember using library card files and researching school papers by digging through stacks of books, magazines and – gasp – even the occasional microfiche. Those are distant memories now, stories I will tell my children to reinforce their view that I grew up with Methuselah. Today, I often wonder, “How did people do this before the Internet?” I know that having a wealth of information at my fingertips, not to mention the entertainment options of Netflix streaming and online episodes of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, is a gift that makes my life easier in so many ways.

As a parent, though, I am learning that living in a world of so much information has its down side. It begins before the baby arrives and never really lets up. There are endless decisions to make, and they all seem incredibly important. Some of them really are. Issues of pregnancy and child birth, information and support for breast feeding, questions of newborn schedules and sleep issues… Now with a toddler, it’s potty training methods, approaches to discipline, dietary advice and warnings, activities I should be doing with my kid but haven’t found the time for yet. As near as my computer screen is an endless supply of information and opinions on every possible parenting topic.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure on parents to be informed, to have a handle on the research and to parent according to the latest recommendations on Absolutely Everything. Given the sheer volume of decisions a parent makes in any given day, that would be no small task even if the information was always straight-forward and the experts always agreed. But it isn’t, and they don’t.

In a lot of ways, having access to so much information gives us a great deal of control. I am thankful for this, and I believe it is important to be an informed parent (and beyond that, an informed member of society). But the truth is, I’m not certain I know how to successfully navigate all of this.

Confession: I sometimes make parenting decisions without extensive research. Sometimes, I follow my gut. Sometimes, I trust Corin’s pediatrician without digging through the first 3,000 Google links. Have I picked the right issues to care about? Have I trusted the right sources? Have I reached the right conclusions? It’s pretty hard to know for sure.

My parenting philosophies don’t fall neatly into any category. I’ve gone with a “do what works” approach, which involves an awful lot of trial and error. One of the biggest surprises for me in parenting is how often the right answer is unclear. (He just threw his eating utensils on the floor. Again. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does this matter? Not really sure.) I try to cut other parents a lot of slack and hope I’m doing an okay job wading through all of this myself.

Ultimately, I’m glad I believe in a Higher Power to guide my decisions, in parenting as in life. This job is certainly bigger than me.  I have a sense parents have always felt that way, in the Dark Ages or in the Information Age. Surely the fundamentals haven’t changed much. The rest… I suppose I’ll just keep praying and wading (or not) through the research.

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