Monday, March 21, 2011

New Car Seat Recommendations - and a Note to Self re: Compassion and Judgment

Much happier forward-facing, much safer rear-facing. Sometimes mom just can't win.

The big news du jour is the new recommendation on car seats, specifically keeping them rear-facing until kids are two, rather than the previous official recommendation of one. It's pretty amazing to see how heated the discussion can get on something that might, on the surface, seem so simple and straightforward.

One commenter, ChiMomWriter, wrote this comment in the midst of a heavy debate on Christie Haskell's article: "My daughter screamed continuously on any car trip when she was younger, so I turned her around as soon as she turned 1. I agree with safety, but it was far more dangerous day-to-day for me to spend half of my time driving facing backwards trying to get to her. My son is more laid-back because he can see his sister."

I totally understand where you're coming from. Life is not always so black & white, and you don't know the variables in everyone's situation. I'm NOT arguing against the recommendation, I understand it & reluctantly agree with it. I am just saying I know what it's like to be a shut-in because of your kid's hatred of the car.

Words cannot express how relieved I am that Lily is over 2 and I don't have to face this decision now. Life with her while rear-facing was. an. absolute. nightmare. She's still not great in the car, but turning her around was like night and day for her temperament. I completely understand the safety reasons - no need to show me links of car crash decapitations, thank you, I've seen them and I get it - but am really feeling for the moms with difficult car babies today.

And the greater lesson here is a reminder on empathy when it comes to parenting, safety, child health and other choices. On the Facebook discussion, this comment was made, in re: some parents expressing reluctance or frustration with the news:
Oh and some pet peeves of mine is when people are giving information and resources to make some one or something more safe, and they ignore them. Why would you not want your child to be more safe with something so easy? It blows my mind.
It blows my mind that everyone doesn't exclusively breastfeed, if able, until 6 months and then continue until a minimum of two years. It blows my mind that everyone doesn't cosleep when the reduction of SIDS is so apparent. It blows my mind that people eat and feed their children processed garbage on a daily basis. And so on, and so on, and so on.

But guess what? Life is not always so black and white, and you don't know the variables in everyone's situation. And this applies not just to the moms championing the car seat recommendation, but to me, too, when considering parenting choices like all of the above. I do try to be mindful of this already, but it's good to get a direct and sobering dose of one's own medicine once in a while anyway, just to underscore the point.

I'm NOT arguing against the car seat recommendation, I understand it and reluctantly agree with it. I am just saying I also do understand what it's like to essentially become a shut-in because of your kid's seething hatred of the car.

So, does anyone who loves this recommend have any suggestions on how to improve life for moms with littles who are miserable in the car? Because for many, turning them forward improves their temperaments DRAMATICALLY. If Lily were under 2 when this came out, I'd feel like hanging myself (no hyperbole at all). The difference was that dramatic - and I was no longer trapped in the house losing my mind because of a kid who would scream bloody murder at any drive longer than 5 minutes.


  1. Also? I know the straps in this pic need serious adjusting. IT WAS HER DAD, I SWEAR! We've had a chat or three about it.

  2. I don't know, my son was never a fan of riding in the car. He often screamed the entire time and it was awful, especially when I was with him alone and we HAD to be in the car because we were going to a doctor's appointment or to pick up Dad from the airport. However, he stayed rear-facing until his second birthday because, screaming or not, there was no way I was going to sacrifice his safety. And I live in a place where you have to drive everywhere. What do moms do when their kid has colic? As hard as it is, sometimes you just have to deal with the screaming, no?

  3. I feel ya, and give you major props for sticking to the guidelines anyway! Man, yeah, moms with colicky babies must have it especially rough.

    I just remember sobbing along with her in the car, reaching back and holding her little hand as she screamed, thinking how ironic it was that I was opposed to CIO, and yet here I was, letting her scream for however long it took to get where we were going (and where we were living it was usually at least half an hour). I felt unspeakably selfish for going to the damn supermarket, putting my need for groceries above her extreme discomfort. What a mindgame mothering is sometimes.

  4. This makes me want to curse! Not at you, but in general. Penelope is so one of those babies. Car rides would have us both sobbing. Turning her forward facing at 11 months, ok, 10 months (she did hit 20 pounds at 4 monts) made a HUGE difference. Like yours, she is still not a fan of the car. But with being forward facing and a dvd to watch, its bearable.

    I don't know what to do!!

    Insert more cursing here.

  5. I wish I had great advice. Sending a huge hug in lieu of that.

  6. My daughter did the same. :-( It's tough. She RF until she was almost 4 though. It got easier as she got older. We sang songs and talked. Personal choice I know, but for *me* I couldn't have handled the guilt of a preventable death or injury because I turned her FF before I had to. I got a LOT of flak for it. Still do since she is 6 and harnessed.

    My son is almost 2 and RF, but it's easier I think because he can see his sister? When DD was little we didn't really drive a LOT. 15 mins here and there to shop, but driving to church or the doctor was 45 mins (one way) of h-e-double hockeysticks.

  7. BOTH my kiddos were car haters. I've found ways to work around it, tried to comfort them, and turned up music and had to tune them our when there was nothing else I could do. I HATE it... but I love them being alive.

  8. Jesse (now 16 mos) and I make eye contact via our mirrors all the time. It's like he knows exactly where to find me, and he only howls when somehow his mirror gets kicked out of position and it winds up giving neither of us the right reflection. And we have a call and response game we play. If he makes a noise, I echo it. It reminds me of the game Marco Polo. On long trips, he does do better if someone is back there with him. But the mirror and lots-of-talking do wonders.

  9. I guess I'm one of those moms who are a little more concerned about my kids' happiness and comfort than following every brand new safety standard to the T. I'm a super light sleeper with a baby in the bed, so I keep using my pillow (with his head at boob-level) and extend my arm out under it so it doesn't move. I let kids play in dirt and I'm not much of a hand washer since I think germs strengthen immunities. When people were panicking about the Super Flu, I still didn't vaccinate. I'm all for keeping tiny objects away from babies who put everything in their mouths, but Kembra could be trusted with small things for the most part around 2 years old. And when she was 1, I put her carseat facing forward, because that was what I knew to be the recommendation at the time. I will try to keep Anton rear facing as long as possible, but he's a big boy and like you were with Lily, I hate the sound of his cries to a point where it makes me cry with him. If Bill is driving, I all but climb in back with him, touching his cheek, holding his hand. Instinctively, we hurt along with our babies in discomfort. Its a sign of empathy, of good mothering. I personally think its more dangerous to have an anxious mom with a screaming babe than it is to put him/her forward facing. A sad baby can be very distracting and we simply cannot always be hermits.
    Like you, I'm not against the recommendation, but I think exceptions can and should be made for situations. We just have to use good judgment.

  10. We had to move A to forward-facing when we changed cars and her holy-bejeezus expensive car seat didn't fit RF anymore. She was over 18 months but definitely not 20 pounds yet. I felt like the Worst.Mom.Ever.

    So, she's FF now, even at just over 20lbs. I thought of facing her back after we changed cars again, but didn't. C'est la vie, I guess. It was a few months that she probably could have been RF again, but wasn't.

    Sidebar: for anyone else reading, she shouldn't have the coat on in her car seat, either. (Not picking on you, Anne - or ahem, Dad! lol- just noting it for other passers-by who might see it and think it's ok).

    Here's my little gem of advice: she HATED being in her infant seat. We put her RF in her Britax Boulevard at 5 months and probably around 12 pounds, if that. (Boulevards start at 5 pounds!) and she was SOOOO much happier. I think that being cramped and stuffed into those damn infant seats makes a lot of babies uncomfortable. So once we had her in the less suffocating but equally safe Boulevard, even still RF, she was much, much happier and rarely cried in the car.

    Alternate side note, having a non-bucket seat at such a young age removes all temptation of using it for purposes other than auto safety and is also uber compatible with babywearing. :)

  11. The carseat debate blows my mind. As a city dweller, I do not drive. Taking both my children by bike or public transportation. I own a carseat for both children but have limited space to store them and because of the infrequent use I bought two inexpensive front facing (after using a bucket seat)car seats.

    So tell me. Am I risking their lives to keep myself sane or improving their odds by not driving? The hour a month they spend in a car doesn't justify owning spaceship sized convertible car seats. Its hard knowing the risks and going against them but like anything else I feel informed and have made an educated decision.

  12. We forward-faced my 2y 4 mo baby about 2 mo ago. She STILL screams in the car. It did not make traveling with her easier, at all. For some babies, it's a lot like how breastfeeding gets blamed for things, and how moms get advice from people telling them that the problem would go away if they would switch to formula. Then they do, and the problem is still there, and now they have an added set of problems.

  13. I am always fascinated at how much of a heated debate this is in North America but hardly discussed here in Europe. I have never seen so much as a thread on a parenting board about it. I guess it's because we aren't in our cars as much as you guys.

    I am one of those mothers who cried and got incredibly stressed during car journeys because both my kids HATED rear-facing and it did really restrict my movements during their first year. I turned them both forward facing at just over 1 year old and don't regret it at all. Just like with anything else, I weigh up the risks, benefits and alternatives and then make the decision that feels right for me. I trust my intuition.

  14. To BrokenBirth
    I think it has to do with the Mommy Wars that are very prevalent here. Everyone thinks they're better than everyone else. Choosing to flip a carseat earlier than is suggested makes you a Bad Mom and gives people a reason to snarl and hurl nastiness at you. How dare you go against the norm and risk the health of your child!!! Judging and feeling superior are two favorite pasttimes of Americans.

  15. We switched to one of those massive car seats that can be rear facing until 40 pounds and my 17 month old actually likes it better than his bucket seat for one main reason: snack cups. We'll put a few crackers or pretzels in one cup with his camel back water bottle in the other and for the most part he is content.

    We probably should switch to fresh vegetables or something similar but I imagine those being messier if they get under him.

    As an aside, for the longest time I actually -did- sit in the back with him and I am fully capable of nursing (probably at risk to my back in the incident of an accident) in either type of car seat.

    Screaming baby is a huge amount of stress. Better public transportation would allow us baby-wearing moms to avoid cars and car seats altogether though.

  16. Also, I wanted to mention that our Mazda 6 turns off the passenger airbag if it detects a weight that isn't a big human but might be a small one. I haven't really taken advantage of this because I worry that there may actually be a legal issue, but if airbags are the only problem with the front seat and those are disabled, would it be so bad to have the baby rear-facing in the front passenger seat?

  17. Thanks to all for the discussion!

    I agree with Erin and Arual about how stressful - and thus dangerous - it can be to have a hysterically screaming baby in the car while driving. I remember giving Lily my pinky to suck one day out of desperation - it made her vomit all over herself, with 20 minutes left to go, after dark to boot. I was despondent.

    Amy, I know about the coat, too, as I was enlightened AFTER that pic was taken (she was about 8 months there, I think?). We deliberately bought coats that weren't too poofy, but know that ideally it shouldn't be on at all.

    Ashley and Arual both make great points about public transportation.

    Sarah, thanks for the reminder - it's also true that a lot of littles are going to hate it no matter WHAT. I hope things improve on that front for you!

    Cassandra and Broken Birth, this is very much the case, I feel.

    Finally, Arual again, I have wondered the same thing. Anyone know more specifics?

  18. No advice, just sympathy. My daughter wasn't terrible in the car, not all the time anyway. But, around 1 yr she started to seriously fight getting buckled in. I knew about the safety studies so I gave it a few more months during which time she became increasingly unhappy. I turned her around at 16 months and 20 lbs, and I'll probably do the same with my next kid regardless of the new recommendations.

  19. Thank you so much for this post and for the honest discussion that could then follow. We all need to take a deep breath and do what's best for our own family... and not use this as one more opportunity to make other moms feel bad about themselves. Compassion is so much more useful than judgment.

  20. I appreciate this post and the acknowledgment that the decision is a fraught one for many of us. I co-sleep, extended bf, cloth diaper, feed my son homemade food, etc., so I felt decidedly like I was betraying my parenting values in many ways when I chose to FF my son at 20 months, when he finally hit 20+ pounds (even though he met the federal regs at that point, just not my "community standards"). It made a HUGE difference. He went from being a sobbing, screaming mess in the car to pretty much completely fine. He still got fussy on our one long, cross-country drive (who wants to be stuck in the seat for 12 hours, even if it is the middle of the night), but unlike when he was RF, he could be comforted with handholding and entertaining. When he RF, we discovered that he could scream for over an hour and a half without knocking himself out. Me sitting in the back only made things worse unless I could do the crazy carseat nursing/lean-over thing. (And if you're spending hours in the car doing that--as I often did on drives over an hour--you have to consider mom's safety too!) Very hard for a mommy who never lets him CIO to deal with. It was a major quality of life issue for us, and I will not change him back to RF for the next two weeks before he hits the magic age 2.

  21. I don't know what I'll do yet, I homebirth, bed-share, don't vax, extend breastfeed, I even homeschool and we eat a whole-foods diet. I have 4 children, the oldest is 15 yrs. But my youngest is 5 months and she is a Screamer, I can only go some where if my husband drives and I sit in the backseat and breastfed hre while she is strapped in.

  22. I am doing research for my university thesis, thanks for your great points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.

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