Stroller Loads of Guilt for Parents
I think someone should study the effects of parenting studies on the stress levels of parents.
Just in case you didn't have a chance to stay on top of the news this morning (let's assume you were out running errands with your baby or toddler in a forward-facing stroller), I'll give you a quick recap.
Research conducted on behalf of The National Literacy Trust's Talk to Your Baby campaign in the UK has concluded that children who face away from their parents while they are pushed around in strollers lead lives that are "emotionally impoverished and stressed" and at risk of language development problems. Researcher Suzanne Zeedyk of Dundee University in Scotland reached these conclusions after noting that parents were twice as likely to talk to their babies when the stroller handle was positioned so that the babies were facing them; and that the babies who were placed in strollers in the forward-facing position were twice as likely to fall asleep.
The study was based on observations of 2722 parents and babies as well as an experiment in which 20 pairs of parents and babies were asked to take a mile-long stroller walk. The babies faced their parents for half the trip and faced away for the other half of the trip.
I think that the key point that the researcher is trying to make with the study is worth making. Parents and babies will both enjoy a walk more if the stroller is positioned so that the parent and child can communicate with one another while they're taking in the sights and the sounds along the way. And stroller manufacturers would do well to take this basic fact of human development into account when designing the next generation of strollers. (The higher-end models of strollers allow parents to change the baby's position from forward-facing to backward-facing, to avoid sun, wind, and rain; but less-expensive models offer a forward-facing setting only.) Perhaps the default setting in future should be backward-facing only – and at a price all parents can afford. But I think that the language that is being used here is a little over-the-top, given that her study may not totally reflect the ways in which parents use strollers in their everyday lives.
When I went back and read the original study, I was surprised to discover that the researcher hadn't taken into account how parents use baby carriers, slings, and wraps as a stroller aid when they are out and about town with baby.
A stroller is great for getting a child safely from point A to point B; and – depending on the size and stability of the stroller model you've chosen – acting as your baby's home away from home while you're on the move. (You can stash the baby essentials in the part of the stroller designed to serve as your onboard baby storage unit as long as you don't try to lug so much gear that the stroller's centre of balance starts to shift.) Some babies and toddlers are quite content to spend extended periods of time in their strollers (either chatting with mom or dad in a way that would score big points with the researcher of this particular study or trying out the forward-facing view so they can toss toys overboard, to see if the stroller parent is paying attention) while others view them as a straightjacket on wheels.
Because babies and toddlers are designed to crave contact with their parents (and parents are biologically programmed to want to respond), you'll often see a parent wearing a young child in a sling, wrap, or baby carrier while pushing an empty or near-empty stroller. The parent has recognized the fact that baby needs some face-to-face and chest-to-chest time and has switched modes of transportation accordingly. That's what parenting is all about: reading baby's signals and changing gears -- or transportation modes -- accordingly.
Not taking into account that those supposedly emotionally-deprived and language-stunted babies whose parents own forward-facing strollers may not be spending all their stroller time in the stroller is a major flaw to this study, IMHO. (Yes, the man or woman on the street observers who were asked to observe stroller-pushing parents in their natural habitats were asked to note if babies or toddlers were being pushed in strollers or carried, but that's very different from the "stroller aid" function I described earlier when signing the praises of baby carriers, slings, and wraps.)
Here's another issue I have with the study. It seems more than a little unfair to dump a double-stroller full of guilt on parents of multiples, who have to look long and hard to find a stroller that allows both babies to face backwards towards the parent. Most strollers designed to carry two or more babies feature forward-facing seating (either in tandem or side-by-side or that allow two babies to face one another). Does this mean that the majority of twins, triplets, and other multiples are destined to suffer from stroller deprivation syndrome? Given that parents of multiples often end up with one baby in a baby carrier and one baby in the stroller (and sometimes no babies in the stroller and a baby on each adult accompanying the stroller), I think not.
So what am I trying to say here, now that I've rambled on – or ranted on – for a couple of hundred words?
A couple of things.
- First, studies like this should be slapped with a warning: "May be dangerous to your parenting health. Please consult your friends if you experience sudden, irrational guilt."
- Second, parenting researchers should be forced to adhere to some sort of style guidelines—ones that prohibit the use of excessively guilt-inducing and/or inflammatory language ("emotionally impoverished"). After all, studies that induce unnecessary guilt in parents trigger massive stress, which leads to less effective parenting, which leads to emotionally impoverishment in children. And that's what we all want to avoid -- right?