The recent news of the untimely death of Anne of Green Gables star Jonathan Crombie conjured up a scene in the movie where Anne saves Diana Berry’s sister from imminent death. Anne and Diana are neighbors, and Diana’s sister falls into a death spiral with the croup while all the neighborhood adults are gone at a Christmas party, a good century before the advent of the cell phone. Diana races to get Anne, who immediately starts pouring an entire bottle of cough syrup down the dying girl’s throat. The girl’s lungs are freed, and she lives.
After reading this piece on Motherlode about millennial parenting in an age of infinite information, I wondered, how would this scene have played out today? It would probably look something like this: Diana on hold with the pediatrician after-hours line while Anne poured through mom forums and medical message boards online. By the time the duo concocted a scheme, the girl would be long dead. If they did manage to save her, they’d quickly turn their attention to looking up “child exceeded recommended cough syrup dose.”
The swift, decisive, and instinct-based actions of Anne’s day—which didn’t always end so well, of course—have been replaced by handwringing with the help of an endless stream of often conflicting and terrifying information for today’s mothers. As the Motherlode writer puts it:
Of the 10.8 million households with millennial parents at the helm, nearly all of them are frequent Internet users. Liberal, socially conscious, interconnected and peer-reliant, my segment of the millennial generation (wealthy in education and confidence, if not in our paychecks) has unprecedented access to what was once privileged information, as well as the opinions of their peers. We’ve become the experts, and as a result, we’re hyper-aware, constantly questioning, defensive.
Millennial moms can Google anything, and often searching for information about something entirely innocuous pulls up poisonous results. A search for information about pacifier brands generates a mean-spirited debate about “nipple confusion.” Inquiring about a mild rash can quickly lead a mom to think her child has measles. And don’t even think about researching the benefits of breast milk versus formula.
As a millennial mom, I know this reality all too well. Struggling to get my five month-old to take a bottle, for example, I recently went asking for tips on a mom’s message board. It took only a handful of comments before a mom getting a graduate degree in child psychology implied that if I weaned my son, I would cause him emotional trauma. No doubt every young mom could tell a litany of stories of crazed moments when the Internet got the better of us, until a husband or friend slowly walked us away from a keyboard and towards a glass of wine.
Even then, information is still constantly at our fingertips with the rise of mobile Internet. A recent study found that millennial moms spend thirty-five percent more time using their mobile phones for Internet than a laptop or PC. Ninety percent of millennial moms own a smartphone, up from 65 percent just three years ago. This means young moms can be researching perceived problems while sitting on a park bench or or while standing in the grocery store checkout line, not just at home when the kids are asleep. It also means that ads for the barrage of products that capitalize on mothers’ fears and insecurities follow millennial moms wherever they go.
The instinct to look for help as novice mothers is natural. But mothers also have built-in instincts of our own. We are programmed to act decisively in moments of urgency, a la Anne of Green Gables. And while we don’t always have the answers, whereas our mothers sought out advice from mothers more seasoned than they, we seek out advice from a world of anonymous peers who are heavy on opinions and light on experience.
And it starts even before our children are born. Pregnant women are now handed a virtual rulebook the moment they conceive. No soft cheese. Coffee might make you miscarry, but it’s probably fine. A turkey sandwich spells doom. Our instincts tell us to take a step back and breathe, but the shouting headlines and comment boxes in the millions of advice-giving websites make it hard to just relax, rest, and enjoy being a mom.
The phrase “Dr. Mom” has taken on new life for the first generation becoming parents in a 24/7 Internet world. Our generation’s challenge is to learn not to let the “Dr.” crowd out the “Mom.” Women don’t need a degree in BabyCenter message boards to care for their children. They need, first and foremost, their sanity.