There’s a plague devastating the lives of today’s parents — known to induce headache, worry, insomnia, nausea, body aches, racing thoughts, confusion, loss of appetite and general malaise. This illness is relentless, rampant and it’s significantly diminishing the joy of parenthood for countless sufferers.
I’m talking about GES, otherwise known as Google Everything Syndrome.
Mild GES, the sort that deprives you of the satisfaction of remembering — unassisted — that Punky Brewster’s dog was named Brandon, is fairly harmless. At most, mild GES entails a numbing down of trivial knowledge with a side effect of growing impatience.
Severe GES, on the other hand, can be crippling. It can waste hours of life spent not living, but instead spiraling down blue-screened rabbit holes of what-ifs and contradictions.
Severe GES is particularly taxing on the most vulnerable of our human population — new and expectant parents. First-time parents are particularly at risk. However, in no way, shape or form are parents of toddlers, school kids and teens immune from bouts of extreme Google sickness and/or relapse.
As with so many inventions, the almighty Google can be a young parent’s best friend. Car seat reviews? Check. Music class for babies? You better believe it. Non-toxic bath wash for sensitive skin? Put it in the cart, baby.
With one fell swoop of the cursor, you can “learn” that homebirth is both amazing and insane. Breastmilk sends babies on to the Ivy League — and it also contains rocket fuel residue. Permissive parenting is bad and leads to a life of addiction. Authoritarian parenting is bad and leads to a life of addiction. This toy is non-toxic — just kidding, it’s leaching poisons into Baby’s bath, mouth and bloodstream. Black beans are a superfood — a great first food — and they’re also a choking hazard. Lead is in many household appliances, power cords … and also in foods grown in organic soil.
What the what? Can we do nothing right?
Search and find
There’s no meaningful, evidence-based reason smallpox comes up first in the search results when you ask about an infant’s runny nose. It’s an algorithm, keywords, page loads, perhaps a little advertising money. The next day, search the same topic and get a mommy blogger talking about what essential oils best handle hay fever.
And, sure: We were at risk for some form of GES at the start of the millennium. WebMD was already a thing. Click bait such as “11 Deadly Chemicals Lurking in Your Home” dangled around the corners of one’s Abercrombie online shopping cart. However, the presence of Every Authority on Everything in your purse or pocket is what’s caused GES to spike to pandemic levels. With your smartphone in hand, you can laser-focus in on every product in the Target aisle — search while searching, if you will.
Is this brand really sustainable? Can babies have cinnamon? What are the ingredients in Dreft? How do I make gluten free falafel? And while you’re at it … What is this rash? How many calories do I burn in a typical CrossFit class? Which of the Golden Girls are still alive? But really … Is it OK to have an epidural?
Your own instinct
Me oh my, Moms and Pops. It’s a remarkably advanced, migraine-inducing, absolutely bananas world you’re bringing your wee ones into. It makes those (at this point, cliché) rants and memes about the “good old days” ring true — you know, drinking out of the garden hose and riding bikes without helmets. Hostess Cupcakes. Kool-Aid.
Our parents reminded us to look both ways, brush our teeth, take our Flintstones vitamins and that was that. They scarcely read Dr. Spock, let alone every piece of dogma, fluff and misinformation on the Internet. By the way, Spock, with a parent-empowering mantra of “you know more than you think you know,” would have told us all: Stay. Off. The. Google.
We worry — boy, do we — about our kids and iPhones and the dangers of the Internet. But I worry about us.
We’re losing a beautifully imperfect art that I hold dear — the art of parenting by instinct. And, quite frankly, we’re losing our minds.
Be careful with yourself, Minnesota parent. Know when to cut your losses with the “re-search.” Look at your baby, with your eyes. See that she’s thriving. Be skeptical of what’s presented as expertise. Find real experts and ask them face to face.
And at the very least, give the Google machine a rest before bedtime. Let yourself rest. Let yourself be well.
Jen Wittes is a marketing director, writer, certified postpartum doula and mom of two who lives in St. Paul.