The Barney Question

I have recently found myself in defense of Barney. It is a position I really do not care for nor had ever envisioned taking. Yet I find myself saying things like, “well, he does teach the kids manners.” Maybe it’s out of complete insecurity because yes (gasp!), I actually let my 18-month-old daughter watch the show. Sometimes. Occasionally? What’s the right answer? I suppose it depends on whom you are discussing it with on the playground on any given day.

It’s hard enough to get your sea legs as a new mom so it is completely understandable that one could feel slightly superior among other new moms for not allowing any television and only buying certified organic food, if only to build a bit of confidence for herself. From the moment of conception we are faced with an incredible amount of choices regarding every little detail of this new journey. Choices are good. Respect for other people’s choices is even better than the choice itself as it assists us in living peacefully amongst our own diversity. Agreeing to disagree is a fantastic skill to impart to the next generation.

In the spirit of my dad is better than yours, we are now faced with “My mid-wife can kick your C-section loving OB-GYN’s ass”. Is the pregnancy/childbirth/kid rearing experience just another opportunity for women to be pitted against each other? Is this what our feminist fore mothers had in my mind when they charged ahead, broke boundaries, and passed down options to us? I don’t think so. Breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, epidural vs. home births, Stay at home moms vs. working moms, Gerber vs. Earth’s Best, city playground sprinklers vs. sushi making classes for the under two set. Can’t we all just get along?

As a fairly new mom with starting-to-steady sea legs, it seems to me that our generation may have gone a bit overboard — we are forgetting a really good and decent concept entitled “moderation”. Is it all the information, the websites, the studies, that are making us take sides? Education and information are invaluable but I’m starting to think that what us new moms need are some better processing skills and a little more tolerance.

A young mom I know scolded her father-in-law for letting her two-year-old son watch an episode of Barney. What bothered me about this is not her choice to ban television but rather her reaction to the situation. After all, what will the toddler take with him? A half an hour of PBS programming or how it felt to watch his mother tear his “Pop Pop” a new one? And whatever happened to special occasions? Permissive grandparents can’t undo the work you’ve done so is there really a need to feel threatened?

What I’m suggesting here is that I think we may have missed the message in all the information. Yes, too much television just like too much junk food is clearly not helpful in any way. But weigh the situation. Is your child home all day eating Twinkies and watching Power Rangers? Or are you on the go, at the park, at play dates, interacting, being a present parent, etc., with the occasional or even ritual half hour of Dora or (gasp!) The Dreaded Barney!

I happen to think that television can be used as a great tool. For my daughter it’s much needed downtime after a very active day. An episode of Sesame Street is clearly comforting to her and it allows me to get dinner ready or re-group in any way that I might need to (yes, that could mean staring at a blank wall for thirty minutes with a glass of wine but don’t judge me). I don’t have a nanny and I have a husband that is currently working around the clock. I don’t need to burn it at both ends because I live by the hard and fast rule that all TV is BAD! (Did someone say martyr?) OK, enough of the excuses, let me just be raw and truthful — I bought a new toy and put out good snacks on a very sunny day last week so I could watch Jennifer Aniston on Oprah instead of going to the park. I only made it through the first twenty minutes before the guilt set in and I vowed to myself that I would learn how to used the TiVo.

But I do think we’ve gotten a little extreme. Part of guiding kids through this world is to inspire them to be flexible and appropriately react to what the situation warrants. If you don’t allow the occasional cookie at the party, will the kid walk away with the memory of a struggle or a long life pledge to never eat sugar?

We all just want what is best for our kids and succumbing to parental playground peer pressure is by no means a good thing — however, there has to be a way to confront things without ostracizing others. When the little old lady next door gives my child cookies I say “thank you, we will save them for later.” I have felt the sting when I’ve offered up a Barney book to a youngster near the swings only to hear his mother say, “oh, we don’t watch that terrible show,” as if I was handing over the transcript of The Sopranos to her child. This was after I sat with my “Pampered” kid and commended her on her choice to use cloth diapers. Being gracious can equal feeling secure enough in what you are teaching your child at home that you don’t have to do it by belittling someone else — another great lesson to pass down. (And by the way, could someone please tell me what is wrong with Barney other than him being really annoying? Is there something else I’m not picking up on?)

As I weave through this parenting thing, I’m finding that just like a well-balanced diet, it’s just as crucial to have a well-balanced life with lots of variety. For me, that includes letting my child dance her tushie off to a music show on Noggin. It’s true, I’ve sometimes done what is easier rather than what is best for my child. I’ve run the extra errand knowing full well a nap was needed. I’ve even let a DVD play twice because people were coming for dinner and I just couldn’t get it all done. Here’s the thing — I just want to be able to reveal my guilt to my new mom friends without being judged, compared, or discussed later. Oftentimes, I will express my “failing my child fears” to women friends who do not have kids because they laugh it off in such a way that brings perspective to my life so brilliantly. It frees me up to start fresh and explore other neurosis that have been on hold and have nothing to do with parenting.

It is good to have standards and beliefs. I want the best for my little one, too, and trying to navigate through all the choices thrown at us (marketed to us) is scary. Do the research, but when in doubt trust the instincts not the articles. That is what will make your child’s life special, unique, and fun. It is very overwhelming to have to be accountable for another life for the rest of your own. Good intentions can warp perspective and we can do our children a disservice by losing our fun, our occasional cookie, our one night a week of reality TV (did I just admit to that?). But admitting to not being “perfect” is what is pure, authentic, and connects us to others.

So go ahead, wear you baby in a sling and breastfeed her till she’s five or leave her with a nanny 10 days postpartum and jet off to Aspen. Celebrate your choices but celebrate everyone else’s, too. I am starting to feel proud of myself as I watch my daughter blossom and say “thank you” (dare I say she learned it from watching Barney?). But it feels like just days ago when I wouldn’t volunteer certain information about my child rearing skills for fear of being judged. As her and I both get older and gain more confidence, it’s easier to say, “Yes, we co-sleep.” I don’t hate the mom who “Ferberized” so why should she hate me? Starting a dialog with other real life moms, let’s face it, is better than any article you could ever read. An open community where one feels safe to admit what’s working and what isn’t without someone coming up with an answer for you. Part of this parenting journey is like learning to walk. And moms know from guiding our kids through that milestone that no one can do it for us.

I truly do love being a post modern mom feeding my kid avocado and hummus, but I would never rob her of the joy of a Good Humor bar at the end of a late summer day of playing hard. That’s what makes memories, for me and for her, and memories make life good. And one thing we can agree on is that is ultimately what we all want — a good life for our kids.