I’m not an antiseptic, germophobic mom.
I know this will disgust a portion of you, but truthfully, I had never paid any attention to where I fell on the “cleanliness scale” until I had children. Then, it suddenly became very clear that my laissez-faire attitude wasn’t the norm for a lot of people. Play dates were full of mamas following their little ones around and obsessively sanitizing their hands, diaper bags were full of clothing changes and stain remover for every messy snack and there were plenty of shouts like “No, don’t touch that – It’s dirty”. Restaurant high chairs were wiped down carefully before a baby was placed in them and food dropped on the floor was immediately grabbed and thrown away like it suddenly carried a life-threatening disease.
This approach shocked me. I had never sterilized dropped soothers and teething toys (a little spit and wipe always sufficed) and I certainly don’t carry hand sanitizer with me. Stained clothing is what I expect with babies and toddlers (in fact, I almost see it as a sign of good times). And yes, I believe in the five-second rule. Cue the gasps!
I’ve also never been bothered by messy or “dirty” activities. My kids go outside without their shoes on. I encourage digging in the dirt, kissing frogs and splashing in puddles. Spending time exploring the world in the most primitive way is the definition of childhood to me. It’s time spent learning while also having fun in a natural playground. Why worry about a little dirt or water? At the end of the day, the clothes go into the laundry and the kids go into the bath.
For me, motherhood can be very isolating and lonely. Because of that, I’m not going to quarantine myself and my offspring every time someone sniffles and I’m definitely not going to waste precious social gatherings running around worrying about the spread of germs. Instead, I want to focus on connecting with other mothers while letting the kids have a chance to freely interact with each other (spoiler: they’re going to touch and share toys).
I know I’m going to hear some backlash on this. So let me make it clear that I understand there are exceptions, like when a child suffers from a life-threatening allergy or has weakened immunity. Obviously the utmost care needs to be taken in those (and other) circumstances. What I’m talking about is the general public: kids who are resilient and healthy.
This winter, my family suffered from seasonal illness worse than ever before. Cold-after-cold, flu-after-flu, we were passing viruses back-and-forth from October to April. About halfway through the season I was so sick of fevers and vomit that I blamed myself and decided to get diligent. For months I regularly Lysoled every surface in my house, I chased after my kids all day to wash their hands repetitively and not share their water bottles. And you know what? We all kept getting sick. In fact, we got sick even more. No amount of attentiveness to germs will get you through cold season unscathed when you have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old. Was I tired by the end of it? Yes. Did we survive? Yes. Will it happen again? You bet.
There’s a lot of research nowadays that supports providing a less-sterile environment for children (here, here and here, for example). Excessive hand washing and sanitization means they’re exposed to less of the microbes that actually strengthen their immune systems. Having a sick baby or toddler is no fun, I get that, but it’s good for them in the long run.
So, mamas. Can we relax a little and let our kids explore the world around them with less worry? Or at least do less judging of us tired mommies who take a more relaxed stance? We’re not dirty slobs, we’re just doing what feels right and keeps us sane.