Warning: judgy parenting observations follow.

While out to dinner yesterday, Jen and I saw a child with her parents. The child was about five years old, based on her command of the language, physical stature, and attitude toward life (entitled with no obvious internal monologue). Her parents, based on their dress and facial features were probably in their late 20s or early 30s — basically where Jen and I are. This child, dressed in the uniform of the young girl, Disney Princess Chic, was sucking on a pacifier. Given her age, this was probably not an effort at irony (which, to a five-year old, probably means “kind of like iron”). No, this was just a thing in her mouth to suck on (minds out of the gutter, people).

This isn’t the first too-old-for-a-pacifier kid we’ve seen haunting the kid-friendly eateries of Virginia. Far from it. Their ubiquity is second only to the cloying of their parents. Obviously, no two kids are alike, every situation is different, every parent has to find his own way, blah blah blah. But, exercising my parental prerogative to pre-judge other parents, there is absolutely a too-old-for-a-pacifier line. For the parents of Princess Paci, if you would look behind you, you’ll find it there.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers not a lot of support to me in my self-righteousness. They note that pacifier use past three years of age could lead to some dental problems later, but otherwise, they are stubbornly silent on the topic of when is too late. Joshua’s and Jack’s pediatricians have been more outspoken about the 1-year mark, but but they seem to be statistical outliers if our nowhere-near-empirical observations of other people’s kids are any indication.

We took Joshua’s pacifier away after his first birthday. It yielded two or three pretty awful bedtimes, but after that, his little goldfish memory had seemingly forgotten that the thing had ever existed and there was no crying we couldn’t handle via other methods. Jack is only four months old and he still has his pacifier, but we intend to take it away just as we did with his brother’s. We’ll have a few ugly nights, I’m sure, but my kids will not be walking around the mall, taking their pacifiers out only long enough to express their preference of which store they’d like to visit next. To me, if your kid is old enough to provide a conversation partner, why not converse? I get that the conversations are banal, and initially little more than a human version of a See and Say*, but they’ve got to start somewhere, right? Hard to talk to somebody whose mouth is full.

Speaking of walking, there is a similar style of parenting that says it’s ok for your four-year old to ride in a stroller. It’s not. If your kid can walk, that’s probably nature’s way of saying that he probably should. If you’re keeping him in a stroller, you’re the lazy one. Strapping him in so he goes wherever you push him is usually symptomatic of you not wanting to correct or collect him when he strays. Look, the first few years after your kid learns to walk are basically your impression of a sheep dog. You steer the kids away from dangers, urge them to keep up, and bite their ankles when they get distracted. That last part might just be dogs. Anyway, a stroller’s a great way to transport a child who isn’t walking, or who only recently started walking and doesn’t have the stamina to walk (relatively) long distances yet. Past that, you’re only hurting his stamina and impeding his locomotive development because you want your Jamba Juice when you want it, and not whenever you’re able to drag your ambling, magpie-like child across the food court. Convenient and good parenting aren’t always compatible. The choice you make says a lot about you. Everything, really.

Here endeth the judging.

Ah, who am I kidding? The judging never ends.

*I received a See and Say as some kind of ironic joke when I was in college from my girlfriend at the time. I still have no idea what that joke meant, nor what she must have thought of me to think this was an appropriate gift. Neither do I know why I still have it.


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