Turn the Seat Around: Extended Rear Facing and Judgy Parenting

The theme of “judgy parenting” is popular in the parenting world these days. A lot of it stems from the growing presence of parenting advice through social media, blogs, message boards and other online sources — and along with this, the rise of parenting ‘wars’ in relation to hot topics. Cloth diapering vs. disposable, breast feeding vs. formula, attachment parenting vs. (detached? Babywise? cry it out?) parenting . . . the list goes on. Moms stake out their positions on these issues like cultural warriors defending their sacred plots of parenting soil. They are certain of their certainty; there can be no Other Right Way.

This is judgy parenting in a nutshell. In response to this trend, many moms (*as an aside here, I should mention that I’m using ‘moms’ here more than just ‘parents’ because that’s really been the group I’ve observed engaging in these types of behavior. Not trying to be sexist, dads.) have rightfully turned the tables on the so-called Mommy Wars, decrying the judgy parents and proclaiming instead the ‘live and let live’ mentality. While I fall firmly within this camp for the majority of issues, I’ve noticed that the backlash to judgy parenting seems to have occasionally overstepped its bounds. ‘Live and let live’ is an awesome approach to parenting for the most part, but — as with just about everything — when taken to its extremes, it can become a problematic, even dangerous, endorsement.

“What are you saying here, lady? Judgy parenting is sometimes okay? If so, when?”

I’m so glad you asked this. While judgy parenting is not okay for the most part, it IS actually okay for certain specific issues. Two of the most prominent of these are 1) vaccines and 2) extended rear-facing car seats.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Car seats? Seriously?

Yes, car seats. Seriously. I know, I know — it seems like it’s one of those issues where what you do with your kids should be none of my business. Unlike with vaccines, your choices don’t significantly impact the greater community to the point where other lives are at stake, and so, yes, you have every right to make your decisions in whatever way you see fit. But if you make the wrong decision on this (and yes, there is unequivocally a wrong decision on this), I will judge you for it.

Perhaps we should back up a minute to what I mean by extended rear-facing, and why it’s so important. At present, while all states have child safety seat laws, requirements for these vary state by state. And many still use the American Academy of Pediatrics’ original 2002 guidelines of “20 pounds and 1 year old” as the minimum legal standard for when to turn the car seat around. But the AAP updated its recommendations in 2011 to a minimum of 2 years old, or whenever the maximum height and weight of the seat is reached. And while some states have already begun to change their laws (New Jersey and California, for example), the legislative process is slow. It will take time for new laws to be enacted in all 50 states. The responsibility now lies with parents to a) be up to date on current car seat research, b) make choices for their children that reflect this. That means that children need to remain in a rear-facing car seat until a *minimum* age of 2.

I’ve heard the complaints. It can be inconvenient. Sometimes kids will be car sick when rear facing. You can’t reach or see them as easily from the front seat. How will they even fit? And why should we trust these new recommendations, anyway? They seem to change them all the time. What’s to say they won’t turn around tomorrow with something totally different?

Listen: As a society, we get new recommendations because we learn more. This is the course of history. When we learn better, we do better. Did people even use car seats — or heck, even seat belts — a few decades ago? Nope. But I don’t think any logical person would argue that we shouldn’t use them today. And as for convenience? Safety trumps everything. Including that. Also, your kids will fit.

Here are a couple of helpful links on rear-facing car seats, including the science behind it:

When Should Your Child Turn Forward-Facing?



Read these first. Please.

And now, back to why I’ll judge you if, after taking in all of this information, you still choose to turn your child around sooner than 2? Because unless you’re using your car seat improperly, the data is clear that rear-facing is unquestionably safer for children under the age of 2 (and beyond). And I care about the safety of your children.

Hang on, though. Isn’t this an excuse anyone can use for other issues? “I just care about your kids and want you to make the right (aka my) choice for them?”

Yeah, it is. But here’s the key difference: scientifically speaking, there is not another side to this story. We’re not talking about a matter of preference in child rearing, which is where many issues in the Mommy Wars fall. It is a matter of safety. And in matters of safety, it’s okay to care about what your neighbor is doing. It’s okay to take a community stand and to educate, advise, even chastise those who don’t pay attention to car seat recommendations (or worse, disregard them). It’s okay to back off the ‘live and let live’ mentality — because, at least in this particular instance, the ‘let live’ part itself is at risk.

For the most part, I really don’t care how you raise your kids. But as a society, we are obligated to protect those children who are victims of abuse, neglect, or otherwise dangerous actions. We are obligated to keep kids safe and alive. So if you make a conscious choice that is scientifically proven to put a child’s life at risk? Yeah, I’ll judge you. And really, really hope you’ll change your mind.