June 29, 2016

Confirmation Bias in Parenting

The girls are (on average) great eaters. As a 12 month old, Nicole could and would down an entire bag of winter squash by herself. We took her to sweet tomatoes, the all you can eat salad bar, where she once passed on frozen yogurt in favor of more peas. After Alexis was born we were home bound for a few months. When we finally returned to sweet tomatoes Nicole was skeptical of all the vegetable goodness before her. Pickled beets? No thank you, even though she couldn’t get enough of them before. Her favorite black olives? Pass.

It took a great deal of effort, and a few failed return trips, before Nicole began to eat well at sweet tomatoes again. Domingo and I figured the long absence had made the food seem foreign. We were determined not to make that mistake again. Healthy foods the kids eat well needed to remain front and center in our meal plan rotation.

On of the foods we wanted to encourage our kids to eat is fish. It’s great for brain development, and adds a bit of variety to their diets. We introduced it early and often. Saturday became fish night: Salmon (or “pink fish” as the kids call it), Tilapia (“butter fish”) or Mahi (“chicken fish”). And as predicted the kids continued to eat it well. We parents congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

That is, until a few weeks ago. Alexis started rejecting her fish out of the blue. Was it teething? we wondered. Unlikely, fish is pretty soft. Was she getting bored with it? Were the gaps between the types of fish too long?

More than likely, she was just going through a phase.

Looking back I if Nicole’s protest against Sweet Tomatoes was a similar phase. I remembered we stopped going around the time Alexis was born, but maybe we also stopped going because it was getting harder to get Nicole to eat her vegetables. Maybe my mommy brain glossed over that fact in an effort to feel more in control of the situation. Maybe I was only remembering what I wanted to remember. Confirmation bias is a beast. It makes you remember only what you want to remember, only what fits the narrative you tell yourself about the way the world works.

We’ve entered a rough patch of sleep with Alexis, just like we did when Nicole was this age. Like clockwork. There is no traffic here, so that couldn’t be it. Teething? No again. I want to believe I can fix it. I move the bed time forward, I move it backwards. I look for any sign that I’m on the right track. As a parent, I should be able to fix this, right? If she had a good night I’d look for things that might have contributed to it. That’s not the scientific process for a reason, but when you’re tired you’re not thinking about that. You’re wondering if wearing socks at night made your footsteps quieter and contributed to your child having a better night. The next thing you know you’re refusing to take off your socks. Ever. Can’t risk it.

Maybe Nicole returned to vegetables, and Alexis to fish because that’s just their natural development. Maybe Nicole’s sleep improvements just happened to coincide with with the bunny clock. Kids are always changing. Maybe they were descend to get past all these difficulties in their own due time, and without any input from me. Maybe that’s the root of all these crazy parenting fads. Desperate parents trying anything they can think of, and then misinterpret natural developmental cycles as cause and effect?

Crazy thoughts from a sleep deprived parent.

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