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(Jamie Bennett for The Globe and Mail)
(Jamie Bennett for The Globe and Mail)

Facts & Arguments Essay

The language of modern parenting Add to ...

Pop quiz. Translate the following, and you may stand a chance of making it in the dog-eat-dog world of modern parenting: "DS (10 mo) still doesn't STTN. Have tried NCSS, GW and WIWO. Am now ready to Ferberize or CIO. Help!"

Last year if you had shown me that paragraph I would have thought I had inadvertently picked up a newspaper written in ancient Sanskrit. But now as a mom of a 14-month-old son, this translation is a no-brainer.

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Clearly a desperate mother has a 10-month-old baby boy (Darling Son) who is not sleeping through the night. She has tried the more gentle sleep-training methods - No-Cry Sleep Solution, Gradual Withdrawal and Walk In Walk Out. She is fed up and ready to try either Controlled Crying (where you leave the baby for set intervals, comforting in between) or Cry It Out (where you leave the baby to cry until he falls asleep).

This is easy for me because, you see, I am now fully briefed on the lexicon of modern-day parenting.

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I anticipated the sleep deprivation. (Sort of. Anticipating sleep deprivation while cuddled up under your duvet for eight hours every night doesn't prepare you for the bone-crushing, mind-numbing reality of not sleeping for, well, ever again.)

I anticipated the changes to my social life (pinot grigio, reality TV and bed by 10 p.m. Party on).

But no one ever told me I would have to learn a whole new language. Forget pamphlets on breastfeeding, I need a dictionary.

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My cross-cultural foray into the foreign world of parenting started when I was in my third trimester and I finally came to realize that being pregnant was going to lead to an actual baby (give me a break, it only took me seven months).

I was advised to start by assembling my hospital bag for when it was time to give birth. Nightgown, robe, track suit. Check, check, check. Plastic straws, a dark-coloured towel, flip flops. A bit odd, but okay. Nipple cream, incontinence pads, hemorrhoid wipes? Wait a minute, what are they going to do to me in there?

Better move on to buying the stuff we will need when the baby comes home from the hospital. Item one: onesies. Come on now. Is that even a word?

It didn't stop there. We need a stroller: Travel system or jogger? Facing in or out? What is your point of view on the Bugaboo brand? Is one-handed folding important to you?

I was thinking about using cloth diapers. Step right this way, madam. Did you want prefolds or terries? Pockets or two-parters? Bimbles or Bamboozles?

We also need a sling. There's the ever popular Baby Bjorn, of course. But have you thought about a wrap sling? A ring sling? A pouch? How about a Mei Tai? Is that a drink? Because I think I might need one.

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Learning this new language, as overwhelming as it may be, is only half the battle. Buried in these new words - and acronyms, always acronyms - are politically charged decisions that if misjudged can make you fear you have set your child on a path to certain doom.

BF or FF? These two tiny initials that stand for either breastfeeding or formula feeding can fuel enraged debates in which rabid parents berate each other for the way they feed their babies. If you're short on things to do and like to stir up trouble, just visit one of the many parenting forums on the Internet and start a thread about why either BFing or FFing is better for babies. Click "post" and sit back to watch the hornets descend.

Co-sleeping? Prepare for the onslaught of people shouting that if you let your baby sleep in your bed you will almost certainly smother him, and if by some miracle he does survive he will be sleeping in your bed until he's 16. At the very same time another group of people will be insisting that if you put your tiny baby in a cot in his own room he will almost certainly stop breathing and, by the way, it's cruel to make him sleep alone. Clear as mud, then.

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How about routine versus baby-led? From what I can work out this is about either following a strict routine (which seems to mean wearing a stopwatch, feeding your baby only at certain times and leaving him to sleep in a stroller outside in the rain) or letting your baby lead the way (which seems to mean risking paralysis from sleeping in the exact same position all night, every night, so that your baby can remain permanently attached to your nipple).

So, 14 months after giving birth to my first baby I can confidently say I am fluent in the language of modern parenthood.

But am I any better at navigating the minefield of parenting decisions that lie behind the words and letters? Absolutely not. As a mom of a 14 mo DS who is still BFing and doesn't STTN, I'm far too knackered.

Alison Holder is a Canadian living in London.

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