In Connecticut, infants up to one year old and less than 20 pounds are required by law to be in rear-facing car seats (source). After that, although it’s not the law (yet), the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain rear-facing until they are two years old or they reach the height/weight limits of the car seat (source). Seems pretty straightforward, right? Not necessarily. You’d be surprised how many mamas feel pressure to turn their kids front-facing earlier than these guidelines. In my experience, the pressure isn’t coming from the kids themselves, the ones who you’d think would have a vested interest in turning around. “Hey, I can see where we’re going now! It’s easy for Mama to hand me snacks! I can even see the DVD player in that fancy new minivan Mama and Daddy bought!!”
Sometimes the pressure comes from other mamas. Maybe they turned their own kids around early and now they are feeling guilty about it, so they try to get you to switch, too. Or maybe they just honestly feel like the added convenience is worth the risk, so they try to sell you on all the benefits. Either way, it’s peer pressure and it’s hard to resist, especially when you are a first-time mother who is a little unsure of herself.
Sometimes it’s the older generation, our parents, who raised us with no car seats at all. My parents joke that they used to just stick the playpen in the back of our VW van and let my older sister slide around in there during the drive. Sometimes she sat in a lawn chair, in fact, seat belts be damned. By the time I came along six years later, I think they’d been hipped to the seat belt trend, at least. I remember sleeping in the middle seat of that VW van and my mom making sure I was belted in, even while I was lying down. Parents and in-laws love to give unsolicited parenting advice. Just like they love telling you that they walked to school uphill both ways in ten feet of snow, it seems like they get a kick out of pointing out all the things they did “wrong” when you were a kid and yet, you survived. Maybe they are just defensive about their own parenting. I don’t judge previous generations for doing what they thought was okay at the time. Hell yeah, I would judge you if you did those same things now, but our parents get a pass, just like I hope we’ll get a pass when experts find out twenty years from now that we were the ones doing it all wrong. “But son, I didn’t know that Sophie the Giraffe would cause hoof and mouth disease, I SWEAR!”
Back to car seats. Big turned four in December but he’s been forward-facing since he was about eighteen months old. I succumbed to that aforementioned peer pressure from another mom friend of mine and so I tried it. Of course once I turned Big around there was no going back! He loved being able to see where we were going and I will admit that I loved being able to see his face. I was disappointed in myself for giving in too early, though, and worried about his safety.
Little is two-and-three-quarters and is still rear-facing. Ha! Showed you, peer-pressuring mama! It helps that Little is just that — little — so he doesn’t even complain. His legs are especially short so they don’t even look too cramped. I’m planning to keep him rear-facing until he’s practically folded in half, ha ha. Even now, it’s difficult to squeeze him into the space between the top of the car seat and the roof of the van; we call that move “the cinnamon roll” because he’s all curled up. I know that in the event of a crash it’s better to break legs than a neck, but I try not to think of it in those terms. I prefer the more whitewashed, “it’s just safer” rationale without the specifics.
Next month, we’re taking a road trip to my parents’ house in northwestern Pennsylvania. Google Maps says it’s an eight-hour drive but with two little kids, I’m guessing it’s going to be at least ten hours. My rear-facing resolve will be tested. I already have plans for trip bags full of goodies that I hand out every couple of hours, travel tickets to help them grasp the length of the trip (and hopefully stave off at least some of the “Are we there yet?!?!” questions and whining), and audio books on the iPod. They can’t really play “I Spy” or the license plate game very well, partly because Little doesn’t know his letters yet and partly because they’d be looking in different directions. We didn’t spring for the minivan with built-in DVD player but in this case, that may work in my favor; we have one portable DVD player already and we’re getting another one. Unless Little has a huge growth spurt in the next thirty days, he’ll still be facing backwards and enjoying his own private movie screening.
How many of you still have older kids rear-facing? Do you feel any pressure from friends or even from the kids themselves to turn them around to face front?