A few years ago, when my child was still an infant, I found myself in one of those awkward situations with a host of new mothers that verbally and enthusiastically supported one another, while quietly judging each other’s parenting choices…always judging. I can’t remember specifics, but I remember I was about to feed my child a snack and found myself scanning the immediate environment for a bathroom, or at least some running water to wash my child’s hands. Upon witnessing my vigilance, one mother said something to the effect of, “Oh you are so good, aren’t you?” and she followed this up with a self-dismissal to the tune of, “I just let my kids eat all kinds of dirt and hope for the best.”
Over the past several decades, parents have bent over backwards to keep their children clean and free of germs of all kinds. This endeavor has ranged from the sensible (frequent washing of hands) to the dubious (anti-bacterial everything in every form imaginable) and fueled an industry eager to feed your fears about everything from your garden-variety icky germs to virulent strains of flu viruses. The marketing of products to keep your family safe and germ free have fueled this fleeting fantasy of a hypersanitized childhood, free of the plagues and pathogens that had befallen previous generations. It is a noble, but futile fight.
In recent years we’ve learned that these germ-free adolescents may be suffering from too much of a good thing. Too much cleanliness can be a bad thing for a young child’s developing immune system, according to an article on Slate.com by Amanda Schaffer. The article goes on (backed by multiple recent scientific findings) to assert that early exposures to germs help teach a child’s immune system to regulate itself, and provide much needed stimulation and training to insure future health and a bolstered immunity.