I Thought I Knew how to Research. Then I had a Baby.

I Thought I Knew how to Research. Then I had a Baby.

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I thought I knew how to research.

I had, after all, written the book on it: a doctoral dissertation in Rhetoric and Composition. I had taught thousands of students both online and on campus, including at Boston College, Northeastern University, and the University of Michigan. I had designed courses on essay writing, blogging, and teaching. In all of these courses, I helped my students become savvier researchers.

Then I had a baby.

Suddenly, the stakes for my research were so much higher. Each Google query transformed into a life-or-death question. The answers to those questions, however, were never satisfying, because they always led to more questions, more panic, more what ifs about that lurking danger that might kill my kid. The raised stakes made my parent-self more willing to accept warnings about death-by-hair tourniquet or viral stories about kids abducted from Target, even though my researcher-self knew that those stories dangers were highly exaggerated.

I was not alone.

I know so many rational, reflective, intimidatingly-talented people who, the moment they have children, transform into late night, Google-driven, what if panickers. Parents with PhDs in literature, a field that encourages its members to think deeply about the world and our place in it, couldn’t think deeply about the latest “hidden danger” they read about in a facebook post. Parents who run complicated statistical models at work couldn’t apply that statistical knowledge to the latest scary-sounding child safety study. Parents with medical degrees and bustling clinical practices couldn’t take their own advice to be patient and rushed their children to the ER for the tiniest of after-hours ailments. I wanted to save these parents from their Google searches and social media feeds, but I was so busy with my own students and my son’s midnight feedings that I didn’t have the time.

Then my family moved to Lyndhurst.

We came here for my husband’s job, which meant I had to leave my own teaching job behind. While exploring new farmers’ markets, parks, and Cuyahoga County’s amazing library system with my son Dylan was great fun, I missed the classroom.

I decided it was time to find a new group of students: parents wanting to navigate the dizzying world of baby safety research. I started snackdinner, a website devoted to debunking all the scary parenting stories on the internet. Worried about zombie raccoons? Don’t be. Scared your Sophie has a dangerous mold infestation? She doesn’t. Afraid of salmonella poisoning? You can probably eat the cookie dough. Although I’ll never be able to take down every scary story, I can help readers build the research tools they’ll need to become stronger researchers and, as a result, better parents.

My posts don’t always address life-and-death research questions. I teach parents how to use research to answer silly questions too, like why kids’ pasta cook times are so long or how to throw a tantrum.

Dylan is the real brains behind this operation, not just because he’s always stealing my computer but because he’s inspired so many of the questions I’ve answered there. Without him, there’d be no snackdinner, and without snackdinner, I wouldn’t have met so many wonderful parents and writers. I can’t wait to meet even more great people while blogging for Northeast Ohio Parent, where I’ll be tackling research questions big and small, serious and silly. If you want me to answer your parenting question, or if you just want to come over for a snackdinner, send me an e-mail!

About the author

Stephanie Loomis Pappas is a professor turned write-from-home parent on a mission to debunk all the bad parenting advice on the internet. At snackdinner, she uses topics like moldy Sophies, raw cookie dough, and Tide Pods to teach parents how to do better research. Despite all her research and teaching experience, Stephanie still can’t make her 4-year-old go to bed. She lives with him and her husband in Lyndhurst.

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