Nothing ruffles a parent’s feathers quite like a well-meaning bystander pointing a finger and proclaiming UR DOIN IT WRONG. It’s hard not to puff up against criticism when we are, for all intents and purposes, trying our hardest to do what’s best for our children.
But to assume that we always know what’s best is to perhaps be too confident for our own good. You know your child best, yes, no argument there, but that doesn’t mean you know everything. Being open to the idea that there’s room to improve can mean raising your parenting bar and bettering your own personal best. Besting your best. Being the best you can be. And when that happens, everyone benefits.
A year or two ago an online acquaintance commented on a photo of one of my kids in his car seat, politely informing me that his chest clip was way too low and should be lined up with his armpits [instead of the unprotected internal organs that would get mashed like boiled red potatoes in the event of a crash]. She was super kind and respectful and did not go so far as to relay any graphic potato-related imagery, but I was nonetheless appropriately embarrassed and horrified, and from that moment on I became ever vigilant about properly restraining my boys within their car seats. I knew about the pinch test and proper strap-to-shoulder height and how much to freak out when two-year-old Fox started unclipping himself as we merrily rolled down the freeway at 65 mph (i.e., a lot; much freakout, very panic). I thought I was doing my job. I thought I was on top of things. I may have awarded myself a virtual trophy for Outstanding Achievement in Car Seat Strapping-Inning. I at least knew I was doing the best I knew how. But…I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
As it turns out, there’s more to car seats than simply containing your kid so he can’t get out (although that’s certainly a handy feature).
This post is sponsored by AAA and was written in support of its 10th annual Child Car Seat Safety program, as well as National Child Passenger Safety Week, aka Now’s a Good Time to Check Out Your Car Seat for Proper Installation and Use Because UR [Probably] DOIN IT WRONG.
Keeping your kids safely in the seat is only half of the equation; the other half is keeping their seat safely in the vehicle.
Confession: I never really bothered to learn proper car seat installation because I’d shoved that into the Husband Job column along with things like cooking food over fire and handling substances of unknown origin. And even if I had read up on my car seats when we’d first bought them, we’re at the point at which I’d switched over to auto-pilot, just assuming everything was as ship-shape as it had been on Day 1, even though my kids hadn’t borne physical resemblance to their Day 1 selves for eons. Go figure I’d have to do things differently when my newborn babies are suddenly 51 and 36 inches tall and weigh much more than 7 lbs (which I know for sure because the car seat techs at AAA put them on a scale to make sure they were in the right car seats for their sizes).
A few weeks ago I was invited to a free one-on-one car seat check with AAA Northern California, who will inspect your car seats for free too, and you should definitely, definitely, definitely take them up on that. (If you’re in Northern California, Nevada, or Utah, find your car seat inspection location here. If you’re somewhere else, use this link to search for AAA resources in your area.)
I went to the event assuming they’d give me a little pointer or two–raise Wombat’s strap height a few inches to accommodate his recent growth spurt and maybe suggest I consider washing my car more than once a year?–and then send me off with a hearty high-five for having kept Fox rear-facing past his third birthday and give me my trophy for Outstanding Achievement in Chest Clip Positioning. Instead, I came away from the event with a list of important safety tips about things I’d never even been aware of.
Note to self: It’s hard to win trophies in categories you don’t even know exist.
In a follow-up post I’ll brain-dump all the important info I learned that day, but right now, here at the start of National Child Passenger Safety Week and the kickoff of AAA’s 10th annual Child Car Seat Safety program, I want to encourage every one of you who drive with children to get an appointment for a car seat check by a professional. While my list of tips may be helpful on a general basis, it will be based on my particular combination of car seats, car, and kids, so it’s not enough to just read what I write (or what anyone else writes) and apply it to your own situation. Go to AAA, let them give you a personal assessment, and leave feeling confident that you’re doing your best for your children.
The techs I worked with were friendly and non-judgey and full of expert information. They not only checked my seats but showed me how to properly install and fit and use them myself. “If you work up a sweat when you do it,” one of the ladies told me, “you know you’re doing it right.” That alone made me feel less like the colossal doofus I’d felt whenever I’d tried to install the seats myself before.
(I did, however, feel like a colossal doofus when asked to talk on camera, but that’s neither here nor there.)
When I was approached for this campaign, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Car accidents are the number one cause of death for children in the United States, and three out of four car seats are installed improperly. This is important. This is not about trophies or gold stars, it’s about knowing better so you can do better.
Thanks, AAA, for helping me be a better parent.
(Here seems like a good place to mention that this year AAA Northern California is expanding its impact beyond car seat safety inspections and education and donating 2,200 new car seats to families in need, and making sure they’re being installed and used properly. Yes. Yes yes yes. All kids deserve the best.)
All photos courtesy of AAA and Ian Chin Photography.