Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Baby shoes

The other day was a record day: I had people ask me why the baby had no socks on three times. Once was a complete stranger in the store.

This happens to me a lot. One lady at school mentions Marko's lack of socks almost every day. We are always indoors at the time. But she's convinced his feet are cold.

It's not like I never put him in socks. Sometimes I do. They stay on for about ten seconds and then get pulled off. I could put shoes over the top, but a ten-month-old in shoes? When we go outside on very cold days, I wrap him thoroughly in a blanket. It's easier than putting him in socks, mittens, a coat, a hat, and have him try to pull all of these things off on the way out to the car. Then I can just tuck the blanket around him in his carseat and away we go, instead of having to unzip his coat to buckle him in.

It's just what I choose to do, what works for me. I have never gone around telling people not to put socks on their kids. But everyone seems to think I need to be told he has no socks.

There are a couple things that go into this. First, some think I'm an absent-minded mother. I just didn't remember to put socks on my kid and have absolutely no awareness of how cold his toes might be. So people address the baby, "Where are your socks? Did mama forget to put them on?"

Then I might answer, "Oh, he won't keep them on." And then I look like a mother who gives in to every whim of her child, even if it's bad for him. I don't think I do -- after all, I keep him in his diaper and in his carseat even though he's taken to fighting me on both of those. So these people will say, "Well, you're the mom!" To which I sometimes want to answer, "Exactly, so how is it your business?"

I know I am hardly the first mom ever to get unwanted advice from strangers. The second people know you're pregnant, they have all kinds of advice for you. It's even more so if you're young. And usually I just listen to it all, because I know I've got lots to learn and I like to get different perspectives. But the sock thing is just getting old.

The fact is, I have several good reasons for not putting socks on my baby. The first one is that his feet aren't cold. If it's not cold enough for him to need mittens, it's not cold enough for him to need socks, not when he spends most of his time in my arms anyway. I sometimes tell people to just feel his feet. They feel cool, but not cold. If they were really cold, they would be pale, blotchy, purple, or blue -- not healthy pink. Marko is happy as a clam and showing no signs of feeling cold. I know how he reacts when he's cold -- clinging to me, snuggling into my coat, turning away from the cold air -- and he's just not cold. People -- particularly older people -- often have an exaggerated notion of keeping babies warm that involves keeping them out of every draft and swaddling them in tons of layers. But once a baby's out of the newborn stage, he can maintain his temperature pretty well. And, for what it's worth, a lot of studies have shown that exposure to cold air does not increase your chances of getting sick.

The second is that he likes his feet to be free for a reason. He's trying to learn to walk. When his feet touch the ground, he likes to grip it with his toes, not slide around in socks. Baby shoes are a crutch; they don't teach him how to spread out his feet flat for a good stance. Inside the shoes his toes might still be all curled up -- not a recipe for good balance.

The third is that shoes just aren't such a good idea for babies and young children in the first place. When the feet are still developing, it's good for them to have room to grow in all directions. Deformities like flat feet, bunions, hammertoes, and others we consider "unavoidable" do not occur in shoeless populations. Podiatrists agree that children should wear shoes as little as possible. I don't intend to prevent Marko from wearing shoes in church, in the snow, or any time he would rather wear them, but I'm not forcing him into footwear that he doesn't want just for appearance's sake.

I'm not completely sure why people insist on socks for babies and shoes for children. John says it's a class thing; it looks like you can't afford shoes. The stereotype of the backwoods Southerner is barefoot. So people insist that their children (and the children of those they care about) wear shoes to appear above this class.

Some people claim it's unsanitary to go barefoot, but I disagree. Of course you shouldn't walk barefoot on a farm with rusty nails (tetanus) or through human excrement (hookworm). But who would want to, anyway? Can anyone prove to me that there is any risk in letting my baby's bare feet touch the relatively clean floor of the school hallway? I've talked about germs before; I really don't think the standard, everyday microbes on the floor are likely to be harmful.

I love my baby's feet; I think they're cute. I don't see any reason to smother them in socks 24 hours a day. I put them on him when he's cold; otherwise, neither of us cares for them, so they stay off. Nothing wrong with that.

Now as for the people who say that my baby is too small ... sigh. If it's not one thing, it's another.

Some links on going barefoot:

Barefoot running from Mark's Daily Apple
From the same blog, how to strengthen your flat feet -- with pictures of healthy feet and shoe-cramped feet
Parents for Barefoot Children -- loads of information on why to let kids go barefoot
Society for Barefoot Living -- more reasons to go barefoot, and places you can go barefoot (almost anywhere -- even driving!)


Unknown said...

Oh, I am SO with you on the sock thing. Little Darth just turned four months and I think we have four pair of socks TOTAL. My MIL lives with us, though, and she is CERTAIN that he is going to catch pneumonia by going sockless. She even went so far to put a pair of our 5 y/o's socks on him when I was at work. Crazy.

Sheila said...

I think it's an older generation thing. They all seem very paranoid about the cold.

Giuseppe Ambrose said...

My only argument for doing shoes with your baby is that it gets him used to them--one day you'll have him outside or on a gravel path or something and really want him to wear shoes, but he'll HATE them because he isn't used to wearing them. We went through all that...not fun.

I say all that, and I'm one of those barefoot people--I run barefoot, or with those ugly toe shoes like Ryan has. So. Not saying I'm a fan of shoes, just advising that little Marko get some "shoe time" in and be accustomed to them before you get to the point where he really needs them for outdoor activities.

Enbrethiliel said...


As must have guessed by now, Sheila, this barrage of unwanted advice is just the beginning. ;-) Everyone seems to think that mothers are fair game for criticism (even when they keep it to themselves)--particularly other mothers!

I'll bet that if you had him in shoes, you would be attracting a whole bunch of other people telling you that they never put their children in footwear until they were two years old, that it hurts the growth of the feet, etc.

Sheila said...

Enbrethiel -- most likely! I read an article about a mom who put a hat on her baby in response to a stranger's insistence -- only to have the next passerby tell her to take that hat off, the baby was too hot! You can't please everyone.

I admit, though, that even I have fallen into the trap of giving too much advice. It's awfully easy to do, especially when you know everything (like I do, right? ;) ).

Enbrethiliel said...


And sometimes when one does know everything--and you and I obviously do (LOL)--one ends up giving advice whether one knows it or not.

I don't particularly care about what a baby wears or doesn't wear on his feet, but if I was making small talk with a mother who was, I'm sure there are lots of things I could say about my childhood that might uninentionally rankle. (Incidentally, the first comment I was going to leave here was, "My mother kept kicking her shoes off as a girl, so my grandfather tied them to her feet"--but I didn't know whether you'd read it as a criticism of your own beliefs and methods, so I left it out.)

Sheila said...

Ah, I'm not that hypersensitive. I hope. Sadly, many things that would otherwise be quite innocent get annoying when you hear them a dozen times. But even so, YOU know that the reason I let him go barefoot isn't just because he kicks of his shoes. So, I don't think I'd mind you saying that. ;)

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