Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I've always suspected I'll be the kind of mom who isn't anal (enough?) about my kids' cleanliness. I don't mean I'm going to let them be filthy. But I also won't flip out if a dropped pacifier finds its way back to their mouth before it's cleaned. Of course I'll teach them to do things like wash their hands before eating, but honestly, mostly just so other people don't think I'm a terrible mother.

I have a long-held belief that it's good for kids to be exposed to a certain amount of germs. I could be wrong, but I believe that one reason Amanda and I don't have a single allergy is that we grew up in a 100-year-old house that was, to say the least, not tightly sealed. I think that being outdoors and getting dirty is not only the most fun kids can have but that it's good for their health.

This is just my personal opinion. I'm not criticizing all the moms, which is most of them, who are way more sanitarily conscious (?) than I am; and I can't swear I won't adjust my attitude once I have kids that actually play in the dirt and then resist washing their hands before dinner.

(For the record, when keeping other people's children I do respect the fact that their mothers care more about these things than I do. Although occasionally I forget and get called out. Like the time I was keeping church nursery and fed a kid a Cheerio she'd dropped. Another little girl saw me and yelled, "You never, ever, ever, ever, EVER eat food off the floor!" Oops.)

But I was happy to read this article: "Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good For You." The whole article's interesting, but here's a summary:

"What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment," Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her new book, "Why Dirt Is Good" (Kaplan). "Not only does this allow for 'practice' of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored."

One leading researcher, Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said in an interview that the immune system at birth "is like an unprogrammed computer. It needs instruction." He said that public health measures like cleaning up contaminated water and food have saved the lives of countless children, but they "also eliminated exposure to many organisms that are probably good for us."

"Children raised in an ultraclean environment," he added, "are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits."

Dr. Ruebush ... does not suggest a return to filth. ... But she deplores the current fetish for the hundreds of antibacterial products that convey a false sense of security and may actually foster the development of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria. ... '"I certainly recommend washing your hands after using the bathroom, before eating, after changing a diaper, before and after handling food," and whenever they're visibly soiled, she wrote.

Dr. Weinstock goes even further. "Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat," he said.


Libba Roberts said...

I TOTALLY agree!!! I've been using more "green" options for cleaning in the house these days because of the research that all the super anti-bacterial things are (well, #1 bad for the environment) only encouraging the growth of super bacteria! i'll probably be an anal mother in many ways but totally agree that dirt can be good!

Sallie said...

Amen, well said.

Kaitlin said...

i'm a fan of dirt. we used to play barefoot outside from june-september and only wash our feet before going to bed.

Libba Lemon said...

I was relieved to learn at the lactation center the other day that Ruthie's gut now produces what it needs to handle bacteria. Even though I know she only told me that so that I would quit steam-sterilizing my breast pump pieces, I am taking it to mean that I can be a little more chill about germs in general.

~Loretta said...

Okay...so in my previous life I was a nurse...and got up close and personal w/germs...and brought more than my fair share home w/me. There are times to be anal about germs (like when someone in the house is puking...bring on the clorox, baby!)...but there are lots of things you just can't learn except by digging in the real live dirt, seeing what grows on leftovers in the fridge, what happens when you pour dirt on your sisters head, and just being in the grass & sunshine! We keep trying to control all the things in our kids lives that we feel like we CAN control...it's pretty futile. I'm committed to spending more time working on my kids heart cleanliness/attitudes than matching outfits, sifted sandbox sand, peeled grapes...and grass stained knees. Being less "clean conscious" also allows for more babysitter opportunites, cause you're just not as picky (!!!),which makes for a less stressed mommy. Agree fully w/libba...bleach, vinegar, tea tree oil/peppermint are the best cleaners there are. And frugal too ;) Okay, I'm done now. At least for today. We're off to the zoo to pet some animals and eat some dirt ;)