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My kids used pacifiers until they were 4 and I don't regret it (much)

Julie Ryan Evans is an editor and writer who has covered everything from Capitol Hill to the politics of preschool. A mother of two, a runner of races, and a gourmet chef wannabe, she currently lives outside of Orlando, Florida.

If only pacifiers were the biggest mistake we make as parents

It's ironic that something intended to soothe and calm can spark such intense rebuke from so many, but just ask anyone for their opinion on children with pacifiers and brace yourself for the onslaught (no pun intended). In fact, you don't even have to ask; many (oh so many) people are happy to tell you exactly what they think of your child's pacifier use, completely unsolicited.

David Beckham is currently in the spotlight for lashing out at a publication that criticized his daughter Harper's use of pacifiers at the age of 4. In an Instagram post, Beckham defended his parenting choice and said, "Those who criticize think twice about what you say about other people's children because actually you have no right to criticize me as a parent."

Amen.

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My children both used their pacifiers until well past their fourth birthdays, and I heard it all, from those who tutted about the damage being done to the kids' teeth to those who scolded me about potential speech problems. There were also those who just thought it was unsightly. I listened, nodded and then popped the pacifiers back into the kids' mouths.

I knew the potential consequences of using pacifiers long-term, and I struggled with wanting to get rid of them. But I also knew they worked for my children. Pacifiers soothed them (babies have an intuitive need to suck), helped them sleep and were a constant in their lives, much the way a blanket or a lovey is for other children. Honestly, it was just easier for all of us with them. Still, there was always the nagging voice in my head asking if I was messing them up for life, and the outside opinions only amplified it.

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My children eventually gave up their pacifiers, and now at 12 and 6, those days of sweet little pops coming from their mouths seem like distant memories. There is my son's mouthful of braces to remind me and make me question my decisions in those early days, but I know there will be a host of other developments in my children's lives that will also make me reflect on mistakes I may have made and things I might have done better.

Worries about pacifiers have been replaced with parental concerns about much bigger issues — issues that aren't as apparent as a bright green piece of plastic in the middle of a child's face. The stakes of my parenting mistakes are higher, more threatening than just the price of orthodontia, which can at least be financed over a convenient multiyear plan.

We do our best given what we know, feel and can handle in any moment as parents, and we don't always make perfect choices. Having others judge and criticize those choices just makes following our instinct and intuition all the more difficult as the deafening roar of judgment echoes louder and louder. And it's tragic, really, because those are the best tools we have as parents.

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Sure, there will be missteps and mistakes, but it's about how we move on from them — be it with braces or self-forgiveness — that really counts in the end. Judgment from others does nothing but get in the way and make us miserable.

If I could go back, would I give my kids pacifiers again? Would I take them away sooner? Honestly, I don't know. I do know that if pacifiers could fix my kids' problems today the way they did when they were toddlers, I might pack one in my son's backpack as he heads to middle school.

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