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No pressure, but your kid’s doctor wants you to read aloud from birth

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a new recommendation. Parents should read to their kids every day, starting at birth. Because new parents definitely need more things to do.

Remember having a newborn? It was a breeze, right? Between luxurious naps and hours spent gazing at your beautiful bundle of joy, I’m sure you had plenty of time to read aloud. Every day. Which is good, because that’s what pediatricians are now recommending.

Start reading, or else

Don’t get me wrong, I love literacy. I hate the language gap between young children of wealthy parents and those of less-educated parents. But the idea of advising new parents to read every day gives me a twitch. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been an anxious mom. I saved up for the uber-safe car seats. I made myself crazy powering through 16 months of pumping breast milk while working full time. I bought educational toys that mostly served the purpose of being chewed on. If my child’s pediatrician had told me to read every night, it would have been one more source of stress. I would have felt terrible for not getting it done, even though I was working full time outside the home and only had a few precious hours to spend with my baby every day.

I know that doctors aren’t saying read every day, or else your child will utterly fail at life or definitely fail the third grade — but that’s what it feels like when you run it through the filter of a new mom’s sleep-deprived brain. Hormonal, protective moms are the ones who already stock up on classical music for fetal development and baby monitors that could probably serve as surveillance equipment in the Pentagon. Tell them they need to read every day, and some of these moms will be falling all over themselves to set up daily reading schedules. And those are the privileged moms.

Reading aloud every day is a privilege

What about the moms who don’t have time to stress because they’re busy trying to make ends meet? The parents who invest in fancy baby gear and educational products are the ones who are already exposing their kids to enough words to close the language gap. The parents on the other end of that spectrum? They’re not deliberately depriving their newborns of listening to the spoken word. But chatting to Baby or hitting a board book over and over might not be priorities when you’re working long hours, struggling financially or you struggle with literacy yourself. When it comes to reading to kids ages 3 to 5, there’s a significant disparity between educated parents and parents who didn’t finish high school.

I don’t think telling all parents to read aloud will be enough to start all kids off with equal footing when they enter kindergarten. It may help some kids, but I worry that it’ll be the kids who were already going to be lavished in words — the kids who already had a leg up. Our communities have to continue offering educational resources and support to families of young kids. Until all families have enough support to keep kids healthy and safe, are words really going to be enough to close the gap? Or is reading aloud just a new thing to stress about while parenting a newborn?

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