Sometimes I’m really glad I’m not a celebrity. Let me explain. When photos surfaced a few years ago of both Suri Cruise, 5 at the time, and Harper Beckham, 4 at the time, sporting pacifiers like they were the latest fashion accessory, the press went wild. Doctors weighed in on the demerits of pacifier use past a certain age. Therapists questioned the Beckhams’ parenting skills and wondered whether the stress of Suri’s lifestyle caused a need to attach to an object like a pacifier.
While I admit, being a mom—even a regular, non-celebrity mom—opens me up to judgment on a day-to-day basis, I really only feel mildly embarrassed about my 5-year-old daughter’s pacifier use when we visit the pediatrician, dentist, or run into critical onlookers. For the most part, I’m totally fine with the fact that my kindergartner still uses a pacifier.
My daughter was always a sucker. As a baby, she wanted to nurse constantly. Cluster feeding? That was the norm for us. She was not a toddler who self-led any sort of weaning. It was a major battle getting her to stop nursing, and then later getting her to relinquish the bottle. For a long time, we used sippy cups that mimicked the suction of bottles just to appease her habit.
When she turned 4, we tried to take away the pacifier. But the desperate displays of suffering and despair I witnessed for the few nights we tried to keep it from her made me think twice about taking it away before she seemed ready to give it up.
Her teeth looked okay. While our pediatric dentist warned we should think about cutting it off before she lost any baby teeth (she has yet to lose a tooth), I reminded myself that I sucked my thumb until I was 8. Our pediatrician cautioned that if she got ear infections it could be an issue, but my daughter had never, as far as I could recall, come down with one. Besides, she didn’t use her pacifier during the day at preschool. She was confident with teachers and friends. She seemed to instinctively understand it was something she kept at home to soothe herself. And, yes, she used it every night for sleeping.
We tried many times between age 4 and 5 to toss the thing. At Christmas, we put her pacifiers in a box and sent them to Santa. We stuck them under her pillow for the “paci fairies” and gave some to her new baby cousin (we have a lot of pacifiers around the house!). Instead, she started sucking on her hair, chewing her fingernails, and putting lots of other not-so-sanitary things in her mouth when she got the chance. On one typical subway trip, she licked a subway pole like it was a yummy popsicle. Before I had a chance to notice, I caught many dreadful, disgusted stares from onlookers.
Around this time, I took a trip to France and noticed how many older French children were riding in strollers and using pacifiers. I wondered if those of us parenting stateside weren’t a little too hyper about rushing our kids into things. I mean, in the United Kingdom, they literally refer to pacifiers as “soothers.”
I know my daughter won’t walk down the aisle or head to college with a pacifier in her mouth, so I am simply not worried about it. I know when she is ready to give it up, she will. She is growing and meeting all of her developmental milestones. She’s gregarious and vivacious with her friends and teachers. She is smart, healthy and most importantly, she’s happy.
She has her whole life left to suffer. Why make her suffer now?