These comments and those like them are directed at me regularly from both family and friends and strangers, and my response is usually just a shrug, smile, and, "Yep!" to get them off my back. Direct answers to these car seat questions are: "1. No, she's not cramped; 2. I have her rear-facing still because I found it's the safest way to travel; and 3. Yes, she is technically big enough to forward face, but see number two." Oh, and also, "Mind your own damn business."
As long as she meets the rear-facing height and weight requirements of the seat, I will keep my daughter that way as long as I can.
When my daughter was just born, as most new parents, I was terrified of doing something wrong or unsafe that could put her in harm's way. My husband installed the car seat, and I had him strap her in every single time for the first few weeks of her life. Then, I started looking at information on car seat safety so I would be more comfortable taking her out on my own. What I found was an astonishing number of car seats are used improperly, and that terrified me even more. This means seats aren't installed correctly or the child isn't restrained correctly, which voids the purpose of the seat.
After finding this out, I did everything I could to learn about safe car seat practices, including reading research studies and scholarly articles on the subject and consulting with a local certified child passenger safety technician (CPST). I armed myself with all the information I could find (I admit I became a bit obsessed). I also admit I'm that mom who sometimes "calls out" others for improper use.
I used to struggle with whether or not it's my place to say something to a friend or family member, but then I began to think of it as not coming from a place of knowing it all (because I don't, nor do I claim to) but from a place of sharing information I, too, wasn't aware of in the beginning. No one is taught how to use car seats; parents are expected to purchase one, install it, and use it without much guidance unless they're seeking the guidance themselves, and who even knew CPSTs existed? I rarely read manuals to anything before using something new, and I'm guilty of making plenty of the mistakes on the list of car seat misuse in those early days. But this was before I knew. I've come to live by the motto "When you know better, you do better."
I didn't know there was a proper place to use the LATCH system in certain cars and that you have to not only reference the car seat manual but your car's manual, as well. I didn't know about the "pinch test" to ensure the straps are tight enough or that the straps being twisted can also void the safety of the seat. I didn't know the chest clip could do more harm than good if clipped in the wrong place. I didn't know that the reason for rear-facing at all is because a child's developing spine is responsible for supporting a large proportion of bodyweight or that their vertebrae are connected by cartilage, not fused bone, which could lead to much more injury to a child than an adult in a crash. I didn't know that for rear-facing, the straps need to come from or below the shoulders, but for forward-facing, they should come from above. See? There was plenty I didn't know. But now I do. And I know there's more to learn and ongoing studies that can change requirements and laws at any time. So for now, I choose to practice extended rear-facing because I believe that if, heaven forbid, we're in a crash, she'll be safest this way. Also because she's petite and I can. Not everyone can keep their preschooler rear-facing, and that's perfectly fine, because what's safe for each child is different depending on their height and weight, the car they're riding in, the type of seat they have, etc. The safest car seat is the one installed and used according to the correct guidelines, whether it's a $300 seat or a $50 one.
Yes, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines state that a child should remain rear-facing until at least 2 years of age, but the key there is "at least." As long as she meets the rear-facing height and weight requirements of the seat, I will keep my daughter that way as long as I can. As long as I have thoroughly read through the car seat and our car's manuals and I'm certain the seat is being used properly, she will remain watching the view out the back window of our minivan.
Does this mean I don't think you're keeping your child safe if you choose to face them forward at age 2? No. Am I judging you for flipping your child's seat around the moment they meet the least of the requirements? No. Because each parent can do their own research and weigh the benefits and risks and make their decision from there, just as I have. So, please, understand my reasoning for keeping her the way she is and stop judging ME for being too overprotective or whatever it is you think of me and my rear-facing 4-and-a-half-year-old.
Editor's Note: This piece was written by a POPSUGAR contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of POPSUGAR Inc. Interested in joining our POPSUGAR Voices network of contributors from around the globe? Click here.