Monday, August 27, 2012

The Risks of Hand Washing.

Yep, you read that right.  I said risks.  and I mean risks.  I may be in the minority on this but hear me out.

No, no, you say. Washing hands protects children from diseases.  The CDC recommends it.  Your fellow P-SAHM recommends it.  How could it ever be bad?  The answer is complicated.  Obviously hand washing is important and helps prevent diseases.  But let me tell you a story.

When my children were toddlers, I started dropping them off at the gym day care so that I could tackle my post-baby belly.  The runny noses of strange kids and overall griminess of the toys totally freaked me out but I knew I needed to exercise for my own health.  So every day I cringed as I dropped them off and gave them a little squirt of hand sanitizer as I picked them up.  Sounds reasonable, right?  I am sure most of you would do the exact same thing.  But . . . .

One day Miss M. left the gym really upset.

me: What happened?
Miss M: A kid touched my arm.
me: You mean, a kid hit you?
Miss M: No.  He just touched me but the kids at the gym are dirty.  Right, Mom?  I don't play with them   so I won't get germs. . .

And with that, I stopped washing their hands as we left the gym.  The benefits of avoiding a few colds, didn't outweigh the risks of raising a daughter who was afraid to interact with other kids.

My husband and I are both prone to anxiety.  Not only that but OCD runs in both sides of our family.  Our poor kids have the genetic deck stacked against them when it comes to anxiety, so I want to do everything in my power to build an environment for them that discourages anxiety.  Since germs and hand washing are part of typical obsessive/compulsive behaviors, we downplay it.

We wash hands before we eat (if I remember) and after we use the bathroom.  I mention germs but I don't emphasize them and I have not taught them to wash their hands for 20 seconds.  I do not want them to feel like it is possible to wash their hands incorrectly. This seems like a slippery slope to the repeated hand washing so stereotypical of OCD.

Yes, it is sometimes hard for me not to chase them around with hand sanitizer or force them to wash their hands repeatedly when I catch them picking up goat poop because it looked like "a lemon" (we did wash repeatedly for that one) but I stand by my decision to prioritize protecting them from compulsive behaviors over avoiding germs.  I do not want my children to feel like the world is contaminated.


  1. Good point, Taylor. I could see how an emphasis on germs could make them afraid of things. Balance is key! I emphasize hand-washing because my kids do gross things like eat boogers and chew used gum on a regular basis... but if I ever noticed my anxiety about germs rubbing off on them, I hope I could find that balance.

  2. Because I'm OCD and also an emetaphobe we wash a lot. After school, friend's houses, church, playing outside and grocery stores. But I recognize it's actually not that healthy. Turns out a little dirt and a few germs are actually good for you. Theories now are saying the prevalence of autoimmune diseases in certain groups of people correlates with how clean those people are. It seems what our bodies used to pick up naturally; germs, viruses, even some parasites may have served a symbiotic purpose. When we're too clean we don't give our immune systems a chance to develop like they should. It's interesting to me but tough to find the balance. I want my kids to have a strong immune system but I certainly don't want them to be sick all the time either.
    There are clinical trials out right now to see if swallowing parasites found in pigs can cure autoimmune diseases like RA and Crohn's. Would I swallow a parasite to cure my RA? In a heartbeat.

    1. Sam, it is SO hard to not have them wash their hands all the time. it it helps, I have not noticed them getting sick more now that we wash less. Growing up my dad (a doctor) would always say he "didn't believe in the germ theory". not because he didn't actually believe in germs but because he didn't think the benefits of worrying about it were worth the effort.