I remember it like it was yesterday–parking in the special “mom-to-be” section, walking through the automatic doors, and encountering a space that seemed the size of a Target which held nothing but baby gear. It was overwhelming. Dizzying that there could be that much stuff to need, that much stuff to buy for a being whose biggest accomplishment to date was being able to provide sure and direct kicks directly to my bladder.
But overwhelmed or not, we marched on, scanner gun in hand, clutching our own list and the list that Babies “R” Us so handily provided for us. We had brought along my parents, and standing in front of the two-story high wall of bottling accessories, my dad asked, “you got enough nipples?” It was funny then, and it’s still funny to me now. I had decided to breast-feed and here I was, standing at ready to scan my way along “just in case.” The truth was I did have enough–and they weren’t the ones on the wall.
Registering was exciting (who doesn’t like to shop without spending money), overwhelming (how many of which size pacifiers do we need), and downright comical (thanks to my brother who thought it would be fun to wear the rubber trough-like bib around the store). It was also, in many ways, unnecessary. The stimulating soft blocks picked out to entice baby’s brain development? Never played with. The Boppy “tummy time” pillow. The kid hated, I mean hated, it. The super stylish rock ‘n roll diaper bad that I fell in love with, that my mom dutifully paid $60 for? Used once or twice. Turns out I’m not even a diaper bag kind of girl. The truth is, people could have picked out a bathtub, some onesies, a couple of crib sheets, maybe even a swing, without my opinion before hand–and they would have been just fine.
Overall, we didn’t do too bad at keeping our registry reasonable. The first books that we had purchased upon finding out we were expecting were not What to Expect, but Baby Bargains and the Consumer Reports Best Baby Products. We were ruthless about finding out which baby products were good buys and which products weren’t. We learned that walkers were bad, which cribs were the best best for the price, and that it really didn’t matter which car seat you picked in terms of safety and that travel systems weren’t as great a deal as they seemed. Both of those books helped us narrow down our own list before we arrived at said baby store, where the helpful staff will hand you a checklist of the must-haves for the first year. Under strollers, we were told that we should register for a travel system, a mid-size, a full-size, a jogging, and a light-weight stroller.
We were only having one baby. Four strollers seems a bit ridiculous.
The impulse to buy big for baby isn’t a new one, but the extent to which Americans buy is. In her recent book Parenting, Inc. Pamela Paul uncovers the way that the parenting industry has used parental anxiety to transform an entire segment of the market into a multi-billion dollar industry. We don’t raise children any more; we parent. “The anxiety of underspending has turned us into parenting gear-heads,” she writes. Ever ready to purchase the perfect equipment to outfit our babies. From $800 strollers to exclusive baby clubs in New York City, Paul uncovers just how deeply parenting has become big business. She carefully dissects the ways that we have been sold toys that don’t make our children smarter, gadgets that don’t make our life easier, and classes that do not produce more advanced children.
What she says is simply this: we all want the best for our children, but it’s that very desire that is exploited in the marketing of these products, services, and lifestyles. Rather than placing the blame on parents for indulging in the consumer frenzy, Paul’s book exposes the fiction behind so many of the claims of these so-called wonder products. Smartly written and humorous at times, it’s not a book that indicts parents; it’s a book that helps parents understand what they are really being sold–a feeling of well-being rather than the well-being itself.
As such, it’s a book that should be required reading for every soon-to-be or new mom and dad out there. I sure wish I had the opportunity to read it before wielding that scanner. Maybe I would have thought twice about the designer diaper bag and the stroller that “everyone in New York” uses. Ok, maybe not about the stroller–I love that thing.
by Lisa D.
Photo graciously provided by wester, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved