4.23.2008

Parenting, Inc.: Reverting to Simpler Times

Our generation is such a sensory generation. We don't buy to survive, like perhaps our parents' or grandparents' generations. We are easily marketed to and often tend to buy things which make us feel good.

This, of course, transpires to what we buy for our children. Baby products have become a $240 million industry with product names like Bugaboo, Svan, and Stokke replacing household favorites like Evenflo, Graco and Fisher Price. Where we used to be wary of "new" companies in the baby world, now we're more excited about it than ever. Baby products and classes are no longer about what our kids like and enjoy, but what makes us feel good when they play with the toys or take the class.

I recently read Pamela Paul's new book Parenting, Inc. This insightful book talks about many of the effects of the crazy expensive organized classes for babies, high-priced baby gear and clothes, and "educational" toys and DVDs all for our precious little ones. And these are just some of the topics. Pamela provides an eye-opening account, as well as a rather lengthy list, of all the baby things we have bought into over the past five or so years. [Guilt!] My son was born right around when things really started to take off. I remember enviously eyeing the few people in town who had the first Bugaboos (because they were so cool) and thought, 'Who would pay $800 for a stroller?' If I could've, I would've.

I'm going to just address a few things that hit a chord with me. Pamela devotes a whole chapter to classes, which I find interesting. My son took his first music class when he was five months old. I remember signing him up and being so excited about doing the "mom thing" with other moms. Truth be told, he hated every minute of it. And he wasn't the only one. All the kids under age 2 in the class seemed less than thrilled with being there and would have rather just wandered around the room instead of being expected to sit and listen to the music. We never took another "organized" class after than until my son was 3. I was most relieved to read in Parenting, Inc. that my children were the norm.

"We thrust our babies into this kind of commotion, yet are afraid to just let our kids do their own thing at home, in a safe and nurturing environment. We have allowed ourselves to be robbed of confidence as parents and to deprive ourselves of one of our most ordinary and--often quite easy--roles."


While Pamela doesn't spend the book preaching about simplifying, she does allude to the simple life of yesterday. It's hard for parents to screen out messages we receive on what is good for our kids. For example, I absolutely hate the Leap Frog toys. They "market" these as educational toys, but I have yet to see one kid who actually is learning any more from these noisy toys, what a book, conversation or quieter game wouldn't teach.

And here's the problem:

"What they don't screen out can actually make things worse. Once baby becomes accustomed to overprocessed toys, spontaneously lighting up and emitting noises, toys that "do nothing" seem boring by comparison. The child never learns that he's the one who's supposed to provide the action.


This is why children have trouble making their own fun these days and lacking the ability to pretend and make believe. It's not just about TV or video games, it starts as early as infanthood. Hey, don't get my wrong, my kids lived in the Fisher Price Ocean Wonders Bouncy seat. I remember my husband calling it the ADD chair. Nothing like starting them out at three months addicted to noise and lights. Don't I feel bad now? Perhaps there's something to the Svan bouncy seat.

Then, of course, I loved reading the commentary on TV in the Let Us Edutain You chapter. As someone who doesn't have TV in her home, I was happy to read I'm not that out there for skipping this media all together. I was a bit floored to read the excerpt about Baby Einstein's Day at the Farm--which was one of my son's favorites. "In a twenty-second segment, the scene changes six times. It's about the most wearily day on a farm imaginable." Unfortunately, as a Baby Bunching mom, something had to give in those early years of tending to two babies.

So what's a mom to do? Well, Pamela's book doesn't really give you the direct answer. I think any thinking mom would know what to do. Do your research about what products you do buy for your kids, the classes you take, the things you do "for your kids," and possibly revert back to the way things used to be done. Perhaps when grandma starts out with "in my day . . . ", she was right. Maybe babies sleeping in dresser drawers really was a better option to cribs with lights, music and vibrations.

As Pamela suggests, we are smart shoppers and we have the internet at our disposal. We should use it! Just because there are 25 potty seats on the market, some that even play music and make flushing sound (note: I would buy a potty seat that potty trained my kid!) doesn't mean we need to own them all. I learned a very important lesson from the worst potty seat out there. Just because it looks like a good idea, doesn't mean it is. Luckily, I was only out $15, but I didn't do my research, didn't ask around and as a result had a stupid potty seat neither kid would sit on for 2 years in my house. I found out when I tried to pass it along to someone else, every review on Amazon was a terrible one.

No one needs an $800 stroller or a Soothing Center. If you have the money for it and you love it, then I guess that's your call. If the baby classes out there are for you, then take a few now and then to expose your kids to new environments and you new friends. But in the end, know you're a target for a $221 million a year industry.

Definitely a recommended book for all moms and moms-to-be of young children.

1 comment:

lindsey said...

Sounds interesting. I sometimes feel torn between wanting something that I think is neat for my kid and other times where I feel I am a bit "simpler" than other parents. Thanks for the recommendation!