I had the opportunity to take a look at Pamela Paul's new book, Parenting, Inc.: How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers — and What It Means for Our Children. Paul tackles the ever-rising cost of parenting and how moms and dads get sold on the idea that we MUST buy all sorts of things for our baby (like diaper wipe warmers and nursery video surveillance). Worst of all, she suggests that this buy, buy, buy, more, more, more culture is bad for our kids.
When I finished the first chapter, "Gearing Up," which exhaustively details all of the products and services parents purchase, I thought to myself, "Well, this is obvious enough. Of course babies don't need all of these things. What kind of idiot parents fall for the idea that you actually need of of this stuff?"
Then I thought about my own Babies-R-Us registry (largely fulfilled), my baby sign language book, and my two-car garage that barely fits our one car because of the baby clothes (over twenty bins organized by boy/girl and size), beautiful (but useless) wicker bassinet, bouncey seat, baby bathtub, exersaucer, and training potty that I store in there. And then I thought about my stroller collection . . . and that is when I concluded that I am an one of those dumb parents.
As evidence of my idiocy, I am going to share my stroller saga (if my husband actually read this blog, right now he would be saying, "Oh my God, she is NOT going to write about this."). Here I go. When I was pregnant with my daughter in 2004, I had no idea what baby stuff I needed. So I ended up registering for this monstrosity of a buggy from Peg Perego. It was huge. I could never figure out how to really maneuver it so I never used it. Someone also gave me a cheap little umbrella stroller which worked better -- but then it broke. By this time, I had baby number two on the way (and this is where things got out of hand). I purchased a new McClaren Volo umbrella stroller (love it, still use it). I also purchased a McClaren Easy Traveller for my infant car seat to snap into. Then I also bought a McClaren Twin Techno double stroller for when I was out and about with both of my little ones (just used it this morning, don't know what I would do without it).
That's right. I bought three strollers in one day -- which brought me to a total of five strollers in under two years (when you count the broken umbrella stroller and the Peg Perego which I gave away to some unsuspecting person). I mean, it is down-right silly.
I think that my stroller saga really illustrates one of the book's best points: the whole psychology of buying things for your kids is complicated. Companies market to parents in savvy ways. New parents are fearful because they have no idea what they are doing -- making them susceptible to every suggestion. Throw in the crazy love that you feel for the new little creature in your house, and it is no wonder that you will buy just about anything that someone tells you your baby needs (at least, I will).
Paul makes some good points about why parents overpurchase for our babes and how that translates into some potentially negative consequences for our spoiled tykes. Do I have too much baby stuff? Absolutely. Are my kids happy, healthy, and loved? You bet they are. But I am certainly not adding this to my ever-growing list of parenting-related things to feel guilty about.