With my impending parenthood coming (soonish), I decided to do the traditional first time parent thing; read a book. Did I read a “What to Expect” book? Dr. Spock? An adoption book? Well, no. I do plan on plowing through the “What to Expect” book soon, I have Brain Rules for Baby and the adoption story “Baby, We Were Meant For Each Other” in the queue at home. The first book I finished was “Parenting, Inc.” It combines my new interest (parenting) and a current one (economics, and really, who doesn’t love economics….hello? Anyone?)
It was written in 2008 by Pamela Paul, author of Pornified and The Starter Marriage. She is following a slightly modified version of the schoolyard rhyme, First comes porn, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the $800 carriage.
She explores the baby market, er baby stuff market. It’s an exploding market, for various reasons. There’s the celebrity who makes the $800 stroller fashionable. Parents are older, and have more expendable money. (I’ll be a first time parent at 32, my parents were 22). The biggest factors, I believe, are guilt and fear. Guilt that I’m working and can’t be there constantly. Fear that my child will fall behind. Guilt that I can afford nicer things, but went the cheaper route. Fear that I do something wrong and scar the child for life.
Here’s the crazy part. This book tracks all the expensive, crazy, sometime harmful things that parents do, and really, these are educated, well-off parents who want the BEST for their children. It’s littered with the unnecessary things we do for our kids, and they come from the parents that care about their kids. If the best intentioned parents can do so many crazy/stupid things, what kind of damage can those parents who are not invested in their children inflict?
There are so many things that do the opposite of what they intend. Teaching a child sign language gets them to communicate with you sooner, but delays speech because they can already communicate in a different way. Stove knob protectors prevent the stove from being turned on at home, yet teach that playing with the stove knobs has no consequence, which is a problem at Grandma’s. “Smart” toys teach you that squeezing a paw makes a noise, but only that. “Dumb” toys, like a stuffed animals have infinite possibilities, and kids grow tired of “smart” toys faster than “dumb” toys.
So much of the things we buy for baby, we really buy for us. Baby doesn’t care about the Noah’s Ark prints, the stroller style, or the Twins onesie. Baby cares about you, food, sleep and a clean diaper. It matters not that that diaper is denim printed, only that its not wet. (Those commercials drive me nuts…do we really want to sexify a baby?)
Reading it, I kept thinking to myself, “Not me. I’m way too smart to fall into these traps.” I don’t think so. Like you read earlier, I have a baby brain book. We have Noah’s ark prints on the wall. Our stroller design was carefully selected (ok, so it has the same name as our dog). We’ll probably buy some “smart” toys, and probably make a few mistakes along the way. So what?
There’s a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox named Daisuke Matsuzaka. He’s famous for picking at the edges, meaning he’s always trying to throw the perfect pitch, just at the edge of the plate. You can’t be perfect all the time. As a consequence, he is either pulled after 5 innings (as opposed to the ideal 7) because his pitch count is terribly high, or he tires and lets one drift over the center that gets hit for a home run.
If we try to be the perfect parents, we’ll either tire ourselves out, or we’ll screw something up badly on accident. What we need to understand is that we don’t need to make the perfect pitch every time, just make sure we put forth a good effort and (important) back ourselves up with great fielders (friends and family) that will scoop up anything the kid gets past us.
Interesting tidbit: People in larger cities have multiple kids as a STATUS SYMBOL. (Look at me! I can afford a five bedroom place for my three kids).
I enjoyed the book, but there was a lot of focus on metropolitan parents (I assume NY) with their fancy strollers, classes and shopping centers/daycare centers (CitiBabies), which didn’t really apply to me, other than to trigger your innate feeling that money makes people go crazy.
Next up in my book queue is Brain Rules for Baby. It’s off to a good start. He told the story of a couple who were tapping Morse code to their baby in utero.