Someone is finally saying what so many parents think but rarely blurt out loud. When did parenting get so expensive and why do our kids need all of this stuff? I'm talking about the luxury strollers and designer layettes that ultimately give way to $100 toddler jeans, homemade baby food delivery services, parenting coaches and preschool scouts.
I remember making several trips to Babies R Us and buy buy Baby when I was pregnant with my twins and was nearly brought to tears by the infinite choices of strollers, cribs, car seats, high chairs, and play pens. And that was just the gear. Picking out the cutest nursery decor for a boy and a girl, not to mention stocking up on wipes, diapers, lotion and gallons of Dreft detergent was a whole other ordeal. Of course, there was the expense to consider. But what weighed on me, in a way I never expected was what the purchases would say about me as a mother. If my husband and I opted for something less posh or a generic brand, were we depriving the babies or just being practical (even on our registry)? Somehow reason just flew out the window the day we got pregnant.
It was an experience shared by fellow 37-year-old mom of two, Pamela Paul, who told me in a recent interview that her first trip to a baby superstore was downright frightening. "I kept thinking, what is all this stuff? I didn't know the differences between nipples or whether I needed nursing clothes...I felt like I had entered some kind of cult," she says.
In her 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, journalist Paul draws on her own parenting journey as she examines this new phenomenon. She calls it, "the anxiety of underspending," and attributes its rise to savvy marketers capitalizing on the insecurities of new parents coupled with a celebrity-mad media which breathlessly catalogues every new toy or outfit sported by Suri or Shiloh.
"People are more worried about spending too little instead of spending too much...They worry 'if I don't get this mobile for my 4-month-old, is he going to fall behind?," she says.
In the book, the Time magazine contributor reports on what psychologists and educators have to say about some of today's "must-haves," as she pulls back the curtain on the baby business and the estimated $1.7 trillion "mom market." She offers some peace of mind and perspective to those of us dealing with both the sticker shock and the pressure to buy, buy, buy (which, by the way only seems to grow as fast as our babies do.)
"I think you can never underestimate what a parent will buy in a moment of desperation if the right buttons are pushed," she explains, referring to her own set of impulse buys gathering dust and cluttering corners of her home.
Anyone who is a parent knows exactly what she means. Babies don't come with a set of instructions. Grandma doesn't always live close by or is up to date on all of the latest safety gadgets and smart toys. Often, we newbies are grasping in the dark (literally, if you have a baby who won't sleep through the night). Plus, we want to give our children everything they will need to succeed later in life. But as Paul aptly describes, today it can be tough to distinguish between necessities and frivolous extras.
The key she says is remembering to pause before you buy and to really examine why you are plunking down that credit card...or hiring that potty training coach.
"You have to think, 'What is this about?' We are so invested in the kids - and that is a good thing. But our hopes and desires often get translated into purchasing," she says.
Reading Parenting, Inc. made me feel so much better about some of the decisions I've made since joining the club. I could let go of some of the guilt around purchases made and purchases skipped. I realized my angst is not so unique. Being a parent is a huge responsibility and it's comforting to learn that so many of us are struggling with the same spending decisions. What's liberating is the message that we really do know what is best for our kids. We just need to remember to tune out the marketing hype and tune into our instincts.
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