Post Author: Sarah Kinney Gaventa
I am not yet a mother, but my neighbors are. Through immersion in their worlds, I have come to learn of the vital importance of the binkie, the swing, the vibrating chair, the Miracle Blanket, Blabla knit dolls, and of course the Boppy. I already loved the decorating and lifestyle website Apartment Therapy, but because of all the babies surrounding me, I found myself trolling on their nursery pages, www.ohdeedoh.com, more and more.
I did not realize how far my immersion had gone, though, until one day we were on a walk and ran into another neighbor with a baby in a stroller. This stroller was gorgeous: red and black, lean and swift. The stroller also looked familiar to me. I found myself asking this neighbor, “Is that a Phil and Ted stroller ?!?” It was. My trolling on www.ohdeedoh.com had led to met to Phil and Ted’s website, where I had schooled myself on the wide variety of strollers and other infant products they sell. My friends, if I, newly married and childless, can be so affected by infant marketing that I can identify the new hip stroller on sight, how is such marketing affecting us as a country?
I ordered Pamela Paul’s Parenting, Inc. to find out.
Ms. Paul, author of Pornified and The Starter Marriage, examines every level of marketing. She describes how companies such as Bugaboo realized they could get away with charging $800 for a stroller, when the previous threshold had been $300. She examines how parents have been fleeced into believing their babies need to take classes, anything from sign language to music, so that they will be “smart enough.” We learn that there are zero studies showing that videos marketed to babies are educational-in fact, pediatricians recommend that babies watch no television until they are two years old. We also learn that toys with lots of bells and whistles, again marketed as making your baby smarter, actually inhibit the capacity of children to learn how to interact with their environment and be creative.
The book is a fascinating analysis of our current culture. Being a new parent herself, Ms. Paul has a great sense of both the absurdity of our current environment and also great sympathy for the struggles of parents to make good choices for their children. (While much of the book has a sarcastic tone, the chapter about parents buying the advice of sleep experts is written with utter empathy.) Ms. Paul is able to articulate how we live in a world where parents are older, have more financial resources, but have fewer social resources.
Many modern parents did not have many younger siblings to care for and many did not babysit, so basic skills of taking care of a baby are lost on them. Ms. Paul confessed that she herself had not held an infant until her 30s. Additionally, so many of us live far from our parents, that when we do have children, they are not readily available for advice and help. The final chapters of the book are about how popular classes and experts have become for young families who do not have the social networks that historically have helped with parenting issues.
For me, as a priest, these were the most compelling chapters. Churches are one of the few remaining places of deep social connection in our culture. I am intrigued and wonder how we can help new parents form these connections, seek advice from seasoned parents, and feel less isolated as they embark on the journey of parenting.
Where did you find connection and advice? What services are you glad you paid for and which do you regret? And, ‘fess up, what is your favorite baby product?
The Rev. Sarah Kinney Gaventa is the associate rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Greenwood, Virginia. She loves other people's children. (And giving them back when they get feisty.)
Image by: zhao tian
Used with permission