Buy, Buy, Baby, Buy, Buy


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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 www.apartmenttherapy.com, 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?


9 replies
  1. Erica
    Erica says:

    I moved to a new church position one month before my daughter was born. An extremely socially isolating way to start out in a community. So, we have consigned ourselves to one “baby class” as a way to meet people-not-from-church (this still has not born fruit in the making friends department).
    And, in spite of decided not to buy several “necessary” baby products (no swing, no exersaucer, no baby gates) and using as much used stuff as possible, in spite of looking askance at people with bugaboos, we DO have a Phil & Teds. And it’s our favorite thing.
    As the minister for kids at my church, I wish so much that we had more formal ways for parents of the 3s and lower to connect. I agree–church is the social network for many of these people, and our church does OK, but could do better. But with two years of thinking and talking and trying to figure it out, I can’t quite find the right pieces of the puzzle: do it during the day and you exclude working parents; most churches focus on moms…how do we include dads; how to make it intergenerational so that people connect with older folks who can be good parenting mentors; how to schedule things at th time of day when the critical mass of kids are not napping…
    And then, for pastor-parents-of-infants, there’s the further thing that we need a social network beyond church. So where do we go?

    Reply
  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    Thanks for your article. I am a parent of a just-turned-one-year-old and associate pastor in my congregation. I am far from both parents and in-laws and have many times been very grateful that I am part of a church community and wondered how every one else does it. It was wonderful to be pregnant while in ministry and to hear the many stories of women’s pregnancies, births and labors.
    There are many here who not only care but they share! In fact a mom in our congregation just organized a kids’ stuff swap for all the families with young children. Great for those of us who are trying to opt out of the buy-more culture.
    That said, I have not felt very connected to the other parents with children similar to my daughter’s age. But I wonder if this is because regardless of our shared experience of parenthood, I’m still ‘pastor’. This is a barrier to many relationships in the church both for pastor and church member, I think.
    Yet, I have had the same struggles as Erica with trying to connect outside my congregation; I took similar measures in a parent group with similar results. I keep plugging away at it though. I find that even having superficial interactions with people unrelated to church work and relationships to be refreshing, even for an introvert like me.
    A blessing on all you parent pastors!

    Reply
  3. Jennifer C
    Jennifer C says:

    What great questions, Sarah–they are ones I ask myself a lot. I have to confess that, recently, in a weak (and desperate) moment, my spouse and I posted a listing on craigslist asking for other progressive Christian parents who wanted to get together for support and fellowship. After the responses of “oh, kinky!” We heard, “join a progressive church, dummy!” So we haven’t been too successful in finding a like-minded parenting community. As for creating that community in my parish, I’m thinking about offering a book discussion on a parenting-and-faith book (an idea I’ve borrowed from First Presbyterian, New Haven). We are in the very early stages of building a ministry to families and I understand that community is key, but where to go from there?

    Reply
  4. Katherine
    Katherine says:

    I’m currently trying to connect with other parents through Meetup.com’s playdate groups. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I’m not going to have local friends with babies who are also pastors/ progressive Christians (that’s why internet friends like dear Erica and co. are so important to me right now!). It is lonely, especially thousands of miles away from family.
    We have WAY too much baby stuff, though most of it came to us by way of gifts and hand-me-downs. I would be at a complete loss without the Boppy, and the stroller frame thingy we can pop our car seat into. And, hello, the car seat is probably the most important gadget of all!

    Reply
  5. Alex
    Alex says:

    Baby #3 has meant much less baby accoutrements. The best baby item in the world? A good washing machine! Seriously — buy the best washing machine you can possibly afford.
    I specifically took my current call looking at the social situation for young families. I can easily list 12 couples in the church who are friends and are willing to help with my kids.
    All that being said — all the issues of finding and keeping friends once you are a pastor become even more complicated once you have little ones.
    Good article!

    Reply
  6. mary allison
    mary allison says:

    thanks so much for the article, sarah.
    i am a child of the church. those who stood up at my baptism and professed that they would raise me in the faith did just that. i still look back on my time in such a vibrant, kid-friendly community with such gratitude, and i want this experience for my little boy (21 months).
    my husband and i are raising our son in the same church that raised me. i cannot wait until he is old enough for sunday school, worship, famliy camp, sports leagues, bible school, etc. but right now, he is too young for virtually everything that happens at church. we drop him off in the nursery when we arrive, and we pick him up there on the way out.
    my husband and i long for time spent together with our child at church. even many of the products we buy for our son reflect our longing to share experiences with him. (his new “water table,” for example, has brought us all hours of splashing around together in the back yard.)
    we’ve taken our son to a little music class in our neighborhood since he was 5 months old. i can’t say that i’ve made any new best friends there, though i’m always glad to see the other moms and kids. mostly, i’m thrilled to participate with my son as he discovers music and rhythm, and how to move his little body.
    the best part of parenthood, for me, is experiencing the wonder of the world all over again as my son takes it all in for the first time. for this reason, it is not very satisfying to be apart from my kid while i’m at church. our faith community (and i don’t think we’re alone) excells at nurturing tiny babies who sleep through worship while they are passed from one set of loving arms to another. we also do well with school-aged children, who are old enough to follow directions. but we don’t offer much in the way of community and shared experience for those who are 6 months to 3 years old. this leaves kids in these in-between years and their parents to mind a very dissapointing gap… and to welcome the neighborhood music class!

    Reply
  7. Sarah G.
    Sarah G. says:

    Great comments, everyone. Just a note to say that a couple of days after I posted this article, I went with friends to shop for a stroller at a store called. . .Buy Buy Baby! Who knew there was actually a store called that?!

    Reply
  8. Beverly
    Beverly says:

    My sister sewed a sling for me when our son was born. I wore him in it to my ordination and it matched my “wedding and funeral dress” from Expressiva.com. Though our house is cluttered with more plastic toys than our now-five-year-old can count, we have opted (and finances have dictated) for the simpler route. We used cloth diapers from Motherease 98% of the time, just dumping them in the washer and letting them go; we had an Arm’s Reach co-sleeper attached to our bed until our boy was three. A dear friend in Berlin mailed us a lambskin. That was about it. Even so, I recognize that, if money were no object, I’d buy just about everything recommended by Mothering magazine. Oh dear.
    The sling, though, was really my favorite thing to use with Henry. I carried him in it for hours and hours almost daily till he was three. A good thing for both of us.

    Reply
  9. mary g
    mary g says:

    i am in full agreement about the baby sling. The peanut shell that i bought has been the best thing we’ve spent money on so far. my daughter is 3 months old (today!) and I wear her in the office, walking the dog, doing laundry – you name it. She loves it.
    both my husband and i are pastors so she spends most of her time in the office with one of us. During my pregnancy i was very worried about how we would both work and take care of her (typical mom guilt) but it has worked out quite well. I have a crib and some toys in my office and someone is always willing to hold her if i have a meeting or something needs to be done. Exposing her to so many people and so much love at such an early age is a benefit that i did not count on.
    that said, i do not have any mommy friends. they all either have older children or none at all. it was hard enough finding peers before this, now as woman, pastor, mommy i’m feeling pretty isolated. And my daughter is still too young for most of the opportunities offered in my area.
    i’m feeling lost in suburbia – but glad i stumbled onto this group!

    Reply

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