New Parenthood Without Consumerism

Babies have simple needs

Any day now I will be changed in one of the most dramatic ways a person can be; changed by the birth of my first child. While we were at our midwife’s clinic yesterday I found myself flipping through a copy of Pregnancy magazine.

While it is fair to say this periodical is not in my typical reading repertoire, I did see an article that caught my steady-state-oriented mind, “How many activity mats does a baby really need?” by Pamela Paul. In a magazine with pages of ads and articles mostly written about what to buy, it was relieving to see an attempt to tell you not to buy.

Preparing for your first child is a feat in anxiety, a voyage into the unknown. Our growth-based society is constantly offering us solutions in the form of products to buy. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for the initial reaction to be to buy as much stuff as possible to “help” you with this new child. For those of us already in the steady stater lifestyle consuming more for the sake of consumptive therapy is ulterior to our beliefs.

I admit that my first reaction upon hearing we were having a child (he was a surprise, though a welcomed one) was to immediately look up what I needed to do to prepare. I already owned a belief that raising a child does not require so many objects, just patience, love, and a willingness to learn: that kid will teach me what he needs quicker than any book or class. However, many parents fall into the trap of buying all this “stuff” that their baby will “need” to satiate the desire to feel prepared, but Pamala Paul notes:

“Here’s the truth about shopping for a new baby: It’s almost impossible to know what you’ll need because you haven’t met him yet. Buy a bouncy seat and he’ll inevitably prefer the swing. Stock up on the latest BPA-free pacifiers only to find that your baby spits out passies…”

Pamala acknowledges that “we live in a culture that trains us to shop” and we would do our families a better service by paying off debts and cutting back during an economic crisis. Even if we were in the midst of better economic times she says, “there is still no need for us to spend indiscriminately on our littlest ones during their first few years.” The truth: kids have simple needs, consisting mostly of interacting with their parents. The “stuff” is a transient solution that creates more waste and often overstimlates a young one.

The article was a good brush with something we all know deep down: consumerism doesn’t solve any problems. The author goes on to outline the importance of being aware of why you are considering buying something – an important skill of a conscious consumer. Being aware of your motives are the first steps of actually solving a problem. Continue with “Do I really need this?” “Who is it really for?”

I hope that articles like this one are brought on not only by hard economic times, but by a growing trend in current and coming generations away from ravenous consumerism and towards more mindful purchasing habits.

For more information on raising a child and being a¬†conscious consumer, the New American Dream has some resources¬†and a section devoted to Kids & Commercialism. I would recommend parents, parents-to-be, and anyone else to read their booklet “Tips for Parenting in a Commercial Culture.”