A very proud F. holding her new cousin. Be still, my heart!
Sorry for the radio silence! I know I missed Frugal Friday, but I have a very good reason. My sister and her brand new baby(!) came to visit and I’ve pretty much been spending time with them and neglecting everything else around me (food, house, blog). BUT, my sister’s visit got me thinking about kids and money (plus it’s back to school month around here as well) so I’m devoting the next couple weeks to talking about how to manage kids and frugality. This week is focused primarily on kid “stuff”: what they need, where to get it, money-saving tricks. Next week is going to be focused primarily on keeping kids entertained.
But, today I’m going to talk a bit about the baby industrial complex. When B and I first got engaged, about a million years ago (ok, like…10 years ago? Maybe?), my roommates at the time celebrated by gifting me a very large stack of wedding magazines. I’d never planned a wedding before and, frankly, hadn’t given any thought to what type of wedding I’d want to have. Plus, I lean toward the introverted side of things, so having to entertain a huge group of people sounded horridly exhausting (note: I never got out of this mentality. I tried, multiple times, to convince my husband to elope. Multiple times.) The enormity of the wedding industrial complex was ridiculous (and definitely the topic of a future post). Favors? Dresses? Venues? Entertainment? DJ’s? The amount of money and things one apparently needed to get married was just ridiculous.
But you guys- it was nothing…NOTHING compared to the baby industrial complex. Somewhere along the line, having a child has been turned into an excuse for all-out consumption of all of the things. I was prepared for that. I remembered what the wedding was like. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the implied value statements that went along with the baby industrial complex. Not only did you need to have the latest and greatest of everything, but if you didn’t, you clearly didn’t want what was best for your baby. I was not prepared for the huge dose of mom guilt that accompanied every single purchase I did or did not make.
Want to make sure your baby is safe and doesn’t die in the middle of the night? Buy this sock that monitors their vitals? Want to make sure your baby never experiences a moment of discomfort? You have to have a wipe warmer. Want your baby to have the most comfortable swinging experience? Buy this swing with 1000 different speed settings. (note…the may not be the actual value props of these products…)
Buy new! Buy the best! Give your baby the best start in life. And what parent doesn’t want to do that? Despite my best intentions (and forehand knowledge!) I almost got swept away by the baby industrial complex. Almost. Until the day I had a breakdown in my office over a baby registry. A FREAKING BABY REGISTRY. I was trying to register prior to my shower and I was so overwhelmed by choices and research and recalls that I was legit having a panic attack in my office.
And i thought- enough. Enough. This is stressing me out, stressing my baby out and I. Am. Done. I took a deep breath, took a step back, and realized that I was spending way too much time equating stuff with love. And care. I was doing exactly what I had been trying to stop doing in every other part of my life. Buying more things wasn’t going to make my baby feel more loved. Hell, B. and I had tried and tried and tried to get pregnant, for years, before F. came along. She was loved beyond measure the moment I got a positive pregnancy test. I didn’t need to prove to her, or anyone, that I loved her more by buying her all of the stuff.
This is where I slammed on the brakes, hard, against the baby industrial complex. Buying more stuff never made me happy- why would owning more stuff automatically make my baby more happy? I closed out my online registry without registering for a single thing. I stopped buying baby magazines, stopped reading baby books and stopped listening to the opinions of other people. B. and I refocused on what we were already doing in every other area of lives- choosing simplicity, choosing function over style and choosing secondhand wherever possible.
And an amazing thing happened- I stopped caring. Not just about the stuff and the buying and the baby industrial complex. I just stopped giving a fuck about what other people expected of me as a mother. I’d already bucked the consumerist complex, it was the work of a minute to buck the rest along with it. I ate deli meat while pregnant, I drank a beer, I ate sushi (multiple times!), I breastfed in public, I switched to formula at six months, I took F. out without a hat on, I vaccinated, I used cloth diapers and I did it all because I wanted to. Because I truly did. not. care. about what anyone else thought I should be doing or buying or thinking. Because I knew in my heart that all F. really needed was a lot of love and affection (along with somewhere to sleep, a carseat and some clothing and food). The rest is just details and personal preference.
Bucking the baby industrial complex was, hands down, the most rewarding experience of my life and the benefits have been long-lasting. F. is happy and loved, and refocusing on what is most important to us has helped B. and I keep this whole parenthood adventure in perspective.