The other night, Jeremy and I were at a social gathering whose guests mainly consisted of students, faculty, and staff of the
“So, what extracurriculars have you enrolled your daughter in?”
I could tell the question she was trying to ask was something more like “so, do you do stuff with your daughter?” So I told her that we go to Storytime at the library, a church playgroup, and…actually, that’s it, as far as regular, standing activities go.
The funny thing is, I just finished reading 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, which addresses, in part, this very topic. (It does not, however, get into the titular diaper wipe warmer, which is too bad, because really, what is up with those??)
In many ways, Pamela Paul’s book reminded me of Muffy Mead-Ferro’s Confessions of a Slacker Mom, though it is considerably more scholarly and fleshed out. Don’t let “scholarly” scare you, though. The author does cite a lot of research and statistics, and she conducted extensive interviews with people across the parenting and baby business spectrum, but the book reads more like an interesting article from Time Magazine than one from The Economist.
Parenting, Inc. had the strange effect of making me feel guilty about not enrolling my child in every potential brain- or skills-boosting class out there, and then reminding me of my own reasons why I didn’t do so in the first place. Those reasons (both mine and those she cites) include the potential for overscheduling, cost, unsubstantiated hype about supposed benefits, activities that can be replicated for free at home/church/the park, too-rigid (or not rigid enough) class structure, and the age-inappropriate focus of some classes/activities.
I say I felt guilty at first because I had no idea there was such a thing as Little Maestros until this book told me that moms enrolled their three-month-olds in the program.
And then, of course, I took a step back and realized that I didn’t enroll Miriam in any classes at age 0.25 because…well, pick a reason. I’m sure many of you agree with me that at that age, such an extracurricular activity is just not necessary. If nothing else, there’s the old standby that I often fall back on: I didn’t have [whatever] when I was growing up, and I turned out just fine. Right?
Other topics in Parenting, Inc. include:
Toys. Don’t even get me started here. I am a toy minimalist, to begin with, and even when we buy toys, I try not to get anything over-branded, excessively battery-ified, or something that really only does one thing. There are exceptions, of course – I try not to be a Nazi about it – but good, classic, creativity-building toys like blocks, cars, trains, books, and balls are more my style.
I had to laugh at this particular passage (p85):
“While shopping recently at Planet Kids on
Also, why do toys today have to be so darn educational? Every toy on the shelves, it seems, is emblazoned with a list of its developmental benefits. Can I not just buy a bin of blocks? Must the blocks proclaim that they help with hand-eye coordination?
TV/Videos/DVDs. You already know my feelings about Baby Einstein. And I couldn’t help but feel justified when the author of the book called Ms. Aigner-Clark on her claim that the videos “expose little ones to the world around them and encourage parent-child interaction.” We put in a DVD for our kid so we don’t have to spend time with them, remember? And in fact, back in 1999, Baby Einstein admitted that, too (p129): the videos will “stimulate your baby in your absence, allowing you time to take a shower, make a phone call or do other brief chores baby-free.” Now that’s more like it.
Some of the guilt on this subject remains, though, since I often get my dictionary work done while Miriam is occupied watching
So obviously, I’m OK with my daughter watching “TV” (the author gives up – for good reason – trying to distinguish between TV, DVDs, etc., because the companies who produce programming blur the lines), as long as I’m not kidding myself that she’s going to become fluent in Chinese by doing so.
Baby Hud. OK, OK, the author doesn’t call it that in her book, but what other word for it is there when we’re talking about LED diaper-wetness monitors? Yes, babies and kids do require a lot of gear, more than our parents got by with, for sure. But we have to draw the line somewhere. I won’t say too much more on this topic because I know that if I make fun of [item] too much, I’ll get comments from people telling me how indispensable [item] was for them.
Well, maybe just one soapbox: snap-out infant carseats, complete with travel system monster strollers. And I’d better stop there.
This review is getting too long, so if you’ve found it interesting, go and read the book. Even if you don’t agree with everything the author says (I certainly didn’t, though it might sound like I did), it is a fascinating look into the world of modern parenting.
In fact, the only people who probably won’t enjoy this book are those who did buy an $800 stroller. Attention these people: this book makes fun of you.
Now I can happily return to my life of not buying hud toys or high-fashion clothing for my daughter – guilt-free.