At Least I’m Not the Only One

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I was really excited to read an article in the New York Times this morning about parents in this new economy scaling back purchases for their babies, buying things secondhand or getting them for free when in the past they might have bought the top-of-the-line new products for each child.

Unfortunately it was an article in the fashion section, so it didn’t mention at all parents who might be crafting more for their kids rather than buying a bunch of toys and clothes, but it’s possible crafty parents aren’t any more or less crafty now than they ever were. I know I’d still be wanting to create as much for my kid-to-be as I do now no matter what the economic circumstances, and I know a onesie is by far less expensive than a handknit sweater.

But I like the idea that other parents are seeing the utter ridiculousness of a baby industry that tries to guilt parents and others around new babies into getting the best, brightest (noisy, plastic, Chinese, or expensive, heirloomy, European, depending on what your definition of best is) toys money can buy. They make you feel like you need all these educational toys (don’t even get me started on the DVDs) or your child will end up in the slow class, maybe permanently.

They tout safety features and construction methods that might not matter all that much, and green credentials that consumers have no way of verifying.

(I will admit that I’m a mom who spares little expense when it comes to safety — baby’s crib, car seat, playpen and high chair are all new for that reason. But that doesn’t mean some companies don’t go overboard when it comes to playing up the safety features of their usually more expensive products.)

The story shares the horrifying statistic that most kids get an average of 70 new toys a year. That’s more than one a week for those who didn’t get the educational toys at birth.

For one thing, I can’t imagine having that many toys in my house, from a space standpoint and a clutter/mental space standpoint. For another, no one kid needs that many toys. I have the fear that a lot of these toys are given so that kids can then play by themselves, when what they really need is interaction with a grownup (especially in the early months and years).

I’d rather give my child an hour of my time any day over a shiny new (or even a used, maybe even a handmade) toy if giving that toy meant I was buying that hour to get work done. I’m sure my opinion on that will change as the kidlet gets mobile, whiny and demanding of my time. Then I’ll be thrilled by anything (please not the television, though, anything but that!) that gets me a few moments peace.

But I’ve also decided that, while this little one is with me at home all day, I’m willing to be a less-good worker in favor of being a better mom. Go ahead, take away my feminist card if you want, but I really feel like it’s a big part of my job right now to provide a positive, stable, nurturing, loving environment that is the best it can be in terms of helping this little one to grow and develop into the amazing little girl, young woman and adult that she is sure to be.

As parents we only get one chance at that, and I’m lucky enough right now to be the position that, while I can’t (and don’t want to) quit working entirely, at the very least I can slow down for a few years and focus on what’s really important, both in my work life and in my home life.

That got a little off point, but the article (and this post) are both about the wider issue of turning away from such rampant consumerism and remembering what our kids, families and ourselves really need. And the things are such a small part of that.

A month or so ago I made a list of things I thought we needed, things that would be nice to have and things I wanted to craft before the baby arrived. The crafty list is the longest (also, painfully unrealistic). The list of actual needs was very small: a car seat, a crib, a changing table (though we could do without that, it’s a dresser, too), bedding, clothes, diapering supplies and bath supplies. I had a stroller on the list, too, but we’ll probably use soft carriers and slings in the beginning, anyway.

There were no toys on that list (though there are plenty on my crafting list). I know toys are stimulating and they do serve an important purpose, but so many generations of kids got buy just fine with crafted toys and cast-off stuff from mom’s sewing basket that they made into toys. I’d rather raise my child with more of those sorts of toys (and that kind of creativity) and less of the mass-produced stuff, expensive or not.

I don’t know if this trend among other parents will last. I hope it does. Our kids don’t need to be raised thinking that only the most expensive things will do and that they deserve a new toy (video, game, whatever) just because they want one. If we can raise our kids with more love and fewer things, that can only be to the good. That’s what I’m aiming for.

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