Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Buying Baby Happiness

I must have a lot of spare time lately, because I have been reading like a fool for the past two months. Unfortunately, I have not been using this spare time to post on this blog, but I did stumble across the perfect blog topic the other day in the course of reading. A friend of mine lent me a copy of Parenting, Inc. by Pamela Paul - a quick read that's worth a flip-through for any parent with the perception of excess time.

The subtitle of the book says it all: 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.

I found the topic of this book particularly interesting as someone who has always wanted a "lot" of children (defined by me as 4, defined by everyone else I know as more than 2). I have always been surprised by the number of our friends and acquaintances that were shocked to hear that we wanted more than 2 kids - most of them citing financial reasons as their main rationale for stopping at 2. This surprised me mainly because the bulk of them are solidly upper middle class (and still upwardly mobile).

It never occurred to me to stop having kids because they were too expensive. I figured that as long as we could provide for basic needs and a few luxury extras like the annual summer vacation, an occasional pair of the "right" jeans, and dance or karate lessons all around, we were golden. Kids have been sharing rooms and wearing hand-me-downs since the beginning of time - surely it isn't child abuse to expect the same of my kids? When I wanted a car at age 16, my parents sent me to work as a lifeguard at the local pool to earn the privilege. When it was time to go to college, I chose the state school (Hook 'Em Horns!) over the private school I wanted to attend and got accepted to (Go Irish!), mainly because it was about $23,000 a year cheaper. And I turned out OK, right?

But it turns out that what's good for the goose and the gander is not necessarily good for their gosling in this day and age. Parenting, Inc. explores why our generation is increasingly feeling like we can't afford children. Because we are constantly assaulted by advertising for products that we we need in order to raise our children to be not only successful, but competitive with the other overachievers of their generation that are being groomed as we speak. The book covers so many products, services, and classes available for tiny tots that I ended up skimming half of the book because my senses felt assaulted by all the overstimulation. Imagine how our three month olds feel when we toss them into a steady stream of Gymboree, Music Classes, Baby Einstein DVD's and Tiny Love Mobiles.

The book makes a valid point - that by raising a generation of children that are constantly stimulated by toys and activities and are accustomed to being the center of attention, we are setting them up to be a generation of kids that care about having things instead of relationships. In addition, we are denying them of the opportunity to develop any real creativity or problem-solving skills. Which, in turn, will result in children that are are restless and unhappy because they are so dependent on instant gratification. So in the quest to keep our children happy, we are, effectively, robbing them of the ability to create their own happiness. It's worth spending some time thinking about before you totally write off the idea of that third kid...