Over the past few weeks, I have been trying to read Parenting, Inc. by Pamela Paul. I say “trying”, because it’s virtually impossible during the day to find time to read it and I am not always coherent enough at the end of the day to put my mind to it. Additionally, the contents infuriate and frustrate me- but not because I disagree. On the contrary, I completely agree but find it so difficult to wade against the masses in my belief that all this new stuff for parents is not progress! Ms. Paul’s subtitle 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.” You can probably guess that she too believes that a lot of the stuff that we are now sold as parents is unnecessary and perhaps even harmful.
Ms. Paul talks about the outrageous sums that all the “gear” costs and discusses the toys and so-called educational programs and gadgets we are told we need in order to ensure our children get the best start in life. She has chapters on all of the “edutainment” that we are guilted into buying for our children. She has a chapter about the classes we simply MUST take our children to such as music class. It’s not enough, apparently, to sing and dance in the living room all the while banging pots with spoons, we must haul our kids off to a $350 half-hour class taught by a professional- lest they never ever enjoy music in their lives- EVER!
She discusses how many of the normal phases, stages and quirks of children have been problematized such that a whole cadre of professionals can rescue you and your child. Child won’t sleep through the night? Call a sleep coach! Your four year old is sucking his thumb? Call the Thumb Lady! Seriously????? A woman in Illinois makes a very good living by charging $100 an hour to help your child stop sucking his or her thumb. There are even people who will baby-proof your home!!!! Maybe I am too lackadaisical about safety, but we seemed to be able to manage that on our own. Knives are out of reach? Check. Poisons out of the house? Definitely. Stairs blocked? Yup! Done. Oh… and WATCH the baby…that’s the best method of baby proofing ever.
Essentially, the premises of the book distill down to a few things:
1. Parenthood is good business
2. Parents are suckers for guilt and worry
3. The world is a stuff-driven madhouse and all that stuff is making our kids less imaginative and parents (and kids) more stressed
In her chapter on toys, Ms. Paul writes:
“In 2006, the Alliance for Childhood, an advocacy group, conducted a study of kindergarten teachers in Atlanta. The goal was to investigate the apparent disappearance of imagination from early childhood classrooms. Kindergarten teachers described how when they gave children time for free play, the children no longer knew what to do. They had no ideas of their own, the teacher complained. Joan Almon, a coordinator for the Alliance, believes that in an era of microchip toys, children’s creativity atrophies. “The imagination is like an internal muscle that needs to be exercised,” she said. With an overreliance on structured activities and overly predictable play, children are losing a sense of adventurousness and risk-taking. The world in which sales of educational toys are expected to hit $5.5 billion by 2010 is one that, for the children, is becoming increasingly restrictive, rigidly contained and defined by consumption.”
And this was before the iPad and iPhone… I wonder what it’s like now???
Bottom line for me? We don’t need the stuff. An $800 stroller is outrageous and walking is better. It’s not advantageous to the boys or me to have them sitting with the newest Leap Frog educational gadget or structured classes. In fact, it seems to be the opposite. Let them play with boxes, sticks and rocks. Let them climb trees and simply play alone.
I agree with Ms. Paul. She confesses that she gets sucked in… and I have at times too. I’m not immune to the billion dollar industry and those sneaky advertisers. However, one of the great things about this year of regrooving has been an even greater awakening in me that less is more and less is best; at least for me and the boys.