Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Could a down economy save parents from themselves?

I recently came across this review in the Brooklyn Rail about a book called 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. Hmm. It’s quite a title. A mouthful, really. And obviously meant for “those” parents who over-indulge their kids with excess that is so readily available in the baby products market. But, wait a minute…I have a diaper wipe warmer. Have I thrown my own wallet into the hyper-consumerism bonfire?

The book points out the ways in which marketers are essentially fear-mongers, snatching up parents-to-be and convincing them they need these (expensive) things to be a better parent. Because if you don’t use a sleep positioner with your infant who can’t even roll over yet, you are subjecting him to possible death. Huh? And you must purchase the motion detector to ensure constant breathing. What? Well, you do want your kid to be safe…DON’T YOU? What kind of parent are you?

This is of course also fueled by an alpha syndrome – the need to keep up with Mommy and Daddy Jones. A friend of mine recently announced that he and his wife decided to register for the Cadillac of strollers because “a $10 stroller is for a $10 baby.” I actually don’t know any babies that cost $10, but boy that would jibe so much more nicely with the current economic state. Actually, from what I’ve read, babies cost their parents about $20,000 in their first year of life. (How’s that for birth control?)

And why do babies cost so much? Exorbitant daycare costs aside, could we actually be doing this to ourselves? Am I a better mother if I spend $600 more on my stroller? Somebody is convincing us that, yes, the more money we spend, the better we parent, and the more likely our kids are to get into Harvard. Oh, so that’s how it happens!

The whole phenomenon is shocking and fascinating to me simultaneously as both a mom and a marketer. The marketer in me exclaims, “Genius!” The mom in me asks, “What kind of consumerism example am I setting for my kids? What kind of consumers will they be as parents one day?”

As our economy continues in a downward spiral, could our (albeit forced) shift towards conservative consumerism actually help us set better examples for our kids?

Perhaps I should buy the book and learn about the ways I’m doing it all wrong, buying too much, and … oh, right, I’ll buy something so that I’ll understand how to not buy things. Problem solved.

1 comment:

LO said...

Love your line of thinking here. I will refrain from comments about how kids grew up just fine in the olden days before diaper wipe warmers but I will note an observation from a few years ago.

I worked for a science museum that brought in expensive tech-y exhibits that kids loved to bang on in the name of education. But one weekend we did a science festival event for which special activities were low-tech, hands-on things like worm farms and making a "comet" out of dry ice and dirt and then watching it vaporize. Museum staff brought the projects to life enthusiastically explaining the concepts behind the hands-on activities.

Guess which activities the kids clamored to participate in? Maybe those kids won't get into Harvard but I'll bet they learned more, and I guarantee they had more fun, with the $10 (or less) worm farm explained by a real person paying attention to them, than whatever was happening at the $10,000 whiz-bang computer station.