It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Mantra for Guilt Reduction

The pee has dried, the blue line appeared! You’re going to have a baby! Quick – get down to Babies R Us and whip out a credit card or two. You have a lot of stuff to get and only seven and a half months to get it. A stunning array of baby paraphernalia, a vast cornucopia of convenience awaits you. Things that promise to help your baby sleep, protect his safety, develop her intellect, nurture his emotional development. Make your baby faster, stronger, smarter, kinder, calmer, happier, a full and fulfilled human being, thanks to the wonders of modern manufacturing and marketing.

Godalmighty! The pressure! The guilt if you don’t buy the critical item and thus have your offspring fall behind some gold standard of babydom! And all this while you’re carrying a sleep debt big enough to rival that of a small war-torn country somewhere. Take a deep breath. Mary is about to remove all that nasty guilt and oppression.

You parents of chidren under five haven’t been in the biz long enough to truly understand that these things are FADS. They ebb and flow. They move in and out of fashion. We think when something goes out of fashion that it’s gone because it was inferior, that, with modern knowledge and research, we now Know Better. Nope. Probably it’s just a fad.

Baby Walkers, for example, the pride of my mother’s generation. Moms in the know, who wanted to foster their children’s development, put their babies in walkers to strengthen their legs, prepare them for walking, give them independence and a bit of autonomy. They were a Good Thing. Good, good, good, and you were a Good, Progressive, Knowledgeable Mother if you used one.

By the time mine were born, the fashion had changed. Children, too young to be that mobile, had died falling down stairs they would never have been able to reach if it weren’t for a walker. Walkers accelerated movement artificially, helping children to skip the crawling stage, which as we all know, is necessary to strengthen a child’s lower back to ready them for their upright days. They were Bad, Bad, Bad, and you were a Negligent, Reckless, Know-nothing Mother if you used one.

And now, they are becoming fashionable once more. Some design changes have been made to increase their safety, and they are re-entering acceptance once again. Thus swings the pendulum, and for each generation, the item was revered or denigrated by loving, caring parents who want to do the Right Thing by their child.

So what to do? How do you know? Here’s the shocking truth: You don’t need a lot of stuff to raise a baby. Really. A baby has two fundamental requirements: nourishment (both emotional and physical), and shelter (a home, a place to sleep, and clothing). That’s it, that’s all. Anything beyond that is for the parents. Therefore, if it doesn’t make YOUR life easier and more fun, mom and dad, You Don’t Need It.

Take a walk through the baby department with that in mind, and see how much simpler and less expensive all this suddenly becomes. If you’re a confirmed shopper with no money concerns, go wild! There’s a whole world of consumer goods just waiting for your credit card. Just don’t try to convince anyone this is all needful for the baby’s growth and development. It’s a helluva lot of fun for you, is what it is. And why not??

However, if you hate shopping and/or have few funds to spare, the burden of guilt is hereby lifted. Nourishment and shelter, nourishment and shelter. Does the baby-rocka-romper-cizer feed my baby? Make him/her feel loved? Keep him/her dry in the rain or warm at night? No? Then, if it doesn’t turn YOUR crank, if seeing your little one bounce and twist in this thing won’t give YOU hours of pleasure, don’t buy it. Your sweet patootie can get all the rocking and bouncing he/she needs in your arms. If your arms are ready to fall off from all the bouncing and rocking you’ve been doing, and you desperately need a break, then buy it – for yourself.

Nourishment and shelter. Simple!

August 9, 2005 - Posted by | controversy, parenting


  1. My husband likes to announce that we never buy our children any toy that costs more than $10.00.

    And it is very nearly true, and they seem to be just fine, thanks.

    Today they played with swords he made them out of cardboard and the inside tube from some paper towels. They were pirates, see! With swords and telescopes! Huzzah!

    I may send this on to several currently expecting friends.

    Comment by Susan | August 9, 2005 | Reply

  2. Funny and good advice, is there no end to your talents 😉

    Comment by Daily Commuter | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  3. This will show how complex or convoluted my thinking can be at times.

    Recently I have been studying project management, and one of the key elements in a project is to define the source and the goal of the project before you begin.

    By now, most readers are thinking, Oh My G-d he’s going to mechanize or systematise child rearing. Nope; I don’t believe in that, and I am not qualified (no Kids Yet). My sister is far more qualified to give that sort of advice.

    I brain stormed over the issue, and here are what I think are the source and the goal.

    The source is the love that you felt for your partner, and the expression is the creation of a new life which you hope will one day share that same feeling of love. (highly romanticised I know but nonetheless true)

    So what do you need to accomplish this, well you already have it, and if you don’t then you bloody well better get it, that is LOVE.

    Of course all the other things that you will need you have to buy, but the reason you buy them should be based on the fact that you love your child, not that someone else has it or someone tells you, that you need it or even that it makes your life easier.

    If you use this as your guiding principle I suspect that you will have done your best.

    Comment by Bill | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  4. Boy where was this sage advice 7 years ago. Oi! It took me tht long to realize this – and no more babies – life is like that. My youngest is still wearing no-name diapers. I fell for that ploy far too long. Have you noticed that with each year the new inventions get more and more elaborate? We had the exercauser – in its simplistic form – now its filled with gizmos and gadgets…oi

    Comment by Heather | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  5. Bingo! There’s societal pressure to have the latest and greatest baby gadgets, but most people don’t think of the undue stress created from all the toy clutter. Baby plays with the toy for a week or so and they move on, but mommy and/or daddy is constantly having to navigate and clean up the mess it leaves.

    My daughter is much more interested in exploring everything that isn’t found in the toy aisle. I really have to restrain myself from buying toys. I remember the joy that it brought me as a child, but Lauren has more than enough toys that she’s received as gifts. I can’t handle any more.

    Comment by ieatcrayonz | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  6. There is much wisdom in what you say Mary. We rarely buy expensive toys anymore. They just don’t have the attention retention that the classics have, not to mention that they like to play with stuff that aren’t toys.

    My princesses like to play kitchen with real pots and pans from the kitchen and play dress up with The Queen of All She Survey’s clothes and shoes.

    More than even cheap toys or actual stuff, they like to have the attention, love and hugs of their Mum and Dad. Now, that’s a classic that’ll never go out of style. 🙂

    Comment by Simon P. Chappell | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  7. Susan: not only do they get a fun, flexible (and inexpensive!!) toy that way, but they’re playing with something daddy MADE them. For months at the age of three and four, my eldest’s favourite toy was a shoe box filled with little things: key ring, toilet paper tube, little boxes, measuring cups, old empty lipstick tube. Contents varied. This box was all sorts of things – doctor kit, mechanic kit, supplies for jungle exploration… You name it.

    Commuter: Ah, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Barely scratched the surface!

    Bill: You’re right. Love is the basic essential that you must give your child. Tons of “stuff” is no substitute.

    Heather: I learned this lesson partly because I’ve always been drawn to simplicity – less is more, to quote an architect. It also didn’t hurt that there was never a whole lot of money when the kids were little: that too ended any acquisitive urges I may have had. Good thing you’ve learned this by year seven, because in another few years the boys will step on that carousel for themselves!

    Crayonz: One of the ways our family deals with toy clutter is to reduce before adding on. When Christmas (or a birthday!!) approaches, we would go through the kids stuff and toss, give away, or sell those items they’d outgrown or ignored. They liked the notion of making room for all the new stuff so well, they didn’t cling to the old that much.

    Simon: classics are classics for a reason! Dress-up in Real Clothes, pots and pans to bang and smash (or cook in!), shakers and drums made from plastic bottles and rice and boxes, playdough (I have a recipe and make my own), wooden blocks, dolls and trucks and sticks and mud puddles. Life is good when adults will let kids muck about instead of being constantly “enriched”. (And mummy and daddy consequently impoverished…)

    Comment by Mary P. | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  8. Yes, yes, yes. This should be required reading for EVERY SINGLE PARENT.

    As a matter of fact, I’m going to forward this on to all of my parent friends, if you don’t mind, Mary.

    Comment by misfit | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  9. I already forwarded the link to my brother-in-law and he informs me that he immediately forwarded the link to his wife.

    I think he’s suffering from “baby stuff” overload!

    Comment by Simon P. Chappell | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  10. Coming at this from a different perspective, it is absolute chaos for any babysitter that has to look after the Child That Has Everything. Said child normally loves to take out every toy and fling it about the room, and then refuse to put them away again because they are “still playing”. Now, how they could be “still playing” with a toy that is and has remained 4 meters away from their bodies for the last 30 minutes is beyond me.

    This invariably ends up with Babysitter forcing Child to help clean up and ending, sometimes, with tantrums because Babysitter did accidentally put away the one toy they were genuinely playing with.

    So for the sake of your wallet and your babysitter’s sanity, limit the plethora of toys.

    Comment by Haley | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  11. Misfit and Simon: well, of course you can send this on! I’m going to look such a gift compliment in the mouth??

    Haley: ah, the indulged and spoiled child. The two are not necessarily synonymous, but quelle drag when they are, huh?? I rather enjoy getting one of those in the daycare – such a pleasure to see they get a dose of character-building reality. (Evil cackle here…)

    Comment by Mary P. | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  12. We got lots of stuff for the babies from generous family and friends. We did a good job deciding on what we needed so we use everything – except one. We don’t use the bottle warmers. We haven’t even taken them out of the box. Who has time to warm a bottle when babies are screaming?

    As for toys, I’m one who leans towards educational toys. I don’t want todays technologically advanced toys to be a substitute to responsible parenting. I really want to encourage the imaginations of my children when it comes to play so hopefully we can choose our toys wisely.

    Comment by Matthew | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  13. Good for you! As for educational toys, there’s a post or two out there, I’m sure, on that topic – what makes a toy educational, choosing age and developmentally appropriate ones, and when it is education or merely pressure in a primary-coloured package? I’m not dismissing them: I am a teacher, after all, and I can’t help but try to help them onto the next thing, but there’s a LOT of stuff out there marketed as “educational” by companies that have done very little research, or who use questionable research, or who apply the research in highly suspect ways.

    There’s a book out there, by a woman named Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, called Einstein Didn’t Use Flashcards, which discusses this well.

    Comment by Mary P. | August 10, 2005 | Reply

  14. Einstein also never memorized his phone number under the rationale that it was a waste of time to memorize it when one could easily look it up in the phone book.

    Sometimes logic is so darn… simple.

    Comment by Matthew | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  15. How can you NOT memorize your phone number? I’ve never had to try – it just gets in there somehow. Wish I could decide what to memorize: It might make room for some of the stuff I’d like to remember, but just won’t stick!

    Comment by Mary P. | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  16. I always thought it was because he believed that there were a limited number of things that we could keep in memory and didn’t want to waste space. I wonder where I heard that?

    Comment by Haley | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  17. I’ve heard the same thing, tho’ I’m not sure it was attributed to Einstein – I think it was Sherlock Holmes, actually!! My question stands: how does one decide to not memorize something? One can choose TO memorize, but how does one prevent things from slipping in there uninvited? Probably takes a genius to control their memory like that…

    Comment by Mary P. | August 11, 2005 | Reply

  18. Eienstein’s problem remembering his own phone number could be linked to another condition, Dyslexia.

    Einstein was known to do many of the things that were symptomatic of people suffering from dyslexia, such as to frequently transpose and omit letters, numbers, and formulas in his writings and to scramble sentences. If the numbers held meanings he would remember them but if they were Random then his brain would transpose them to some degree making it difficult if not possible to remember. (or so I have heard)

    That said, maybe he just didn’t call home too often?

    Comment by Bill | August 15, 2005 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: