People were having babies long before there were Diaper
Genies and Bumbo Seats, and for the most part, those babies grew up just fine.
We got to thinking about what products have we purchased (or received) for our
kids that we just really didn’t need. We fell victim to the Marketing Machine
and the Manufactured Need. Read on so you don’t suffer the same fate.
Thanks to Babble.com for their article that inspired our rants, Pregnant Mamas: 10 Things You Think You Need Right Now But Don’t.
Tasha Schlake Festel
As a marketing professional (and I use the term “professional” loosely) I love a good advertising campaign. I love the packaging. I love the product placements. I love the commercials. I love the messaging. I love it all. And I especially love it when a company makes me think I need something that is utterly ridiculous.
OK, so I don’t really love it when I’m compelled to buy something I don’t need. That actually kinda makes me mad. What I mean is that I am in awe of the marketing minds that can cause me to abandon my logical thinking process and buy into the utopia I will experience when I bring their indispensable product into my home. That’s power, my friends, and I’m a sucker for a good marketing campaign. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) my finances prevent me from buying too much of the stuff I don’t need.
A few poor decisions did slip by. For example, I wasted my money on Dreft laundry detergent. It’s like $3,000 for 4 ounces, but yet, I bought it! My baby was so sensitive! She needed the best! Her clothes could not be touched by the cheap Arm & Hammer detergent I used for the rest of us! Granted, she spent her time crawling around on my floors and eating old Cheerios out of the dust bunnies in the corner, but gosh darn it! Her clothes would not irritate her skin! One day I was at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania and they <gasp> didn’t have any Dreft. I had to use the dreaded regular laundry detergent if my daughter was going to have any onesies that didn’t have poop smears up to her shoulder blades. With great trepidation, I started a load of laundry. Throwing caution to the wind, I even used a highly illegal scented dryer sheet. Guess what? Her skin did not peel off. She didn’t turn irritated shades of red and purple. She continued to eat, and sleep, and grow. All was fine! I never bought that stuff again. How freeing!
For some reason, I also thought I needed a crib net. Yes, a crib net. It looks like the baby is sleeping in the wild under mosquito netting, but really, its intended purpose is to keep them from climbing out. It basically allows you to turn your baby’s crib into a cage of bars and mesh. I put it on my daughter’s crib when she started to pull up and stand in bed. It freaked her right the heck out. She knew she was in a cage. And you know what? She could push it off the crib. Granted, there may have been installation error on the part of her less-than-thorough mother, but can you say false sense of security? You know what? If you’re worried that your baby is going to climb out of the crib, transition him or her to a toddler bed. Don’t put a lid on the crib.
My kids were both born in December, so I was pretty sure they’d need snow suits. I mean, hello? It was winter in Boston! So, I shopped for infant snow suits. How stupid! My kids were going to be bundled in their carriers for the duration of the winter. All I needed was a heated car and some blankets. Duh! It’s not like they were going to be skiing or battling in snowball fights. They couldn’t even sit up! Live and learn.
I always say that experience is the best teacher. I learned about all the crap I didn’t need after I spent the money on them and found out the hard way. But on the other side, there are some things that no one ever said I’d need. No one told me they’d be critical to my survival as a mother. Marketing betrayed me.
So, as your friend, trust me when I tell you that you might need these things:
· After you find the right kind of pacifier for your baby, get lots and lots of them and put at least ten in the crib with them so they can find their own damn pacifiers in the middle of the night.
· Put pee pads under every fabric surface on which your baby will be spending time.
· Buy at least 3 matching “lovies” for your baby so you have backup on laundry day or in the unthinkable event one gets lost.
But you’ll need to find out those things for yourself. Happy shopping!
“Her” and “His” thoughts from our household: Babies up to child age 8. “Her” comments are followed by “His” comments on “her”’ comments and a few responses by “her”. Did ya get that?
Top things we DIDN’T need:
1) Diaper genie: Messy and the plastic just ends up in the environment.
2) Padded changing cushions that went on changing tables: We didn’t have a changing table and rather used anything flat: countertops and the washing machine. Mostly we just used a towel because the pad got in the way.
3) All the biking gear: Okay my husband and I both love to bike but given our schedules and where we felt safe to ride around town, I think we used our pull along trailer 3 times and never attached the toddler seat to our bike. Great items for some…never really worked for us.
1) Diaper genie: Spoken like someone who hasn’t had this up close and personal in awhile. Ours was the kind that used one big trash bag not the individual twist, so it didn’t add more than the kitchen bag would have, and reduced the smell. We had an occasional mess but it generally was well contained. Plus we used cloth diapers and kids that potty trained VERY early, so we didn’t deal with it as much as most do.
2) Padded changing cushions that went on changing tables: Yep. That one we didn’t need.
3) All the biking gear: Yep. But we went to 2 kids fast and ran into a ton of health stuff right when baby #2 was born. Full calendar with lots of medical/health stuff.
4) Keeping The Stuff and not handing it down….. Man do we have stuff….
5) A Dog
Top things we REALLY needed:
1) Good camera: Took the plunge and invested in a good one—love it for capturing photos of the kids and family stuff over many years. Never regretted the investment.
2) Vitamix blender: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this thing. Makes great green smoothies and fruit sorbets; GREAT soups, ice-cream (really a creamy ice milk) in 10 seconds; and clean-up is SUPER easy. No mess; no fuss; healthy easy eating! LOVE IT.
3) My folding bike: I STILL really LOVE this thing. It has absolutely changed my world by letting me work exercise into my heavily packed day and more importantly I have me-time!
4) Good climbing structure in the backyard: Craigslist freebie—hours of entertainment for the kids
1) Good camera: Nice try! We’ve killed 2 of mine, and rarely used the video.
2) Vitamix: Ditto. Maybe. We need the perspective of more time, but it still gets regular use.
3) Folding bike: Still too new. But yes, on getting exercise in mom’s life.
4) Neighbors/Friends/Parents/Families/spouses that support each other. We’ve been lucky there. And Tequila. Virtual or not. (Her: Agree!!! Agree!!!)
Top things that were surprises—I was convinced they would flop
1) Youth kayak: My husband wanted to pick one of these up for our beach/water activities. I didn’t think the kids would use it and it would just take up space. Wow, was I wrong. The kids LOVE it. Each year the kids develop more skill and it’s safe enough for other kids to play with too.
2) Desks for the kids in their playroom: The kids use them all the time. Gives them some of their “own” space in their playroom. (Okay, those of you who know they are often covered and not a real-workable-spot—hush!)
1) Youth kayaks: Yup. Popular when we have water.
2) Desks: Yup on the disclaimer!
3) GOOD Strollers: We loved our Bob’s and even used the single as a ‘double’ during DC and Disney trips. It’s very funny seeing two kids age 5 and 6 year old piled into one single Bob stroller and being pushed all over DC! The double Bob set the record with 5 kids all over the streets of Boston on a cold New Year’s Eve. (Her: Yes! Remember Melissa and Ben?)!
4) Stokke Tripp Trapp Chairs… Boy were they a great investment. We take them for granted, but we haven’t outgrown them. Her: Agree. These are great.
5) For all the toy flops, there have been some surprising good ones. The Dora Plush Chairs were perfect for toddlers and used until the kids literally couldn’t fit in them. One of my favorites was the foam toddler couch which functioned for many hours of great “juicing” entertainment with the kids. Her: Yes, cute.
6) A Dog. Her: Oh, you DO love her. I knew it!
A very wise friend of mine once said, “You are home to your baby. As long as he has you, the rest is extra.”
Now, of course we’re not talking about true necessities: food, clothing, shelter, diapers. But parents- first time parents, especially- are subject to the wiles of companies whose job it is to make money. Take a look at any list of supposed “must haves” provided by Babies-R-Us or similar baby companies (selflessly, of course) to help parents build a gift registry and feel your head start to spin…
Basically, this topic boils down to what qualifies as a “First World Problem,” though, since only those with means, a consumer’s perspective and/or plenty of space worry about what their baby needs for stuff. With our first son, I think I actually did a much better job of keeping the stuff to a minimum than I have with our subsequent sons. Then, again, he was the first grandchild on my husband’s side, so he still didn’t lack for any niceties.
This doesn’t mean I escaped the lure of things I believed were must-haves which later turned out to be non-essential. Because he was our first child, and because my husband and I had been volunteering at a colonial plantation on the weekends, and because my father is a carpenter, I decided I need, need, needed to have a handmade, wooden cradle to rock our first-born to sleep; preferably, with my foot, whilst I knitted or churned butter. (I wish I were making this up, but I’m not. I really thought I’d be knitting, humming dreamily and rocking my sweet baboo in his cradle with my foot.) Once I had more than one child, however, putting an infant in the cradle to sleep was as good as asking the older child to shake the infant awake until screaming.
Something else I was sure I needed was the Boppy Pillow. I actually used it quite a bit with my first few kids, but with the last two, I had become so lazy- er, efficient!- that crossing the room to collect the Boppy before nursing was just. too. much. trouble. I tended to use any pillow nearby- if, indeed, I used a pillow at all.
Thirdly, I have to count the crib as non-essential. I didn’t come to this realization until five years ago when we were moving from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts. There is a special kind of clarity that comes to those who must pack up their lives about what is essential and what is not. None of our kids had spent that much time in a crib. We basically co-slept or used a Pack-n-Play, and then made a fairly early transition to a bed with bed rails, so when it came time to move, we didn’t take the crib with us and it has not been a problem.
As for my personal list of must-haves, I would include our Pack-n-Play, for reasons cited above, some kind of Exersaucer/Jumperoo (sometimes, you’ve just got to put ‘em down without worrying what the heck they are getting into!) and my Maya Wrap Baby Sling. (Warning: Ode to My Sling, coming…) My sling has become so essential for me that on the rare occasions when I forget to bring it with me, I barely know what to do with my arms, I rely on it so much. This sling is hard to learn to use, despite its simple construction, but now- having worn out two of them on five kids- its use is second nature to me. I’ve used this sling with newborn infants all the way up to three year olds in need of lugging. It can be worn on the front (facing in or out), back and side (hip). It has functioned as a nursing cover-up and has secured my kids in chairs, shopping carts and playground swings. It has been a picnic blanket and a rain/wind cover and even—gasp!- a baby leash.
Wanna know what my boys- ages one to ten-and-a-half all think are essential? Sticks. They are obsessed with sticks and none of them is ever without a stick in hand for very long. We have a “check your sticks at the door” rule in our house and there are always several outside any entrance. Despite a house overrun with toys. Shows what I know! Ultimately, I think the trick to finding one’s own list of baby essentials is in line with how we decide to live our marriages, run our households and raise our kids: take suggestions, but in the end, find out what works for you and run with it!
Like most aspects of parenting, the list of must-have baby items is subjective. Let’s face it, the list of what we absolutely need to care for our newborns is very short: a supply of milk, warm clothing, diapers, wipes, and a pair of arms. Of course, today we have a dizzying array of products to choose from, all designed to make our jobs easier and more enjoyable, and the babies prettier and safer. How we choose from that list is different for everyone.
When I read the babble.com article, I agreed with the author on exactly half of her examples, particularly that quilt. Never, ever used mine. But I swore by my Moses basket, which the article deems superfluous. It was something I didn’t know I wanted until I received one as a gift; thereafter I was thankful to have a safe place to nap my babies, horizontal and swaddled, in whatever room I liked. Portable, functional, adorable, and now it stores toys. I’d recommend one to anyone.
Having been through this four times, I realize that I could have gotten by with just the milk, diapers, and clothing if I’d had to (oh, and a car seat, and a stroller…), but life would have been much more difficult. I am grateful to have had my Baby Bjorn, Snap N Go stroller, and Ocean Wonders Aquarium bouncer. The following items, though, are ones I was happy to skip.
1. The Shopping Cart Seat Cover
Before I had kids, I was fairly germ phobic (I blame my college Microbiology professors). Even so, I was never tempted to get one of these. As my professors would attest, germs are ubiquitous, and largely benign. It’s true, though, that germs from public surfaces can make us sick, and newborns are particularly susceptible. But when babies are at their tiniest and most vulnerable, they are usually transported in their carseat buckets, plopped right into the shopping cart, and thus elevated from the germy surfaces. By the time they are old enough to sit upright in the cart, they are also old enough to crawl, pick things up, and put everything that’s not nailed down into their mouths. So unless you are willing to buy protective covers for the playground swing, the library train table, and every curious toddler you encounter, I’d say that the battle against germs is a losing one. Take a step back, watch your little darling gnaw on that shopping cart handle, and think of all the healthy antibodies that he is learning to produce. Besides, you have enough trouble remembering your reusable shopping bags.
2. Brand New Everything
When I was pregnant with my first child, I was so excited to outfit the nursery with all new furniture and gear. Friends and relatives offered us hand-me-downs, and I resisted. My sister-in-law wisely said, “You’ll use this stuff for such a short time; it doesn’t make sense to buy it when I already have it.” I accepted her infant swing, but insisted on all new furniture. I wanted it to be special. It was a minor battle with my husband, one I’m now glad that I lost. We accepted a hand-me-down crib and glider chair, and bought a dresser to match (no changing table, thank you). And you know what? Our first nursery was no less special because of it. Ten years later, my two-year-old is still in that crib. It’s held up just fine, and has become even more special since all my babies have slept in it. Since then, I’ve bought strollers on Craigslist, and accepted no end of hand-me-downs. I’ll save money for the objects I plan to keep for more than a couple years.
3. The Bumbo Seat
For those not familiar, this is a seat made of foam rubber that allows an infant to be molded into an upright, seated position before he is able to sit up on his own. I received one as a hand-me-down from a friend who had gotten hers the same way, and whose baby didn’t enjoy it. I found that it provided a hilarious photo opportunity, as my floppy, uncomprehending baby struggled to hold her head up while she appeared to be sitting in a chair. After that, the Bumbo collected dust, or held dolls. My baby was much happier reclining in her bouncy seat or lying on the floor. Besides, there seems to be something unnatural in forcing babies to sit vertically before they are developmentally ready.
Of course, all of this is easy for me to say now, having survived four newborns. Right now I’m collecting data for the sequel, due out in a few years: Toys Your Kid Will Never Play With.
I’m sure that my list of things we “need” will be larger than the things we don’t “need”, but then again, you are talking to an over-packer so my philosophy is always better safe than sorry!
That being said, hindsight is always 20/20 and now that my kids are the ripe old age of 14 & 16, it is interesting to look back at all the “must haves” and re-evaluate whether or not we needed them.
Item number one on my list of things I didn’t need was the baby monitor. Seriously, my bedroom was literally no further than 10 feet from the nursery, and I am a very light sleeper. I actually got no sleep the first year of my daughter’s life, because of that damn monitor. I heard every burp, rustle, sigh and movement, and finally out of desperation (and after talking myself out of the guilt of doing this) I shut it off and finally got a good night’s sleep. This may not be for everyone, but for me it was perfect, problem solved.
Unnecessary item number two was the Diaper Genie. However I sure wish I invented it. Every mom I knew was sporting one of those bad boys in their nursery. However, much of my diaper changing was not in the nursery. It was in the car, on the living room floor, in the bathroom, and pretty much everywhere but the nursery. So the few diapers that were disposed of in the Genie ended up being there for longer than a few days, so by the time I emptied the thing there was a very pungent sausage-like string of diapers to be brought downstairs to the trash. When I had my son 2 years later I was very happy with a plastic supermarket bag lining the trash barrel, and if there were diapers in it, I’d bring them down in the evening. Amazing!
There were a myriad of other items since then that we have either purchased or been given as gifts, that seem to be an amazing idea at the time, but usually ended up in a dusty pile somewhere.
When you are a new parent however, it’s hard to know what is really necessary, and what can be passed over. And that changes person to person too. While I hated my complicated “baby carrier to toddler” stroller, some friends loved theirs. I was very happy with a $9.99 umbrella stroller, or with toting my bundle of joy in a backpack carrier.
It seems so long ago that I can’t remember everything that we did or didn’t use, but what I do remember is that, like most choices we make for our families, it is very personal. While I hated my monitor, complicated stroller, and Diaper Genie, other moms likely feel different. The same goes for what I loved over the years. My daughter LOVED the sandbox, while many parents told me theirs was no more than a litter box for neighborhood cats. It really depends on you and your kids what works, or not, for your needs.
In the end, all we can do is trust our instincts, and try not to fall for the latest fad. But if we do fall prey to the tempting, beeping, light up, vibrating thingie that everyone is getting, oh well, isn’t that what yard sales are for?