I was reading a discussion thread recently about “minimalist parenting,” expecting to see conversations about how to teach our children gratitude, counter the relentless consumerism vortex swirling around them before they’re even born, or maybe just keep a slightly neater home. And there were certainly plenty of suggestions about rotating toys in and out of the playroom, buying pre-loved clothes and gear, or asking relatives to contribute to experience funds instead of gifting yet another plastic toy.
But then I started sensing this weird undercurrent of smugness when someone posed the question, “What are some baby items you don’t really need?”
“A diaper genie.” True, the refills are expensive and a regular trash can is totally usable.
“A changing table.” For sure! You can change diapers on the floor, a bed, a dresser, or the backseat of your car.
“New clothes.” Definitely. Babies grow so fast and spit up so much and poop so often that it makes sense to save as much money as you can on their attire.
“A crib. We co-slept because we love our child.” Um, okay, we love our child too, and this didn’t really work for us. Everyone slept better when we moved our son to his own room at six weeks, but to each their own.
“You totally don’t need a stroller. We just wore her everywhere.” Yikes, this would kill my back and shoulders. And our super-independent kid has never really cared for being wrapped.
“A playpen. A swing. A Bumbo seat. You don’t need any of these containers for your child. That’s what the parenting-industrial complex wants you to think. You should be holding your child all day long so they develop secure attachment.” So…when am I supposed to shower? Or eat? Or teach them to trust that Mommy will come back?
“Commercial baby food. Grow your own plants and blend them up for your kid. Or do what real parents do and follow baby-led weaning and feed your 8-month-old beef jerky like we did!” Tried making my own baby food once. Kid preferred Gerber. Not fighting that battle with my little guy.
“Boobs! All you need is boobs!” Okay, this is just not true — at all.
“Diapers. Even cloth diapers use too many resources to launder effectively. Use corn husks and teach elimination communication from day one, duh.”
(Okay, the last one is an exaggeration. Mostly.)
Coming from a left-leaning parenting group formed to give people space to push back against the judginess and assumptions of fundamentalist religion, there was a disconcerting amount of, well, judging and assuming going on. I suppose this kind of insularity and self-congratulation will happen in any self-selecting group of people rallying around a common interest or set of beliefs, so I’m not trying to throw any stones here. But when did minimalism and anti-consumerism become such a status symbol? And isn’t that missing the point?
If you need to put your baby in a swing to get her to sleep, or so you can take a shower, or so you can not go insane from being touched out, it’s fine.
If you don’t want to breastfeed at all, or you’re just sick to death of pumping at work or pounding fenugreek to get a fledgling supply up, and you choose to use formula, it’s fine.
If you need to teach your baby to fall asleep on their own so you can stop getting up seven times a night in order be a functional human being again, and they cry a little (or a lot), it’s fine.
If you need to buy your kid a plastic trinket to keep them from ripping their clothes off and having a full-on meltdown at Target, it’s fine.
If you need the next size of clothing for your baby, and you have a gift card to a non-organic non-fair trade non-non-GMO big box store, so you decide to order online and burn some fossil fuels having clothes shipped to you instead of hauling your circus to the resale shop where they will pull things off the racks and poop in the aisles, it’s fine.
Are there some items marketed to parents that really are totally unnecessary? Probably. Do I try to buy used and buy less whenever possible? You bet. I think we could all consume (a lot) less in this country and be more mindful about the cost of convenience. Do I practice what I preach perfectly every day? Ha!
But can we stop acting like parenting has to be excruciatingly inconvenient and difficult to be “real” or “good”? Using a stroller doesn’t make me a mindless capitalist sellout. Commercially prepared baby food isn’t poison. Breast may be best, but not if it makes Mom a depressed, anxious, raging zombie.
Before I became a mom last year, I told myself over and over that no parenting decision or principle was worth driving myself and our family crazy over. I did okay at following my own advice — not great, but okay. I was kind of stubborn about exclusively breastfeeding and giving him solids, and you know what? Those were and are stressful, negative, argument-inducing experiences for me and my husband. Cloth diapering? We are totally chill about it because we know we can put an overnight disposable on my kid and not wake up to wet clothes, wet sheets, and an angry baby.
Disposable diapers and many of the other items we use for our child are luxuries, yes, and just being grateful doesn’t make them less of a luxury or negate the environmental and human cost of producing them. But you know what your baby really doesn’t need? For you to twist yourself in knots over how you raise them. So go ahead and get a bottle warmer if your kid really prefers warmed milk. Or skip it. Either way, it’s fine.