Entering into parenthood and family life is a joy… and a massive anxiety attack these days. Why? Ask the market strategists. Babies have become a massive industry. With many couples choosing to cap their family at two children, or even just one child, they, more than others, feel the pressure to get it right.
This anxiety and pressure has been tapped by big business. They have learnt that new parents are willing to spend up on all the paraphernalia that comes with having a baby: the nursery, the car, the pram, the wardrobe, the formula and the food.
Each of these, and more, has been made into major business — and they’re making a killing. I’d hazard a guess that the average cost of a child has sky-rocketed over the past fifty years.
The pitch that opens the parental purse is, “If you love your baby….” It may not be stated explicitly, but it’s exploited to the nth degree: “If you love your baby, you will buy the safest and the most comfortable car. And then you will upgrade to tinted windows, “because sunlight can damage your baby’s retinas.”
How thoughtful of your dealer to have considered that. Entertaining the alternative, which is to invest in a $5 sunshade, suggests you don’t think your baby’s eyes are really worth protecting.
The thousands new parents spend on setting up the nursery, and decking out their car with every new gadget “needed” to equip them on their journey through parenthood is driven not only by their anticipated joy. Marketers can make it a guilt trip by driving them to buy the “safest,” the “most updated,” the “best”.
If you consider making the chest of drawers double as your change table, or buying the less expensive pram, you are depriving your beautiful baby of the optimum comfort, safety, and happiness they might experience, and which they deserve. If you really loved them, you would not think of causing any such deprivation.
No wonder parents think they can’t afford more than one or two children. When they cost upwards of $10,000 a head, and that’s just the first two years, how can anyone afford more than two, three at best?
Well, the first child might cost a pretty penny (after all, she’s so pretty!), but every subsequent child doesn’t have to. That is, if you don’t absolutely need to provide them with the latest and the most updated version of everything. When Fancy Pram 2.0 comes with a plusher seat, more breathable material, and a better posture fitting (you could ruin your baby’s back for life if you don’t get it), how could you neglect your child by failing to get it?
My biggest concern is that the vulnerability experienced by overtired and inexperienced new parents, subsequently turned into guilt by the baby industry, may be powerful enough to influence parents against having any more children. It’s just too expensive.
I am for safety. And I am for comfort. Absolutely I am for creating the most beautiful and happiest experience for your child. But the message in our culture on this is strong and insistent: words like “safety” and “comfort” have become synonymous with “having the most expensive”.
Instead, mothers and fathers need to have the confidence to not be drawn into a guilt-trip by those who see them as cash-cows. Instead, they need to hear more often that it is okay to dress their children in a few hand-me-downs, and buy a few things second hand.
Having grown up in a big family, I cannot say how grateful I am to my parents for the gift of siblings. Because a brother, a sister, the chance to become a little band of adventurers and mischief makers, is so much better than having the best, the latest, and the most expensive.
Veronika Winkels is a freelance writer who lives in Melbourne and is married with two young children. She recently completed a thesis on the philosophy of science.