In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Chapter 2, we’ll explore “stuff.” That is, all the things we buy when we have kids.
You can probably imagine the stereotypical parents walking to their car in the parking lot — trying to carry all their new baby purchases. We’ve certainly seen this stereotype in movies, but I bet you also know some parents (maybe it’s you?) who went out and bought. Everything. Baby-related. Ever. Created. How many times have you used that thing in the corner? Or what about that *special cloth* on the shelf?
I feel pretty fortunate in that the course I mentioned in the introduction, “Bringing Baby Home,” spent some time talking about the things that some parents think they “must have” versus the things that are “nice to have.” In the second chapter of this book, Gross-Loh also goes into detail about the stuff we buy when we become parents. In the US, actually:
The average American family gains 30% more possessions with the arrival of each child.
Whoa! You could probably argue that Americans probably already have too many possessions (before bringing in a new person into the family) and then to add 30% more to that! Sheesh. Here’s another important passage:
American parent seek meaning in their lives and find purpose by making a career out of priming their children for success. Today, instead of being told we should wear high heels and pearls while vacuuming the house, we worry that by not buying something for our child that will help foster his unique interests, he won’t live up to his potential. UPenn sociologist argues that the way we spend money on our children reflects our commitment to the idea that we should do whatever it takes to help each child cultivate his individual talents.
When you couch the consumerism like that, it doesn’t sound as bad, does it? Parents are just trying to right by their child. One last small reflection of the American culture found in this chapter:
In the US, there are more shopping centers than high schools.
There’s probably more to that statistics than what’s on its face, but it does sound a bit startling to think that there are more shopping centers that high schools.
As you might expect, this rampant consumerism doesn’t exist in other parts of the world. For instance, in Japan, children often have far fewer things. More importantly, it’s part of their culture. Gross-Loh shared an analogy of one child being jealous of his friends because they had no family car (while this child did) because riding buses/trains seemed far more fun by the way the child’s friends described it. We could also probably talk about the size of Japanese homes versus the size of American homes. As you might expect, homes in Japan are smaller and as a result, have far less room to store stuff.
There are also examples from France where parents are employing a “delayed gratification” with their children in that children don’t always get what they want. The idea behind this is that the child then gains the satisfaction from waiting. That might be a tall order for some parents.
Overall, the message from this chapter is that we don’t need as much stuff for our kids as we think we do. Of course, given the culture of consumerism, it’s easier said than done for some. Regardless, some of the research shared in this chapter points to the fact that having fewer toys or “simpler, open-ended playthings” are better for the development of children. Given that parents are only trying to do what’s best for their children, telling them that research shows that “less is more” might make it a bit easier to swallow.