Posts Tagged ‘consumer culture’

We’re Having a Baby! And We Need New EVERYTHING.

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

new baby Once upon a time, a mommy who already had two beautiful children got pregnant with a third. “OK,” she thought. “We can handle this.” But no one else thought she could.

“But where is your new car?” said one friendly stranger.

“And where is your new house?” said another.

“But we already have a house and a car,” said the mom.

“Those won’t do!” said the two friendly strangers. “You need NEW ones!”

This conversation played out over and over and over after I got pregnant with my third child. We suddenly, according to everyone around us, not only needed to be preparing for another child, but should also be upending our lives to make everything bigger and newer in preparation for her. My Honda Civic wouldn’t do, I needed a minivan! Our three-bedroom house was too small, when were we moving? Why weren’t we finding out the sex of the baby? We needed to know if it was a boy since we only had girl things–what if he had to wear FLOWERED onesies?

Honestly, the stress of having a baby is stress enough, whether it’s your first or your fifth. And when you’re pregnant, you’re particularly vulnerable to the well-meaning advice of strangers. This is unique to pregnancy, since you don’t have to wear your condition around on your head for any other stage in life. The advice of well meaning strangers nearly cost me my sanity during my third pregnancy. We hadn’t planned to have another quite yet, so I was dealing with the shock of the idea of having a preschooler, toddler and infant at home. Then on top of that, people kept foisting all these additional consumer expectations on me. It took a few months of showing for me to stop and look at the situation with fresh eyes.

You’re bringing home an 8-pound baby, not Shaquille O’Neill. 
At first, I was panicking, running the numbers, and looking at cars online. But even small cars can fit three kids across the backseat–safely and legally–if you have slimline carseats. I did my research and realized we did’t ever need a need a new car if we didn’t want to get one.  Even Shaquille O’Neill can fit in a Kia, so there.

Babies don’t Need a Room.
The baby room is certainly a modern invention. For much of history, and in other parts of the world today, babies sleep with mom for practical reasons. Honestly, the baby room was basically a place for me to change diapers and clothing until about age 3 when independent play began to emerge. My kids didn’t want to play in an empty room all alone, they always wanted to be where the action was. This means you have about 2 years from birth to make a transition.

My kids also currently share a room, which, contrary to popular belief, is not child abuse. Up until about 1950, kids routinely shared rooms and bathrooms. The average home size was just over 1,000 square feet for a family of four. Today, the average home size is 2,100 square feet, and the most common trend in new home construction today is including a bathroom for every bedroom.

Decide for Yourself What Really Matters
People were floored that we weren’t finding out the sex of the baby since we had two girls. What if it was a boy? What would he wear? Honestly, the fashion conundrums of an infant were of zero concern to me. If we had a boy, he would wear the clothes we had at home until I found the space in my head and day to go get boy clothes. It was just not a detail that stressed me out. It continued to be a detail that stressed out everyone around me. I was much more concerned about how I would survive each day with all these tiny children at home. Be prepared for a million contingencies to be raised, whatever your situation. Then decide what you care about, because that’s the only stuff that matters.


Continue to Think Critically
As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to go play at friend’s houses if they lived in an apartment. This tiny detail stayed with me when I got pregnant for the first time. We can’t have a BABY in an apartment! I knew this to be true. Plus, we were throwing money away, right? Better to buy a house. Because that’s what you do when you get pregnant. You buy a house. Unfortunately, our first child was born in 2008. This means we bought a house at the peak of the housing bubble, in part because we had on these cultural baby blinders. Expectations and arbitrary rules kept us from thinking objectively and critically about the huge decision of home ownership.

It’s easy to go into autopilot when you’re pregnant. No matter which baby this is for you, it’s overwhelming to have so many people, familiar and strange alike, telling you what to do with your finances, your relationships and your body. But all of those things are still yours. You’re going to do a lot of smiling and nodding. But these people who are giving you advice don’t have to survive on your savings in 30 years. They don’t have to go to the grocery store and shop on your budget. They don’t have to bear the scars of major surgery or the emotional pain that can follow a traumatic delivery. These decisions are yours and yours alone, because you alone bear the consequences.

You can do things your own way in your own family. Your story may not look like your parent’s or your partner’s parents, and that’s OK. Sometimes realizing that is a process of mourning and acceptance, and that’s OK, too.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and the mother of three girls. She lives and writes in Oklahoma City. 

Exchanging Presents for Memories

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Exchanging Presents for Memories

My oldest daughters’ first and second birthdays were wonderful, but I was really looking forward to her third birthday. This was the first birthday that she was really aware, able to anticipate and realize that her birthday was a special day. That morning when she woke up, we brought her into the kitchen where all her presents were laid out on the table. As she opened them one by one with a blank look, I thought, “She’s not having fun. Why are we doing this?”

After that birthday, we decided to wean ourselves off birthday presents.

The reality is that you don’t remember the stuff you get unless it’s really special. So as parents, we have two choices when it comes to making birthdays memorable: Spend a ton of money and time searching for the best stuff, or doing something amazing and make memories we will never forget. After all, what are we saying by buying things on our children’s special day? Things make you feel special? I love you, so I bought this for you?

Exchanging Presents for MemoriesPresents are a huge part of American culture, but after looking deeper at it, that just wasn’t the message I wanted to send. Giving a gift only lasts a moment—once the gift is unwrapped, the moment has passed. So we decided to give experiences instead.

The next year it was hard not to buy this or that toy for Maisie’s birthday, even though I knew family members would more than fill the gap. Instead of giving her a physical present, we bought her an hour of horseback riding lessons. This year we spent a day in Vermont to celebrate Maisie’s sixth birthday. We ran a 5k together, picked apples, and toured the Vermont Teddy Bear factory.

If you want to get away from collecting stuff at birthdays and holidays, here are a few ideas:

  • Start small by giving non-toy gifts
  • Look for day trips you can do in your area
  • Plan a weekend trip for a birthday
  • Try something new or something you have always wanted to do as a family
  • Buy a small something to remind you of the trip that will last, like a Christmas ornament, charm, or small collectible
  • Purchase a museum or park membership as a birthday gift
  • Buy a year of music, dance or tumbling lessons

We have only been doing it for two years now, but so far our experiment is a success. We are celebrating birthdays now by spending time together focused on each other and doing something new. The kids don’t miss the presents, and I hope we are teaching our girls that special times are made special with people, not things. The memories we make can never be lost, won’t ever need to be returned, and we will have them forever.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three girls who is trying to simplify, declutter and downsize. She loves and writes in Queensbury, New York.