Companies have entire departments dedicated to understanding the decision making of new parents. They analyze purchases and message boards. They pull focus groups and survey pediatricians. They’re desperate to understand what drives new parent purchasing.
They should’ve just called me a few months ago, I could have saved them a buttload of money. Here’s what drives purchasing: convenience. Of course, before the baby is born, it’s often good ol’ consumerism calling the shots. But post-baby, it’s convenience all the way. Why?
Parenting in modern western culture is inconvenient and difficult as hell. More inconvenient and more difficult than most lesser developed places in the world in some ways.
Our willful independence and rapid globalization has led to a very isolated parenting experience. We no longer live in villages. Few of us have the constant guidance and support of women who experienced motherhood before us as would have been the case as recent as a century ago.
We’re all exhausted. We get desperate for a reprieve. We’re often alone. That loneliness proliferates doubt, fear, and gullibility. In other words, dollar signs.
Here’s the thing, though: it’s not just about selling the product. It’s about creating a culture of fear, scarcity, dependency, and shame. There are few experiences in life more terrifying than having a child.
That fear, isolation, and the unrealistic expectations that mothers feel, act, and look like their pre-baby selves immediately postpartum, lead to some really unhealthy internalizations about self worth.
The predominant messaging in modern western culture is that women should be able to “do it all” soon after giving birth. The moment she can’t is when shame rears its ugly little head. Like the ring of fire, only with shame instead of a baby’s head. A shame crowning if you will.
With that shame crowning comes the impulse to unburden ourselves of the pain, an impulse to find a way to displace the discomfort.
Without the village to help us alleviate the actual pain – the pain of exhaustion and America’s unnatural tendency to glamorize doing it all alone- we turn to quick fixes in the form of Target’s baby aisle. Or we soldier through without support, without reprieve, and we resent it.
We resent the long nights.
We resent the endlessly crying baby.
Worse still, we resent ourselves.
We surrender to the belief we’re inadequate, or we overcompensate and armor up. We present to the world a tuft of feathers unruffled by the monster sucking the very life out of us via our nipples.
We bicker on message boards or in the comment section. We cite scientific research and/or personal anecdotes – both of which are valid sources of data, so long as neither is causing harm to ourselves or our children.
I’m guilty of this myself, but when you cut to the heart of it: we’re not bickering with each other. We’re bickering with a system that is set up to make us feel inadequate. That system is faceless and nameless, it’s nebulous, subliminal, sadistic and ill defined.
So, instead of unpacking why we’ve bought into the messages it has disseminated, we find the nearest face/name/object that represents our insecurities- usually in the comments section of an article that struck a nerve.
When we attack each other, the system is winning. If we started to attack the real source of our frustration – the policies, companies, and expectations keeping us small and dependent – real change would happen.
The truth is: those policy makers and companies cannot afford for us to feel secure and content.
This system is designed to make us feel like failures regardless of our diapering, feeding, sleeping, wearing, potty training, working, stay at homing, screen timing, loving, nurturing, disciplining choices.
If the system validated all of our choices equally, the insecurities from which these Mommy Wars are birthed wouldn’t exist. But equal validation for all is not worth anything to the people selling us solutions to our problems. After all, without problems, we wouldn’t buy solutions.
It’s not the system’s responsibility to heal our wounds or address any baggage we brought to parenthood. However, the least it can do is not exploit our vulnerabilities by making us feel inadequate.
It can’t change the fact that family structures aren’t the same as they were when everyone lived a stone’s throw away from one another, but it can stop further isolating us by forcing us to choose a side. It can stop manufacturing a market that demonizes diverse parenting choices. If you want to buy a $4,000 bedroom set for your newborn, do it. Only because you want to, though, not because you’re worried you’ll be a shitty parent if you don’t. Trust me, you’ll be a shitty parent if the only thing you care about is the $4,000 nursery.
I say all that to highlight this: the entities tricking us into believing we need to parent a certain a way to be successful, are the entities that profit from our insecurities.
They’re the corporations whose very existence depends on parents steadfastly defending their choices, so the companies themselves don’t appear to be the bad guys. They’ll happily let us fall on our swords on their behalf.
They’re the companies that allocate money for branding and marketing and unapologetically play into our greatest fears as parents.
Are we feeding our baby enough? Is the baby happy all the time? Should my baby be sleeping through the night by now? Are they reading before they’re walking? Why hasn’t my baby hit that milestone? Will my baby be dumb if I don’t buy him/her that light-up, singing, break dancing, scientist, mathematician robot? Yes. No. Maybe. Unlikely. He will. Yes.
Like Katniss Everdeen and the other kids in that book/movie (obviously, I’m a super fan) it’s time we stop fighting each other, and rise up to acknowledge our real battles must be fought against those who use their powers for evil, and profit from our insecurities.
May the games be ever in (y)our favor. Or something like that. . . I was distracted by my mismatched nursery.
Originally published on Two Dogs, One Cat, and a Baby.
Audrey Sanchez is originally from a town in Kansas so small it has only one stop sign. Since then, she’s called Boulder, New Orleans, and most recently Kansas City home. Mother to toddler Ada, dogs Clyde and Fancy, and cat Hushpuppy, Audrey blogs about her interspecies parenting adventures at Two Dogs, One Cat, and a Baby In addition to the chaos that her many critters bring, Audrey spends her time laundering cloth diapers, getting ready to go but never really making it to the gym, and fantasizing about REM cycles.