This is part two of a three part series on why and how big business orchestrated and continues to perpetuate the so-called “mommy wars.” For profit. You can find part one here.
Not until recent history could cribs be mass produced at a cost reasonable enough for most families to afford, while maintaining a comfortable profit margin for the companies. Before that, women either tucked their babies in right next to them, or made a sleeping cot out of a drawer or basket to keep the baby bedside at night. The newer, larger, mass produced cribs in tandem with suburban sprawl meant 20th century babies were often assigned their own rooms from the start.
Companies capitalized early on the post-war consumerist boom by bundling cribs with changing tables, dressers, matching gliders, stuffed animals, and curated bedding sets. Voila! The beginnings of a recent tradition that has been normalized as necessary: the coveted coordinated (and crowded) nursery.
We’ve become so conditioned to expect that babies require stuff, lots and lots of stuff, that we new parents don’t often stop to take an inventory of what newborns actually need. If we did, we’d realize that matching bedroom furniture isn’t on the list.
Let me be clear here: the “we” I’m talking about is not some vague “we/us” – I’m in this with you, friends. Pre-baby, I would have literally put anything on my registry recommended to me. I was not discerning. I was an equal opportunity registry nut.
If my friends recommended it. Added! If an online ad recommended it. Added! Hindsight would have had me register for many many many more diapers and far fewer newborn shoes. I mean, seriously, what is a newborn going to do with shoes?
Here’s the actual list of things a healthy, full-term newborn needs: near constant proximity to a caregiver, affection, food, clean diapers, and safety. The thing is, few of those are actual products that make the baby registry. And if it doesn’t make the registry, big corporations aren’t interested in it.
What do they do when the things babies need aren’t captured on a registry? Create products to act as proxies, market the shit out of those things, and sell them for exorbitant profit.
As the western world has become more modernized, these corporations have manufactured a market for goods. And then convinced us we need and that without them we’re probably going to have a maladjusted child.
Did you see that kid just sucker punch his friend? His changing table probably clashed with the nursery’s wall paper when he was a baby. Typical.
That market establishes “normal” expectations. It sets a bar or creates a product aimed at being useful to as many people as can be successfully targeted. It casts as wide a net as possible, and holds on for dear life to the group it catches.
For that group the products work well. They are sanity savers. They support goals. They help families function well.
For anyone outside of that targeted group, it behooves the market to squash any discontent with or alternatives to the product for fear the discontent could spread and impact purchasing. Companies do this by paying for celebrity endorsements, sponsoring “research” to prove the superiority of their products, and misleading consumers with faulty information.
Insisting newborns must have a brand-new crib (and its matching nursery set) is one clear example of this. And it benefits the company on many levels.
Of course babies are confused. They move straight from womb to separate room. What was once warm, loud, and constantly moving is now cold, quiet, and still. By design.
The same company that normalized spending hundreds of dollars on infant furniture, coincidentally also supplies ways for you to recreate a womb-like experience. A bear with your heartbeat tucked deep inside the fluff. A rocker that bounces endlessly through the night. A noise machine that sounds like veins pumping blood.
Couple those products with fear mongering public service announcements espousing the dangers of bedsharing? You’ve got a recipe for some crib/nursery vs family bed mommy wars. Not to mention a market for sleep training. One side of that fight is more profitable than the other, and the companies are dependent on us to do their bidding.
Again, let me be clear, not everyone who buys a crib or a bouncy seat is a mindless consumerist automaton whose only decisions are dictated by some omnipresent capitalist overlord. I, in fact, bought both a crib and bouncy seat before my child was born and I still fancy myself a pretty critical thinker.
That being said, I thought I needed them. I had never seen anyone parent without them. I just assumed that to parent well, one had to have them. It’s those predetermined archetypes of parenting that companies exploit.
It isn’t that the products themselves are bad. Or that using them makes us either a worse or a better parent. The problem is that many of our schemas for understanding what we need as parents have been limited by our experiences. Experiences the market has shaped, to help lead us to the aisle where their coordinated crib bedding is kept, and empty our pocketbooks. Little by little. One “choice” at a time.
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.