The other morning, I was invited to one of those indoor gym facilities that cater to hyperactive toddlers and stir-crazy parents. There is a loose sort of structure to the gymnastic mayhem, but don’t be mistaken, it is mayhem of a toddler-colliding, primary-colored, off-gassing plastic mat sort of order. And I couldn’t help feeling at that moment that as much fun as all the children were having (mine was the exception, as he was doing his best wallflower imitation), that this was really all for the parents’ benefit.
As I was measuring my response somewhere between empathy and cynicism, a fellow parent approached me and said basically that she is not 100 percent certain her child enjoys this, but for her it is socially necessary. With that very honest admission, I was reminded of a recent book release entitled Parenting, Inc. by Pamela Paul.
In my humble opinion, there is an unreasonable glut of parenting books already out there, and it is arguable whether the world needs yet another tome that feeds off of parental confusion/guilt/insecurity. (Full disclosure: I have not read Pamela Paul’s book, but have familiarized myself with its content through press materials, interviews, reviews, etc.) However, Parenting, Inc. seems to have another agenda in emancipating modern parents from the whirlwind of blind and furious consumerism, which comes in the form of $800 strollers, Baby Einstein DVDs, and Gymboree-type classes.
Paul argues, from firsthand experience, that we (as parents) run the risk of raising children who have no concept of free time and will measure their self worth by what they own and what they can buy. For most people the subject matter may be well-traveled terrain, but it is somewhat reassuring to read Paul’s sober view of kiddie consumer culture, as it is alarming to realize how far off track we have ventured.
How do you, as parents, resist or contribute to the dominant kiddie consumer culture?
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.