kottke.org posts about pamelapaul

The business of parentingMar 31 2008

Salon had an interview with Pamela Paul the other day, author of Parenting, Inc., a book about the business of parenting. Paul starts out by disparging the $800 stroller phenomenon. Ollie's stroller was somewhat expensive (not $800 but not $100 either) but it's well built, flexible in use, nicely designed (functionally speaking), and was far and away the best one for our needs. We didn't feel good about spending so much money, but the eventual cost-per-use will be in the range of cents, so we're really happy with our choice so far. Some parents buy expensive strollers more as a fashion statement, so I can see where Paul is coming from on this one.

I thought the rest of the interview was quite good. We're still new to this parenting thing, but Paul seems to be on the right track. Here's her take on the best toys for kids:

When you think back to the '60s and '70s, all the right-thinking progressive parents thought toys should be natural and open-ended. Crayola and Kinder Blocks and Lego were considered raise-your-kid-smart toys. Then, all this data that came out which said that kids need to be stimulated. They need sound! They need multi-sensory experiences! Now, the more bells and whistles a toy has, the supposedly better it is.

Our parents' generation actually had it right. The less the toy does, the better. Everyone thinks: "Toys need to be interactive." No, toys don't need to be interactive. Children need to interact with toys. The best toys are 90 percent kid, 10 percent toy, the kind of thing that you can use 20 different ways, not because it has 20 different buttons to press, but because the kid, when they're 6 months old is going to chew on it, and toss it, but when they're a year they're going to start stacking it.

And then later:

At the most basic level reuse, recycle, repurpose. The average American child gets 70 new toys a year. That is just so far beyond what is necessary. Most child gear, toys, books are a lot cheaper, relatively speaking, than they were decades ago. In the aggregate it ends up being a lot more expensive, because we're buying a lot more of it, but kids just don't need that many toys. Kids lose out when things become less special.

We've been avoiding toys that make noise and light up. Half of his toys are garbage -- old toilet paper rolls, bags that our coffee pods come in, 20oz soda bottles filled with colored water or split peas, scraps of fabric, etc. -- or not even toys at all -- pots and pans, measuring spoons, etc. It seems like the right approach for us; Paul's "90 percent kid, 10 percent toy" really resonates.

Paul also talks about not overstimulating kids. When I get up in the morning or come home from the office, it's hard not to scoop Ollie up and give him constant attention until he goes to bed or down for a nap. Instead, I've been trying to leave him alone to play and explore by himself. He's getting old enough that when he wants me involved, he'll come to me. In this way, parenting is like employee management; give people the resources they need and then let them do their jobs.

This last bit reminded me of our trip to Buy Buy Baby (subtle!!) to procure baby proofing supplies. They totally had a Wall of Death designed to entice parents to coat their entire house in cheap white plastic.

The baby-proofing industry completely preys on parents' worst anxieties and fears. It really doesn't take a brain surgeon to baby-proof a house, and every store has the "Wall of Death" with like 10,000 products in it that you can affix to any potentially sharp surface in your house, if you choose to go that route.

It's difficult not to feel incredibly manipulated by the Wall of Death. You know deep down that it's ridiculous; your parents didn't have any of this crap and you turned out fine. But then the what-ifs start gnawing away at your still-shaky confidence as a new parent. Our encounter with the Wall paralyzed us, and with the exception of those plastic wall outlet plugs, we've punted on baby proofing for now. We're letting Ollie show us where all the problem areas are before committing to any white plastic solutions.

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