Consumer Culture and “Mommy Guilt”

A couple of weeks ago, I had a rough day. Nothing catastrophic happened, and while our son had a fever, he wasn’t violently ill, and we enjoyed our day together. My mother was visiting, and she always has infinite amounts of fun playing with the little dude. But, the day was still chalk full of “mommy guilt,” that insidious feeling cast upon mothers for simply…existing.

I started digging through our spare bedroom, and I uncovered one gift we received at our baby shower – a beautiful, simple photo frame with a kit allowing parents to take an imprint of their baby’s foot and hand. These are sweet mementos, and the frame matched my personal style. It would have looked perfect hanging in the nursery, and there’s no reason it was never used. I also found a brand new, unused scrapbook for “Baby’s First Year,” a barely used Moby Wrap, and adorable figurines that would have perfectly complemented the mountain/woodland theme we chose for our son’s room.

And, the guilt flooded over me like a tidal wave. What kind of horrible parents don’t jump on the chance to create beautiful mementos of their child’s upbringing from birth to toddlerhood and beyond? We will never coo over the size of newborn feet, and I probably didn’t take enough photographs or delight in milestones enough. I didn’t cherish those newborn moments enough, and now they’re gone, never to be relived. Even if we decide to have more children, this little guy’s chubby baby days are over.

As the day carried on, I realized that my son’s childhood isn’t defined by photo frames or scrapbooks. It’s defined by love, by the memories we created together, and the commitment we’ve made to his upbringing. The stuff and the gifts are nice, and we’re so thankful that our friends and family came and celebrated with us during the little squidlet’s part-ay, but since they haven’t been used in two years, we realize that they’re not adding value to our lives. That’s not to say they’re completely useless – some people love to scrapbook, and creating such a memento is an enjoyable pastime, so all the power to them. But, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to feel guilty because we aren’t subscribing to consumer culture. The material items in our baby’s nursery don’t define our love or ability to parent and raise a good, kind human being.

And, this mantra should apply to all aspects of motherhood/parenthood. There is no “right” way to parent – we’re all just flying by the seat of our pants. If you’re nursing, you’re a good parent. If you’re feeding formula, you’re a good parent. Are you using a stroller? You’re a good parent. Do you and your child enjoy babywearing? You’re a good parent. And, so on and so on.

The retail world is going to try its best to make you feel guilty for not buying the best stroller or the best baby carrier or the most trendy clothes for your children. These companies’ tactics of preying on new parents are insidious and nauseating. Parenting is hard enough, and the last thing we need is to feel guilt-ridden because our child doesn’t have brand name shoes.

The behemoths of our consumer culture do not define you as a parent. The number of toys or the brand of toys don’t determine you’re child’s ability to reach his/her developmental milestones – reading to your child is one of the most effective and beneficial ways to help your child learn and grow. Spending hundreds of dollars on a specific car seat doesn’t mean your child will be more safe, as all car seats are regulated by governments for safety and efficacy in a motor vehicle accident – the car seat at Walmart is as safe as the priciest model at Westcoast Kids. Your kids don’t need to be enrolled in a specialized activity to boost their physical development – the local playground is a great place for building endurance, agility, and social skills. Your children don’t need extravagant vacations to appreciate the world around them – there is nature all around you, in local parks and conservation areas, and camping is a great, and budget-friendly, way to disconnect and relax.

Stuff won’t make you a better parent. Don’t let stuff make you feel guilty about your ability to parent. Do you love your child? Good, you’re already winning.