Pamela Paul’s new parenting tell-all, Parenting Inc.,  promises to answer How We are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers – and What It Means for Our Children. The book makes for provocative, insightful reading. But we don’t need 271 pages to tell us why parents today do such nutty things. It’s actually pretty simple.
First of all, the average family size has decreased from 3.5 children in the 1960s to 2.1 in 2006, according to U.S. Census data. Simply put, there are fewer children to go around. So parents lavish proportionately more love and money on a smaller number of kids.
Second, the number of college educated women in the U.S. has more than doubled in 20 years, and the percentage of working moms has tripled. We currently have the best educated, most empowered, confident generation of mothers in the world. No wonder we want the latest high tech gizmos and support for ourselves and our children.
Third, as much as motherhood has transmogrified within the last few generations due to the rise of highly educated working moms, fatherhood has changed even more dramatically. Dads today spend three times as much time with their children on a daily basis as their own fathers did, according to University of Maryland time diary research from the past 40 years. When dads enter their children’s lives in droves, the stakes get higher. Parenting expertise, parenting books, and the need for the latest and greatest consumer products all multiply exponentially. Spending dollars follow.
Naturally, companies who manufacture and market baby and child development products notice these trends among families in the U.S. The big question remains: is this trend toward big business parenting good for parents and kids, insidiously destructive, or at times both?
I, for one, am grateful for the myriad choices of high-quality, often practical information and products. No one is forcing me to buy a stroller that costs more than our monthly food bill or to teach my kids to sign for more Cheerios. I remember all too well my mother’s experience raising four children in the 1960s and 70s. She used cloth diapers with huge safety pins. A hand-held rubber breast pump. We rolled around in the back of our VW Bug since car seats hadn’t yet been invented. We licked the lead paint off our baby rattles. The good old days? I don’t think so.
Parenting is big business today. As it should be. What do you think?