Babies possess an astonishing ability to exhaust their parents. They may be small and innocent, but they certainly have a knack for generating work. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that many modern parents are obsessed with baby gear and gadgets. A quick Google search reveals countless product reviews promising parents that their new job will be easier with this or that thing.
Some of these ‘must have’ gadgets may seem a bit silly to non-parents and those of us who are no longer making sleep-deprived purchasing decisions. While I can understand (sort of) why new parents buy these products, having been a new parent twice and knowing how desperate one feels for help of any kind, I would argue that many gadgets actually make parenting more complicated. They have to be maintained, cleaned, packed, transported, and stored. Many of them take up a lot of space, generate unnecessary waste, and use household energy.
Consider the popular wipe-warmer, a plastic box that plugs into the wall and keeps wipes warm so babies don’t have to experience the discomfort of cold wipes on their bottoms. As far as I know, no adult suffers residual trauma from having felt cold wipes as an infant. But why not use a warm washcloth instead? It’s really warm – and zero-waste to boot.
Gadgets tend to detract from the simple act of parenting. Babies don’t need most of the expensive products that parents buy nowadays; it’s the parents who want them, whether it’s for ease or for keeping up with trends. In my own experience, I’ve learned that babies are far happier tucked into a carrier on my back, accompanying me throughout the day, than lying strapped into a $250 battery-operated, bouncy, jiggly, musical swing. As they grow, they’d rather sit on a quilt on the kitchen floor, bang spoons on pots, and listen to my voice than explore the ‘tactile adventure-land’ of a $100 owl-themed play mat that never changes.
I take issue, too, with how gadgets encourage parents to “over-parent” their kids. The $200 Mimo Baby Monitor features special onesies to which parents attach a turtle-shaped monitor that constantly measures a baby’s vital signs, tracking respiration, skin temperature, body position, and activity level. This information is sent via Bluetooth to the Lilypad base station, which sends it to a smartphone. Oh, and the Lilypad’s microphone can stream all of baby’s sounds to your phone so you never have to stop parenting! I can’t think of anything more unpleasant than never having any time to myself. This screams serious separation anxiety on behalf of parents.
I’m happy to raise my kids without the assistance of the Fridet, a portable bidet for potty-trainers; the Baby Brezza, a Keurig-style machine that measures, mixes, and warms bottles of formula at the push of a button; the $850 Origami stroller that has running lights, LCD display, and phone charger; the special Baby Bullet food processer (I’ll use my regular one, thanks); a Sleep Sheep; a Saddle Baby, which ensures kids are “safer” while riding on their parents’ shoulders; and a germ-free humidifier that uses ultraviolet light to zap mold, bacteria, and fungus (heck, my kids eat dirt).
It’s time for parents to take a step back and reassess the gadget craze. Most of these things will be used for mere weeks or months. Many won’t work nearly as well as the advertisements claim. And none of them can replace the one-on-one care and cuddles that babies need above all else. We need a return to simple parenting and minimal gadgets, which reduces plastic and electronic waste, won’t accustom babies to sensory overload, and helps parents to relax, step back, and realize their kids are going to be fine. Buying stuff won’t make anyone a better parent, but buying less might.