Baby Shower Gifts – What a Parent Really Needs

My sister is having a baby – a boy, due in November. It is my first foray into being an aunt. I am so excited about her pregnancy, about being an “Auntie”, about being with a baby again. I have two phenomenal daughters, never intend to have more. I love babies. I actually don’t like children (though I LOVE mine) – but I love babies. The honesty, the id, the inability to do anything but stay in the moment, even the crying. Every infant is a Zen scholar.

Today I read a report that came out of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine which indicates that in one large British sample, over a third of mothers and a fifth of fathers had an episode of depression in their child’s first 12 years of life, with the greatest likelihood during the first year of life. I’ll drink to that – I got slammed with depressive symptoms with both kids – an ugly stew of sleep deprivation, obesity, loneliness, fear, isolation, lack of support, and boredom. This has ramifications not only for the parents, but also for the child’s physical and mental health, development and well-being.

My sister has dutifully registered for all the new baby must-haves – strollers, bottles, breast pumps, one-sies, blankets. We will all dutifully buy them. We are having a little shindig at her favorite restaurant in Los Feliz (the Alcove) to dutifully eat carbs and shower her with gifts.

After reading this article – I may hold off on buying her that stroller. That article reminds me that what she and her husband and that little boy will need is support. I would instead suggest a baby registry that lists the following: Things to give a new parent: Support. Love. Laughter. Rest. Frequent silly texts. Reminders that they are doing great. Babysitting so they can have nights out. Nights in when I cook for them (or more likely order in). Nights when I pull the all nighter so they can get 8 uninterrupted hours of dreamless sleep. Weekends when my girls and I spoil that little dude and his mom and dad go out of town. And giving these things without them having to ask for it.

Parenting is blood sport. One day we are thrown from worlds of autonomy and freedom to a world that requires endurance, patience, discipline, balance and constant vigilance. And in Los Angeles, parenting can feel like a competitive sport. We focus so much on the blessings of parenthood – and they are myriad. My life would be formless and soulless without my kids – I would be more awake, less irritable and far less interesting and loving without them. But like most things that bring meaning – parenting is accompanied by tremendous struggle.

Maybe half of the cure for “parenting-induced depression” is honesty. Acknowledgment of its difficulty and in some utopic future – establishment of structures to give new parents who may not have supports, support. Better family leave so mothers don’t have to entirely give up careers while they give themselves the care they need during pregnancy and the post-natal period and so fathers can be equal players without sweating the rent. Most cultures in the world have built in traditions that safeguard new moms and babies. In other parts of the world, new mothers are often shuttled back to their own parents’ home for rest and care during the final months of pregnancy and the first few months of baby’s life. Aunts and mothers cook balanced meals for mom, snuggle baby, let mom rest, pass down wisdom, and come together as a tribe at the most critical juncture – the welcoming of a new member.

What we do in the US is a bit more sadistic. Women stand on swollen feet til the very last day of a pregnancy so they can get health benefits, families put themselves in financial peril due to income loss from limited family leave policies, babies are often cared for by exhausted, isolated and stressed parents We use vibrating seats instead of snuggling grandmas and aunties. And the parents, especially the mothers are sold a bullshit bill of goods. They are told “this is parenting, it is natural, you should inherently know what to do”. And then parents turn inward feeling like failures instead of turning outside for help – help that should come WITHOUT ASKING.

To my sister (Padma) and my dear friend Leslie Williams – both of whom will be having babies this fall – I will get that little guy some good stuff. But I hope to give you what you really need. Support, wisdom, sleep, nurturance, and a tribe.

And there is no gift receipt on that one.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, September 9th, 2010 at 5:52 pm and is filed under Media and Mental Health, Parenting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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