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Dear Care and Feeding,
My husband and I are expecting our first child in February, and our families are very excited. We’re also very excited, and it’s getting to be about time for us to start setting up our nursery in earnest. The minute we told my family that we’re having a baby, however, my parents immediately started telling us all about the old baby stuff of ours that they’ve saved from back in the ’80s, which of course we’ll need for their grandchild! This includes a crib, a rocking chair, two high chairs, two strollers, maternity clothes, baby clothes, baby toys, bottles, cloth diapers, baby carriers, and all manner of other items that the grandparents-to-be have been dutifully “saving” for the last 30 years. It’s more than enough to fill a nursery and then some—I don’t think my parents ever threw a single thing of mine away.
I know that I should be grateful to have so much free baby stuff being offered to me, but I was really looking forward to buying new (or at least recently manufactured) things for our baby, not to mention the fact that other friends and family members want to contribute things, too. I’ve taken a few smaller items—mostly old toys that I liked, and one cute baby outfit—but my parents are asking when they ought to bring the large furniture over, and at this rate, we won’t have room to store anything that wasn’t made before 1995! My husband and I don’t need to rely on hand-me-downs to provide for our baby, and I don’t even think that a lot of these items are up to code by today’s baby safety standards. Of course, if I mention that to my parents, they get offended and remark that they used these supposed death-traps with me every day when I was a baby, and I turned out fine. (For this reason, I’m also a little hesitant to recommend that my parents keep the items themselves and use them while babysitting.)
I wish that they’d given these items away decades ago to someone who actually needed them—they’re probably not donateable now, so if I don’t use them, I suppose they’ll end up in the trash. I also feel guilty about that—who says that my special baby MUST have brand-spanking-new furniture, clothes, and toys? But of course, my parents won’t understand why buying a crib that was used last year is different from using a crib that’s sat in a basement since the ’80s. I know that they just want to feel useful and included during my pregnancy, and that all of these items have tremendous emotional significance for them. My family is very big on saving things for children and grandchildren (there are some mild-to-moderate hoarding tendencies behind this), and the fact that they’ve kept all of these things for me for the past three decades is a source of great pride. I just feel like everybody’s getting to pick out things for my baby to use except for me! What do I do?
—Drowning in Hand-Me-Downs
In this case, there is a right answer and a perfect justification for it, which you’ve already touched on in your letter—the decades-old baby furniture probably doesn’t meet current safety standards. You don’t just want new stuff for your baby; you need new stuff. This is about your child’s safety, not you wanting a shopping spree or an excuse to spoil your kid. (Note: You cannot actually “spoil” a newborn, a being who would be blissfully unaware if you put them down to sleep in a dog bed—which of course wouldn’t be safe, either, but I trust you get my point here.) I understand it’s a bit jarring for some people when younger parents do things differently—I know people who’ve gotten into actual arguments with their parents over the necessity of putting infants down to sleep on their back. One of our relatives got annoyed with me for not taking my screaming infant out of the car seat to nurse and calm her while the car was moving (they wanted her to be quiet; they did not want to pull over so I could unbuckle her safely). Someday, maybe you and I will be the folks wondering why new parents are so hung up on doing things the new-fangled way they do, but I hope we’ll just find it in our hearts to accept it once we’re told it’s because it’s safer for the baby. It really shouldn’t feel like a personal slight to anyone when best practices and safety measures evolve over time!
You’ve already tried to tell your parents your reasons for wanting to buy new baby furniture and other items, and they haven’t been receptive. I hope they change their minds, but if they don’t, you don’t actually need them to understand or be pleased about your consumer choices as a parent—you’re the parent, and you’re trying to do the best thing for your baby by ensuring they sleep in a crib and eat in a high chair that meet today’s safety standards. You can thank your parents for the offer of their old stuff, acknowledge their feelings, pick a few things of sentimental value to keep for your baby, and then gently but firmly reiterate your (correct) decision. If they keep trying to guilt you, let them know that you’re following the advice in all the baby books; your mind is made up, and that’s the end of it. Try not to let this bother you too much—parenthood is an ideal time for your priorities to shift from making your parents happy to focusing on what’s best for your kid, and hopefully your families will be so over the moon about having a new grandchild that they’ll get over this quickly.
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