A few days ago, I got an email from a reader named Katie who had this to say:
I was wondering if you would be interested in a post for us with kids or soon to be kids as in my case. I am currently 32 weeks pregnant and agree with a lot of things you do/believe when it comes to child rearing. I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about life in a couple of months and would love to hear more of your thoughts on things. Maybe a post about “What I wish I could have told myself when I was pregnant” from what you have learned now or even a summary of what you did that worked well or wouldn’t do again. I hope that makes sense. I fight a lot of the consumerism that is thrown at you, but still feel like I am getting too much of what I don’t need and maybe not enough of what I do need.
Also, what did you do for toys for your boys their first year? I firmly believe in no noise making, lights flashing toys as they just over stimulate. I am going to load up on books and other simple toys.
Thanks in advance! I don’t always do the things you do, but really appreciate your ideas and putting yourself out there. As I have simplified my life, it has been really wonderful reading about what others do for ideas and overall support!
None of us can go back and get a “do-over”, but since we have two boys who were born three years apart, we’re sort of getting to do things over with our second little guy. We have done some things differently, although we’ve also repeated a lot of what we did the first time around. In general, I’m more focused on “less is more” now than I was four years ago. If you haven’t read The Minimalist Mom’s Guide To Baby’s First Year, I highly recommend it. I even got to contribute a section to it, which was definitely an honor. Her site is a great resource.
Here are some of my thoughts on the early years of parenting, in no particular order:
We use the sling much more frequently now than we did when our first son was a baby. We use it on walks (just like the first time around) but I also use it when we’re grocery shopping and just around the house when our son is fussy and needs to be held. I have a sling that I can use for front or back carry, so I just put him in it on my back and I can go about whatever I need to get done. He’s often on my back while I work in the garden or wash the dishes. It’s a great way to get him to fall asleep, and I don’t have to worry about whether he’s safe or getting into anything. One-year-olds have to be watched pretty much constantly, and the sling takes away any concerns about his safety during times when I’m very busy.
We also don’t use a crib at all anymore. We used one with our older son – he slept in it until he was about two. When he started climbing out of it, we switched him to a toddler bed (found on Craigslist) so that we could keep using our organic crib mattress. We still have that toddler bed in our room, although our son now has a big boy bed in his room too. Most nights he opts to sleep in the toddler bed in our room. For the past year, we’ve had the crib in the bedroom with the big boy bed, but we weren’t using it. Our baby sleeps with us at night. I cannot even express how much easier that is for us. Instead of one of us having to jump out of bed in the middle of the night and go to another room to get a crying baby, all I have to do is wake up (barely) for just a second when he starts moving around. I get him nursing and then I can go right back to sleep. He falls asleep when he’s finished eating, and we all get a great night’s sleep. Since he doesn’t have to wake all the way up and start crying to get our attention, he’s still half asleep through the whole process too, which means he falls back asleep very quickly. Naptime during the day happens either in the sling (or jogging stroller if we’re out on a walk and our older boy is riding his bike – I have to jog to keep up with him now, so no sling), or in the toddler bed. So we recently passed our crib on to another local family who needed one.
EDIT: Although we’re big fans of co-sleeping and have seen how well it’s worked for our family, there are some situations where it’s not safe. Co-sleeping is not a good idea if either parent is a smoker or very obese, or if either parent is under the influence of drugs or alcohol when going to bed. Also, bedding should be firm and free of things like fluffy comforters. If you’re a very sound sleeper and worry about the possibility that you might roll onto your baby, trust your instincts and put your baby in a crib or bassinet close to your bed. There’s more information here on the pros and cons of co-sleeping. And as with anything else, make your own decisions based on your own research and what feels right to you, rather than what anyone else does.
We got rid of a lot of our baby clothes before our second son was born. We had tons. I had purchased some stuff at Goodwill; we had received lots of clothing gifts, and I also have a friend with a little boy who is 8 months older than our first son – she had given me several bags full of clothes over the years. We just had too much clothing. How many swim trunks does one little kid need? So before our baby arrived last year, and then again when he was a few months old, I sorted through the baby and kid clothing we had and donated several bags of stuff. Last week I was getting out the 12 – 18 month shorts from our clothing stash, and I found about 12 pairs. Given that I wash laundry several times a week, there is no possible need for that many shorts. So I donated half of them – better that they be used by someone else than just take up space in our drawers.
I’m not a fan of toys with blinking lights and batteries either. But my MIL likes them, and so our boys occasionally get them. I’m certainly not going to tell her what she can and can’t buy for our boys. Some of the gifts we get end up being donated, but some of them turn into things that our boys enjoy – blinking lights and all. Although my ideal toy box would mostly have just simple wooden and cloth toys, and books, I have to remind myself that I’m not the one playing with them. So within reason, our boys are allowed to keep toys they get as gifts, regardless of whether those toys are things we would have picked out for them. We do have a “one in, one out” rule for toys that we instituted about a year ago. It’s been a great way to keep toy clutter at bay. If our son sees a toy he wants at Goodwill (we only buy toys at thrift stores), I remind him that he’ll have to pick out a toy at home to donate. As soon as we get home – before he gets to play with the new toy – the first thing he does is go to his room and get a toy that we put straight into the donation box.
Our favorite toys (and the ones that our sons have enjoyed the most) are blocks, Legos, books, a train set (Brio and Thomas with wooden tracks), a big bin of 2×4 offcuts from our basement project, Lincoln Logs (three complete sets, found at Goodwill for a total of $10), a wooden castle that my parents made with our son, a play kitchen and lots of felt food, and a farm set that we found at a garage sale (lots of animals with a big fold-out barn). He also has a set of Construx that we found at Goodwill – it’s identical to a set my husband had when he was a kid, so the two of them have had lots of fun with that. Homemade play dough has also been a big hit over the years. This week we discovered Playmobil, and it’s currently our son’s favorite toy by far. I found a Playmobil set at a thrift store for five dollars, and he loved the pictures on the box. I had heard that they made good quality stuff, so we brought it home to check it out. It’s fantastic, and he’s had hours of fun taking everything apart and putting it back together. I looked it up on Amazon, and it sells for $75 new. So our five dollars was definitely well spent. One small part (that holds a wheel on) was missing, so I called Playmobil today to see if I could order a replacement part. Not only are they sending it to me, they’re sending it for free – not even a shipping charge. Definitely a quality toy, and it’s hard to beat that level of customer service.
So as far as toys go, for our almost four-year-old we’ve found that the best toys are the ones he can make things with (play dough, blocks, etc.) and things that he can take apart and put back together using his imagination (Construx, Lego, Playmobil, blocks, the farm, the kitchen, etc.). And of course, there are the “non-toy” toys too: the great outdoors and my own kitchen stuff come to mind. Our son also loves books. We get lots of books as gifts, although in general I prefer to use the library (and I recently culled our book collection to make it a bit smaller – we donated a lot of books to the library). With the library we can constantly rotate our books – for free! – so we don’t have to maintain a huge shelf of books in order to have plenty of reading material.
Incidentally, we’ve never gotten into “educational” toys or electronic gizmos that claim to teach children various stuff. We’ve taught our son all sorts of things just by playing with him and having him help us in the garden, garage, kitchen, etc. And he has taught himself lots of stuff by playing with interactive (but non-electronic) toys and poking around in the yard. Toys that encourage a child to be creative and figure things out are great for learning – you don’t need “educational” toys or videos, especially for very small children.
For our one-year-old, we have a small canvas bin of toys. One with blinking lights (a gift from my MIL), and the rest are made of wood or cloth – plus there are several board books in there. We also have a set of toddler-size Legos that our little guy likes, and he loves the blocks too (both boys share those for the time being, although our older son gets a bit tired of how his little brother “plays” with blocks – knocking everything down as fast as possible).
We have spent very little money on our boys over the years. But we’ve had so much fun with them, and we feel like our family has everything we need (and then some, as do most American families). We have an old hand me down jogging stroller that’s probably from the mid 90s that does exactly what we need it to do: allows me to go for a run or keep up with our son on his bike while taking our baby along for the ride. I couldn’t even guess how many miles we’ve put on that thing, but I’d say it’s well over a thousand. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have spent big bucks on fancy strollers and have then ended up using them infrequently at best. This is just one example, but the point is that you can do just fine with stuff that isn’t top of the line, and with second hand stuff. And you can get by without a lot of the stuff that is considered a “must have” for babies.
We don’t have a changing table. I got a little roll-up changing mat at a thrift store and we keep that next to the storage tub where we keep our cloth diapers. We roll it out on the floor and that’s where were change our son. We use wash cloths as wipes, and four years into our cloth diaper journey I can definitely say that they are a lot easier than I had expected them to be.
Going for walks and taking advantage of parks is something we do very frequently. Several times a week I walk around town with the boys (well, these days I jog around town, since I have to keep up with an energetic little biker). We stop at parks or the library, or sometimes just do errands while we’re out. Whatever we’re doing, I find that getting the boys – and myself and the dog – outside makes the day better. Even in the winter, we make a point to bundle up and get outdoors. This is something I’ve been doing ever since our older boy was a few days old. I have a second hand Moby Wrap that was ideal for the early days of being out and about. The baby was completely tucked inside it, all snuggled up, and we could walk all over town. Check Craigslist for a Moby Wrap if you want one – I got mine for about half of what they sell for new, and it had only been used once.
Nursing is worth the effort. With our first son, the first few weeks of nursing were so painful that I cried every time he latched on. I had no idea before hand that it was going to be that difficult. But as far as I was concerned, there was no other alternative – period. Our midwife checked his latch and said it looked good, and I had no mastitis or anything like that. My nipples just needed to get used to their new job, and it was quite the process. Those first two or three weeks seemed like an eternity as far as nursing was concerned, but after that it got much easier. Our son breastfed for two years, and I cherish the memories I have of nursing him. So, so glad I toughed it out through the hard parts. When our second son was born, it had been a year since I’d nursed a baby and I was a bit concerned that it would be painful again. But it wasn’t – not at all. I guess two years of nursing had toughened things up a bit ;) Anyway, our second little guy is almost 13 months and we have an excellent nursing relationship going. We waited until he was about seven months to introduce solid food, and while nursing still seems to be his favorite way to eat, he loves sitting at the table with us and feeding himself whatever we’re eating.
Speaking of baby food… you don’t need to buy it, and you also don’t need to spend lots of time in the kitchen making and freezing homemade baby food. It’s really not that big a deal at all. As long as you’re eating nutritious food yourself, you can just feed that baby whatever you’re eating. We’ve done that with both of our boys, and they’re both good eaters. We’ve never bought jars of baby food or boxes of infant cereal or teething biscuits or anything like that. We have a little baby food grinder (like this), although to be honest, most often than not we just mashed things up with a fork. Our boys eat whatever we eat, and it’s been that way since they first started eating solid food. That’s made picky eating pretty much a non-issue in our house, since there are no other options besides what the rest of the family is eating.
This post has gotten a bit longer than I intended. I hope it’s helpful, and please feel free to ask questions in the comments if you want me to talk about something I haven’t addressed here. We all do things differently as parents, and in many cases there isn’t one right or wrong way to do things. This is just what has worked for us, and the things we’ve learned along the way. In general, the more time you can spend with your children, the better – and time trumps money in almost every situation. It’s definitely a good idea to have some money stashed away (that’s always a good idea, but even more so when you have a child), but you’re not depriving your kid if you skip the trips to Disney Land and choose to spend your vacation time poking around in the woods and looking for pine cones – in my opinion, that’s a better way to spend time anyway, and it sure is a whole lot less expensive.
Thanks for the questions Katie, and best wishes with the last few weeks of your pregnancy! I hope you have a wonderful parenting journey.
Great post! I am due today, although my little guy seems to be in no hurry to arrive! I think your suggestions are fabulous and love your attitude on things. Craigslist has been a great asset for us so far and I am sure we will continue to use it in the future.
Good article – however, please be careful with having a baby sleep with you in your bed. If you are a sound sleeper, you might, accidentally, roll over onto your baby. I know you think you might not……..but it happens more than we know.
Frugal Babe says
This is actually quite a controversial topic. Wikipedia has a good summary of the opposing sides of the debate:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-sleeping Co-sleeping is not safe if either parent in the bed is a smoker, or if they have been drinking or using drugs, nor is it safe if the parents are very obese. Having other children in the bed as well is also probably not a good idea. But those factors aside, there is a lot of research that indicates that babies are safer sleeping next to their mother than they are in a separate crib.
Babies who co-sleep also breastfeed more frequently during the night, which helps to keep the mother’s supply up and keep her levels of prolactin high. I know that there are times when sleeping parents roll onto their co-sleeping babies. But I wonder how often those tragic events occur when one of the contraindications I mentioned above is involved? (ie, drinking, smoking, drug use, or obesity). I am a very light sleeper (much more so now that I have children) and I wake up at the slightest movement from our baby. Happily, I also fall back asleep very quickly after I’ve taken care of whatever he needs.
Co-sleeping is definitely a non-mainstream choice in the US (although it’s perfectly normal in a lot of parts of the world), but for our family it has worked very well for our son’s first year. I don’t know how much longer we’ll do it, but I imagine we’ll keep it up as long as he nurses frequently at night.
Frugal Babe says
I went back and added some information to the post about factors that should be taken into consideration before deciding to co-sleep (obesity, tobacco use, being under the influence of alcohol or drugs), and a link to the wikipedia article on co-sleeping. Thanks for the reminder :)
You have a lot of smart ideas here. My youngest child is the only girl, and 8 years younger than my last son, and we have a very large extended family. It was very hard to keep the clutter at bay, with 3 sons who were much older, with vastly different interests, and then an infant of a different sex, but we did the best we could. We were fortunate to get occasional bags of handed down clothes, I shopped at thrift stores and sewed a lot for all of my kids, so clothing was pretty easy to manage. The toys were another story. Every birthday and Christmas brought a mountain of new toys, despite my protests. My daughter would become overwhelmed. At one point I counted a dozen Barbie dolls, so what we would do is thank everyone, try to keep as much in the boxes as possible, and either quietly return whatever we could to the stores and then have her choose 1 to keep and donate the rest. It also helped to do an occasional inventory to determine what my kids actually used and what could go. One of my sons really enjoyed his action figures, so we limited them to 1 type and donated the rest, another was into video games, so we had 1 game system, with a few carefully chosen games that he was allowed to play for a limited amount of time each day if his chores and homework were done, and the third son was into building things, like Legos and Lincoln logs. We had to be constantly vigilant to keep from being overrun, and we weren’t always successful (did I mention that we have a large extended family?). Our families weren’t cooperative. I would repeatedly ask my parents and in-laws to just buy my kids a savings bond instead of toys, but they would keep buying toys that would break within a month. Interestingly, all of my kids, as adults, prefer to live clutter-free, so clearly something worked. My daughter requires very little, has the smallest wardrobe of all of her friends, borrowed a dress from a cousin for her prom, and decided that she would rather have experiences than things. I am also a grandmother now. For Christmas every year, I give each of my grandkids a Christmas ornament for their tree (which I buy on clearance at the end of the previous season!) and a savings bond (although with bonds becoming more difficult to purchase I am going to do something different this year – maybe an education account). They enjoy putting their ornaments on their tree and their parents are relieved to have less toy clutter. By the way – Legos? LOVE them. We keep a large plastic tub of them (which we’ve acquired over many years) in our family room for whenever any kids are here. Everyone knows where the tub is and the “big” kids enjoy them as much as the little ones do. Those things are timeless, ageless and almost indestructible. The best toy investments I ever made.
Frugal Babe says
Legos are definitely awesome. A lot of the blocks we have belonged to my husband and his sisters when they were little. My MIL kept a lot of their childhood stuff and she has been passing some of it on to us over the years. The blocks are a huge hit, and have been for a few years now. We’ve added to the set with some thrift store finds, but the majority of them are 30 – 40 years old.
I give our nieces homemade Christmas ornaments every year too. We don’t do any sort of gift exchanging with the rest of the family (other than a scrapbook for my MIL) but I’ve found that I really enjoy making ornaments for our nieces. I think that’s a great gift for your grandkids!
Many, many excellent ideas here! I would add that it’s very helpful to find mothers with older babies so you can try their baby gear before you buy. Our daughter is 11 weeks old, but there is so much I wish I could go back and tell myself when I was pregnant.
Our baby cries whenever she’s not in our arms peeking over the shoulder, so the moby wrap that I bought on craigslist doesn’t get used much because she doesn’t like it. I’m hoping that she likes it when she’s big enough to face front. We were also gifted a secondhand ergo and baby bjorn. The ergo was awesome for walks in the first two months, then she grew too big for the newborn setting, but not big enough for the older baby setting. I think my right arm is strong enough to break concrete now.
I was completely anti-flashing lights, music, battery operated toys until we tried out a baby swing at a friend’s. Finally, a place that the baby is ok being put down for a minutes so we can all those tasks that require two hands. We found a used one for $10 on craigslist, and retails for $75. But it’s priceless to be able to put the baby down for a few minutes and relieve those aching muscles. We don’t use the lights and music much.
We also got, on craigslist, a graco pack & play with changing table and bassinet – but the baby sleeps in our bed. Mostly we use the changing table, which has convenient places to put the diapers and wipes.
People keep giving us outfits, most of which we donate.The baby lives in sleeper suits and onesies. Outfits are just a pain. Mostly, our baby just wants to interact with us for play or to look at the world around her. Toys aren’t on her radar. I was also anti-stroller until I realized just how tiring toting around a baby is all. the. time. I got one for free from a coworker.
I think my main point is that you never know what your baby will like or dislike, so I wouldn’t load up on anything but the absolute basics until the baby is born. Stick with the necessities (12 sleepers/onesies – get some newborn and some 0-3 month sizes, diapers, wipes, lots of blankets, a carseat, a method of carrying the baby, swaddling blankets, spare rags for spit-up – that kind of thing). For bathing, we do sponge baths on the bed, followed by some baby massage. I would also get some newborn bottles – just in case. The son of a friend of mine was born with such a weak suck that he couldn’t breastfed. She pumped and they bottlefed him until his latch strengthened around week 5.
I completely agree with Kaytee’s points, right down to the flashing toys. As a shower gift we were given a little plastic table with various features — a keyboard, dials that turned, etc., and that made noise and I thought “Ha! We’ll never use that.” It totally became my go-to item (really DS’s) go-to item when he was big enough to stand and play with it because oh my goodness, it got me 10-15 minutes of a happily distracted little one, allowing me to fix supper (etc.) relatively unimpeded. OTOH we also just provided a bunch of the plastic/lighted/noisy toys we were given to DS with no batteries in them; he still enjoyed them and never knew what he was missing.
Frugal Babe says
This made me smile. My husband jokes that his primary workout these days is isometric bicep curls from carrying around our little guy for hours at a time. Our baby is almost 13 months, and for his entire life he has loved being carried around on his papa’s arm. During the day he hangs out with me and his big brother, and gets plenty of sling and stroller time. But as soon as dad finishes work for the day, our little guy wants nothing more than to be picked up so he can ride around on his dad’s arm for the rest of the evening. I think I have about a thousand pictures of it, because it’s just so darn cute.
We also loved having a baby swing for the first few months with both boys. It was great to be able to put them in it for a few minutes to get other stuff done. Neither of them liked to hang out in it for very long, but it would usually put them to sleep for a while and made life a lot easier for us.
And I agree on the sleepers/onsies. That’s still what our son wears almost all the time, and he’s a year old. I never bothered with outfits at all for the first several months. Even now, we only do outfits if we’re going somewhere. Lightweight sleepers are great in the summer too – they don’t get too hot, and they protect the baby’s skin from the sun.
Thank you for posting this. We are expecting our first child in 7months and I am so overwhelmed with all of the baby gear. On top of that I will be taking a budget cut to stay home with our little munchkin, so we need to be very frugal. It’s good to hear what you can and can’t do without. The stores would have you believe you need every single gadget ever made.
Every time I see something cute and/or extravagant for the munchkin I remind myself that it’s not being cute that matters, it’s being home together! I’ve even got my husband on board with scouting garage sales, Craigslist, and our local infant consignment shop for the baby gear.
Frugal Babe says
I agree – being home together is so much more important than any material possession or amount of cuteness. Your baby will be so cute that you won’t notice all the other stuff anyway :-)
i am curious to hear your thoughts on preschool. i have a 2 year old and many parents i know are going to pay (a LOT of money!) to put their kids in a “twos program”. i don’t think i’m doing a disservice to my daughter for not putting her in one, but at some point before formal school begins in kindergarten, i do think she would enjoy being with her peers in some type of casual classroom environment – i’m just struggling with when that might be (and the potential cost, since free public preschool is very competitive where we live). anyway, would like to hear what you’ve decided re: preschool. thanks!
Frugal Babe says
We’re skipping preschool. I’ve written a few posts about my thoughts on this issue and what works for us:
http://www.frugalbabe.com/2011/05/12/raising-content-children-in-a-hyper-competitive-world-and-some-good-links/#.T52u-aum-a8 http://www.frugalbabe.com/2011/11/14/our-frugal-home-version-of-a-montessori-style-preschool/#.T52u9aum-a8 Best of luck to you – I know it’s not an easy decision!
One of the things I have always tried to keep in mind with my little ones is that up until the age of 4 or so, they won’t remember a thing! This doesn’t mean you don’t have to parent, but it helped me when I was really wanting to take them to Disney at the age of 2, or sign them up for a bunch of different activities when they were 3, etc. Save your money for when they will remember it.
Okay, sorry, it was a long week+ so I haven’t had a chance until just now to comment and say thanks for addressing my email! :)
I don’t think you left anything out, but if I think of something I will comment again. It sounds like I am on the right track with things. I plan on getting a pack n play for beside the bed for the first several months. If I can get the baby to sleep all night or wake up 1-2 times, I will move it into it’s room (and crib) really close by. I could never co-sleep because I THRASH in my sleep…I am sure if the baby was there I probably wouldn’t sleep because I would be worried about moving too much. So, it will be right beside the bed and hopefully in the room next door later.
I did get a used pump from a dear friend. We will have a parent stay home with the baby but are in the middle of figuring out which one. We are both engineers and the husband has a very successful side business (nothing to do with engineering) so we are trying to figure out what is best. It sounds easy but isn’t at all!
In the mean time, I am trying to borrow items, get clothes at yard sales or clearance, and not worry about the rest until baby is here.
A good read must say!!. Since the birth of a child he/she should get started with the enormous learning session. Because whatever they will learn since the very 1st day, will help them throughout to acquire the protocol of a systematic life.
Amazing piece of writing. Having child and raising them up can be the best ever moment of couple’s life. I would start shopping months before my child comes into this world and will offer her every possible comfort that she deserves.