Are We Letting Consumerism Plan Our Families?

6/20/17

I push the massive red cart through the aisles, joking apologetically to passersby about my ineptitude at navigating a spaceship. My three-year-old and one-year-old sit happily enjoying their free ride, chatting it up with one another, with me, with anyone who will listen, really.

We need diapers, so I maneuver carefully through the numerous baby aisles, passing a veritable mass of inventions, each almost identical to the last. For a brief moment, the normalcy of these aisles gives way to reality and I see the absurdity for what it is. I have to count them, I decide. 11 activity mats. 6 excersaucers.

Tossing a few (of the dozen) plush animals at my boys to buy myself some time, I move to the bouncers. Only four, I’m surprised to find, but they all look almost exactly the same: sleek and white, seemingly better suited for the Apple store than the baby aisle of Target; four variations of a product with almost no discernable difference between them.

My three-year-old cannot contain the stimulation any longer. “I want to buy something!” he yells.

Bingo, I think.


Most Christians would probably agree that America has a consumerism problem. Yet if we’re honest, most of us are also unwilling to do anything about it ourselves. We will sit and bemoan the state of a society that values things over relationships, monetary exchanges over natural pleasures, but we subconsciously feed into the epidemic all the time. We convince ourselves that a “want” is really a “need”, we see lack where there is abundance, and we spend money because it physiologically makes us feel good, though we rarely recognize it.

But perhaps most damaging of all: We let consumerism plan our families.

It has become common for happy young couples to wait years before marrying because they are convinced they simply cannot afford family life yet. Certainly, this can be a harmless decision, but let’s face it: it does no favors for those attempting chastity before marriage. Waiting years in an intimate relationship to consummate the intimacy already in one’s heart is no easy task, and all too often becomes one tossed aside in frustration.

But a bigger problem, and one we’re seeing increasingly more frequently are couples in committed marriages postponing having children for years because they don’t feel financially prepared. And can we blame them? Articles like this one claim it costs $12,000 to see a baby through his first year of life, $230,000 to see Junior into adulthood. Who could help but balk at figures like that?

Yet all over the world parents are managing to raise happy, well-adjusted children at a fraction of those numbers, and almost all of our grandparents did as well. Ah, the argument might go, but in our time and place, cost of living is simply much higher. And to an extent that is certainly true: Childbirth itself costs much more than it did 60 years ago, and most American parents plan to save something for their children’s college education. These are valid expenses, absolutely.

But much more impactful may be the thousands of smaller choices between birth and college. With their first walk-through of a big box store’s baby section, parents-to-be may quickly become convinced they’ll need to renovate a new wing of the house to accommodate all the “necessary” gear. Get Chip and Joanna on the phone, stat! And it only continues as that baby grows under the roof of parents who feel they have no option but to keep up with the Joneses. They literally see no other way.


The goal of marketing is to make us feel a lack when in reality there is none. (If there were, we would know: Humans are incredibly attuned when it comes to identifying our vital material needs and seeking to meet them.) And we are never more terrified of lack than when it comes to our children; a noble instinct, but in our modern society, a sorely misdirected one.

If a young married couple believes that before they can bring a baby into the family they must be able to provide a closet full of stylish clothes, the newest playthings, a restaurant’s worth of feeding supplies, and every popular Mommy & Me class in town, they will struggle mightily to embrace a truly pro-life mentality.

And if that’s true of the young marrieds, how much truer is it of those unmarried and facing unplanned pregnancies? When bearing the weight of choice in a culture that tells them they have not “earned” the right to be parents yet, how many feel doomed before they even begin?

We need to support those in crisis pregnancies with programs like the Gabriel Project and local Christian pregnancy centers, to be sure. But have we underestimated the extent to which rejecting a culture of consumerism might change the trajectory of a baby’s life? If we as faithful Christians embraced lifestyles of radical simplicity, might it pave the way for young people to believe that relationships are not built on bank accounts?


One thing I’ve found by now, as I prepare to bring our fourth child into the family, is that babies need far less than our culture tries to convince us of. Quite frankly they are often most happy with less, as parents unable to rely on things are more free to engage in truly bonding activities that help their children thrive. This is a secret many parents of large families wise up to over the years, but it’s a tough sell to convince a first-timer that less is more.

If more of us lived out voluntary simplicity, spoke openly about our tight budgets, and joyfully invited young people into our homes rich in love anyway, perhaps our culture (even if only first within the Church) might become more pro-life. Maybe instead of communicating the message “you don’t have enough to do this”, we could instead communicate, “you are enough to do this”.

And maybe, just maybe we would see more young people made brave against the sneers of society, bolstered by our cheering them on to choose people over things. Every time.

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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