I have used the phrase Parent Replacement Items to describe a set of items for baby that are used in place of something traditionally provided by the parent. The big obvious one is the pacifier, of course, since the pacifier is explicitly designed to mimic the human body. Nearly everything you’re encouraged to buy for baby is a parent replacement item, though.
- A baby monitor replaces parents’ own eyes and ears on the baby.
- A crib holds a sleeping baby safely when a parent isn’t doing it themselves.
- Heartbeat toys replace the sound of the parents’ heartbeat as they hold baby chest to chest.
- Bouncy seats and swings replace the natural movement of a parent with baby along for the ride.
Parent replacement items are not just “baby gear” in general. A high chair isn’t a parent replacement item, for instance. And they aren’t just items that I think are stupid. I think baby bathtubs are stupid, for example, but baby bathtubs aren’t parent replacement items.
Parent replacement items are anything designed to hold baby while you walk away (bouncers, swings, saucers, play yards, cribs), anything designed to keep baby company while you walk away (heartbeat toys, mobiles, nightlights, loveys, etc), anything designed to facilitate separate sleep (monitors, cribs, much of the keep-baby-company stuff), and anything designed to copy human bodies (pacifiers, bottles, heartbeat toys).
When I first pondered the right term to use, I tried to think of something that sounded less like an insult. “Replacement” sounds so judgmental. And I don’t feel judgmental about all of these items. I don’t understand separate sleep for babies, so the things related to separate sleep bother me. But I like the “hold baby” category – those things let you set the baby down and also entertain the crap out of ou[1. “Ou” is a non-gendered pronoun.]. A monitor or a pacifier can be a life-saver now and then. I had trouble coming up with another term, though. These things are replacing the role of the parent, so it seemed the right word to use, even if it sounded a bit harsh.
Now that I’m a parent, I’ve gotten a more intimate feel for why one might buy some of this stuff, and I finally thought of another way to word it: Parent Extension Item. When I give Dylan a pacifier or buy a special play chair to set him in, I’m looking to extend myself into places I can’t go or in ways that are difficult for me. I’ve given Dylan a pacifier when he’s riding in a carseat, for example, because I can’t get my nipple in there.
The pacifiers we own were all gifts, but a couple of weeks ago we purchased our first parent replacement/extension item – a bouncy seat. That was when I thought of the word extension, because I was specifically looking for a way to give myself a break. I wanted a way to set Dylan down and give my arms and back a rest. “Replacement” is still accurate, because I’m wanting an object to replace me for awhile. “Extension” is also accurate, because I’m wanting to extend and expand on the options for how I care for my baby.
In a fun twist, right now I’m looking around for the exact toy I made fun of on the last page of the ad in the This Is The Moment post. Dylan loves to be upright on his feet bouncing away. We can’t get one of the doorway jumpers because our log house doesn’t have the right kind of door frames for those. But the Jumperoo looks just right for him. I think he’s going to go nuts for it. That points to one of my problems with the parent replacement items: you’re encouraged to buy all of them, often before you’ve even had your baby and have learned ou’s preferences. Surely you don’t need a bouncer, a jumper, a saucer, a swing, a play mat, and a play yard for every kid! But once you’ve met your baby and figured out what ou likes and needs, some of these items could certainly come in handy.
I think I’m going to stick with parent replacement item as the term for this set of stuff, because I think it’s important to keep in mind what’s going on and what the risks are. If I think of them purely as extensions of myself, then the more I buy the bigger and better I get, which is not what happens. Instead, the more I buy, the more I’m replacing myself and the less and less I’m there interacting with my child. I want to use the words that remind me to buy less stuff and spend more time touching my baby.