Thursday, August 9th, 2012

The Only Things Your Baby Needs

The Only Things Your Baby Needs © Tawana Frink -

Jail is an interesting place to observe parenting in practice. I’ve been alternately appalled and impressed by the methods mothers employ to placate and distract their youngsters during the interminable process of waiting in line to visit a friend in jail. Moms can’t let their child run around or throw a tantrum for fear of losing the opportunity to visit their incarcerated loved one. Neither can corporal punishment be doled out lest authorities accuse these women of abuse. Between shushings, treats from the minimal resources available are doled out generously (everything must pass through the metal detector after all) as is affectionate touch and genuine attention. One recent visit to the jail led me to consider what is actually necessary for raising children.
I decided to Google baby necessities, and I came across an article titled, “The Only Five Things You Need for a Baby.” I was fascinated to see her list of essentials: car seat, crib, stroller, bouncy seat and baby bottles.
So much is said about culture and socioeconomic status in those choices. What material belongings do mothers from other cultures deem necessary? While I’ve seen books that deal with what people in various countries eat or own, I’ve never seen one dedicated to the material aspect of raising kids. Any publishers out there? Ahem. Even here in the States indispensible parenting items are in flux so each family has to create its own standards. When I think about the families I’ve nannied for over the years, I remembered those who had forgone a crib, similar to the Montessori school I worked at for two years— we used mats on the floor. Some families preferred a sling to another carrier like a stroller. I’ve known plenty of people who managed without a bouncy seat. And if the baby breastfeeds exclusively, bottles aren’t really necessary in theory, although that makes outside childcare challenging.
In the comments section of the “Five Things” article, people included additions to the list: a pacifier,  portacrib (both I would say are superfluous, especially after seeing the mothers at the prison), a rocking chair, baby monitor and high chair. Basic clothing wasn’t included among the necessities—that is also a cultural construct. I’ve seen almost naked babies the world over. Clothing is itself relative. Is it possible that even five items are above and beyond what’s crucial?
Continuing my search for baby necessities, I discovered lists so brief they didn’t need all five spaces: diapers, clothes/blankets, sling/carrier and car seat. I was impressed that fat cat Americans can actually prioritize very well. Another list focused on where to skimp then splurge when it comes to infants, ranking breast pumps, organic baby food and wooden toys over fancy strollers. And I’m inclined to agree. My own strategy is to take the baby to the local thrift store and let him test the toys; I observe what holds his interest over a minute or two.
As both the aforementioned lists are oriented toward infants, I looked up what parents really need for toddlers. The same helpful “Five Things” author had compiled a list that included a car seat and stroller but now also suggested sippy cups, potty and crayons. I have to give it to her for the crayons because they focus on children’s creative as opposed to material needs. Many of the mothers I saw in line at jail handed out crayons to keep their children entertained. The potty could be removed if parents went whole hog on elimination communication, which is what the rest of the world does. From my time working as a Montessori teacher, I know the community disapproves of sippy cups wholesale. When it comes down to it, children can flourish without a lot of what we deem essential.
Parents can let their toddler eat with adult-sized utensils (antique silverware is tiny anyway) and diapers can be changed on a towel on the bed instead of a special mat or table. Parents don’t even have to invest in a home library as long as frequent trips to the library mean books are always on hand. Crayons, though, as a mode of self-expression, are paramount even with the risk to the walls.
Everyone knows that baby will inevitably still lust after your cell phone and keys no matter how many other toys are within easy reach. A used calculator or remote without the batteries instantly becomes a favored toy. Kitchen utensils hold unprecedented appeal.  When I have kids, my plan is to invest in a large set of Tupperware and call it a day. “Keep one end full and the other end dry,” said one contributor, condensing the matter into its most basic elements. What would be on your list?

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

Is Raising Bilingual Children Worth the Costs?

Fancy schools, international vacations, foreign language books, DVDs and tutors add up fast

Almost African: My Childhood as a Serbo-Croatian in Sudan

The freedom of growing up as the only Serbo-Croatian in Sudan

The West's Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

How the West sleeps is different from the rest

Around the World in One Semester

Welcome to our newest blogger--a world traveling, homeschooling mom--to the InCultureParent family!


Kellen has watched other people parent for years. She has worked as a babysitter, infant teacher, nanny and in continuing education and quality improvement for childcare providers. She aspires to be a foster parent someday.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsKNorman   |  Thursday, 09 August 2012 at 12:24 pm

    The bare essentials for a baby are I think Mum and a sling. Everything else is an extra depending on your situation and wants. I’ve written an article on thinking about what you actually want or need. For me personally the list was a few baby suits, at least one sling, a set of cloth nappies, reusable wipes, a waterproof sheet for a changing mat, nappy bucket and because we do travel by car sometimes a car seat. There is a brilliant book, sadly out of print called Baby Wisdom, written by Deborah Jackson which looks at childcare through out the world and starts with a chapter looking at this very issue.

  2. CommentsAllison Riccardi   |  Friday, 30 November 2012 at 8:58 am

    Very interesting post! I agree that that list reveals the excess that we live in. These are the essentials for my family:

    1) breast
    2) cloth diapers/wraps
    3) blankets to swaddle
    4) sling
    5) car seat

    We always washed her bum in the sink, so no need for wipes. For the first few months she really didn’t need clothes… she was content to be swaddled in blankets most of the time. She took a shower or bath with me, so no need for a special tub. She co-slept with us, so no crib, baby monitor or special mattress. (Besides, in our 1 bdrm apartment, a baby monitor would have been silly). She was too little for a stroller. Our lack of ‘stuff’ made it easy for us to travel with her to Southern Europe and China.

    Here is my list for her as a toddler:

    1) a couple sets of clothes
    2) potty
    3) healthy snacks (banana, grapes, cheese)
    4) cloth diapers and wraps (just in case!)
    5) car seat

    The snacks prove to be wonderful bribes. She pretty much can walk anywhere and hold my hand, so no use for sling or stroller. She can use the toilet, but her little potty allows her to go on her own without my assistance. I also like to still put a diaper on her when we go out, even though she will use public restrooms. Car seat is a ‘must’ in the US.

  3. CommentsInCultureParent | Relocation and Travel Tips: How to Handle a House Full of Stuff   |  Wednesday, 21 August 2013 at 9:37 am

    […] is that you truly discover how little you need to be happy. Kellen Kaiser has written about how babies only need five items to thrive; you’ll learn that you and your family also only need very few […]

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
[…] in their homes even if the US is an anomaly. Here are two articles on co-sleeping (click here and here) and one “Dear Abby” (click […...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
Hi...I am an Asian who was adopted and raised by Caucasian American missionaries in South America. I have two kids-my daughter is 16 and my son is 11. When I had my first baby I too was indoctrinate...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
This Karina, the Karina from the article. I'm now 13. It took this article was written 3 years ago and barely coming across it right now. I was originally trying to look for my folkloric pictures fo...
From How This Single Working Mom Raised a Trilingual Kid
Nice recipe, thank for shari...
From Vaisakhi Recipe: Sarson Ka Sag
I've been in Germany Ten years now, Lived in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, specifically Leonberg. In Frankfurt I was shocked by how unfriendly the People were, how aggressive their Drivers, but in Leonbe...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
At DreamAfrica, we are a streaming app for animations and films from around the world. We celebrate cultural representation in digital media and invite you to download and share our DreamAfrica appp...
From What We Are Not About
Imagine those people who work at your typical IT Department, yeah those weirdos with low EQ, no manners, no social skills; indeed those who kiss the bosses' ass when it's convenient, but get offend...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I contacted the editor of this magazine (Stephanie) and she told me she'd inform Jan about this article. I have since changed my mind about going to Germany because of Merkel's policies, and this i...
From Are Germans Really Rude?

More Global Parenting