Contributed by Jennette Selig
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest you’re either a mother, you have a mother, or you know of one. That covers most of us, right? In any case, given all the mothers running around, there’s another sort of person you’re likely to bump into. Figured out what I’m getting at? At some point in your lifetime, you’re nearly guaranteed to meet up with…a baby.
Babies are big business these days, so—whether it’s yours or someone else’s—I wouldn’t blame you if you felt obliged to give that baby (or her parents) some sort of gift. That’s one thing we do with babies, right? To prepare for them, to welcome them into the world, to show them we care—we buy them stuff. Some of what we buy for babies is necessary. Some of it is not. “Necessary” is a bit subjective, when it comes to these sorts of things. Still, I doubt even the most hard-core minimalist parents add a child to their family without purchasing a few items they wouldn’t otherwise have had around the house.
Now, your average newborn citizen doesn’t care much about registries, shower presents, or “nursery necessities,” but our consumer culture has created a whole range of lists of expected and aspirational baby-related gear, gadgets, and equipment. Debate over whether or not items like musical swings and wipes warmers belong on the “must-have” or “don’t bother” list won’t cease any time soon, and bullet-pointed breakdowns of “basics” range from 3 or 4 items to more than 30. These lists, like newborns themselves, can easily overwhelm new parents, let alone well-wishers, so don’t blame yourself if you fall under the umbrella of extended family, friends, coworkers, and assorted hangers-on wondering what in the world to buy for the baby.
I’m poking fun at the idea that babies need a lot of stuff, yes, but I’m not arguing against giving gifts to newborns and their families. It can be a lot of fun to select something special for a brand new little one, and it can be a sweet and meaningful gesture that parents really do appreciate. If you’re so moved, you could even challenge yourself to choose a gift for that shower, baby-naming, welcome home party, or “sip and see” with an eye toward economic empowerment—by supporting small businesses and individuals, as well as sustainable production and fair-trade practices. Here’s a short list of places you could start:
Fair Trade/Organic/Made in the USA baby toys, accessories, clothes, and more can be found in online shops like Fair Indigo, Global Goods Partners, Greenheart Shop, and Handcrafting Justice. Some people assume “organic” means “expensive,” but that isn’t always the case. Even if your budget is limited, don’t assume you can’t afford to buy a fair trade or environmentally sustainable gift. Prices on these sites vary widely, and there is often a sale page that lists discounted items.
Seek out products made by companies devoted to sustainable practices. Check out the Green Business Directory for a wide variety of shop listings. Don’t feel limited to toys and clothes, either. A care package of environmentally-friendly baby products from Seventh Generation (one of the companies in the Green Directory) could make a great gift.
Look for hand-crafted items, made locally or in small businesses. Many popular baby-wearing carriers are made by hand by independent artisans or small businesses. The Beco Gemini is just one such alternative to some of the bigger-name, remotely, or mass-produced products.
Give a gift that gives back. Better World Books, which was mentioned in the 2012 Social Impact Holiday Gift Guide, sells used and new books (including children’s books). Every purchase from their site is matched by a donation to those in need, through their non-profit partners Books for Africa and Feed the Children.
Why not give gift certificates, vouchers, or money toward local support services, to aid the parents in the first few months after the baby arrives? This could mean a month of their cloth diaper service subscription, some money for their birth or postpartum doula support fund, a few meals to be delivered by a local personal chef, the services of a masseuse or nutritionist, and so forth. If you can tap into a local parenting support group, you may be surprised by how many recommendations of independent business owners you will receive.
In a sense, there’s a “circle of life” aspect to this type of sustainable and fair trade gift-giving. It is not just practical; it’s symbolic, too. When we welcome a new baby by supporting not only his or her parents, but a larger community of socially-conscious adult business people, “it’s the thought that counts” becomes more than a sentiment. That thought of yours can stretch beyond the precious connection between you and the recipient of the gift you give—to “count” in the lives of those who’ve produced and sold what you’re giving.
Have you been the recipient or giver of a baby-related gift that supported economic empowerment in some way? Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.
This post is part of an ongoing series on economic empowerment in your own backyard. Purchasing fair trade and through alternative markets can have both local and global impact.
Jennette Selig, blogger at snackreligious.blogspot.com, lives in New York City and attends Judson Memorial Church in Washington Square Park. Having been raised by two American Baptist ministers, she enjoys a good potluck as much as any fine dining experience. When not taking pictures of snack foods or her toddler, she works as an audiobook narrator and postpartum doula.