As parents, the options available to us can be almost physically smothering. How many blankets or cute little onesies will we need? How much should we hang onto when he outgrows this size? What should we offer for dinner tonight to ensure the correct balance of nutrition, variety, and recipient approval? If you don’t find out what all the options are, you might overlook an important one, but spend too much time trying to gather all the facts and you end up drowning in research. No wonder some of us feel overwhelmed.
Take the problem of coming up with a name. When you think about it, naming a child is a huge responsibility. You’re hanging a sign on this tiny little person that’s going to stamp their interactions with everyone they meet. Every time they say “Hi, I’m –” they’re putting your selection on display. And the range of options! One book I had offered more than 40,000 possible names. How on earth could we pick the right one?
Clearly, if we were going to have to live with ourselves and our son, my husband and I needed some way to narrow down the possibilities. And so we came up with a rather arbitrary rule. Both of our full names share a quirky characteristic. We decided to restrict the potential name pool for our son to those names that would fit the same pattern. And just that easily, our options dropped to a mere couple dozen. Yes, we did end up taking a “short list” of 30 names to the hospital with us, but it was a lot shorter than it could have been, and the morning after our baby was born, he had a name–one that we’re all still quite happy with, a year and a half later.
Studies* have found that people are more satisfied with their choices when they have a smaller set of items from which to choose. More options means a greater likelihood of buyer’s remorse, and of second-guessing yourself. But sometimes there isn’t an easy or clear-cut way to reduce your options. When faced with this problem, we occasionally have to fall back on the time-honored solution of simply Making Something Up.
I faced a similar quandary when I was sorting through outgrown baby clothes. I wanted to hang on to some of them for sentimental or practical reasons, but we don’t have space for all the ones I had cute memories for. My arbitrary rule was that I couldn’t keep more of any one size than would fit in the smallest of the storage boxes I’d picked out. They aren’t very big boxes, but with that rule firmly in mind, I was able to cull down to only my favorite “keepers” and pass the rest along lightheartedly to friends with younger and smaller babies.
It’s actually rather freeing to realize that you don’t have to have a solid reason for deciding one way or the other–that it’s OK to pick something just because it’s more aesthetically pleasing to you somehow. And if you’re the one making the rule, then you get to be the one who decides how close you need to come to the letter of the law. I’ll confess, there were some clothing sizes where I exceeded my self-imposed quota, but since I had other boxes with extra space, I was ultimately able to make everything fit in the total space I’d allotted to myself.
When it comes down to it, the important things in the life of a baby are that he or she is getting the necessary food, warmth, sleep, and love. Years from now, it probably won’t matter which brand of car seat young Junior rode around in, or whether you started solids with avocado, banana, or simple rice cereal. I’ve found the time spent analyzing minute differences between options could also be spent playing with my Kiddo… and that’s one choice that’s not hard to make.
* Here are some sources describing this phenomenon:
- Choice: How Much Is Too Much?
- An interview on ‘The Paradox of Choice’ with Barry Schwartz
- A Better Choosing Experience — specifically, the description of the multiple-choice problem that starts at the bottom of page 1 and goes on for much of page 2