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Buying a car seat is something every parent must do, often multiple times, even if you’re a one-child family. Of course, there are car seats that grow with children from infancy to college (approximately), but they may not fit your car, you budget, or your child. That’s right. Some car seats are uncomfortable for kids, depending on how the child is built. Welcome to the car seat nightmare.

Buying a car is easier than buying a car seat. I’ve bought three cars and three car seats in my life and that’s a statement I stand by. You can test drive a car. You can lease a car and give it back after a few years. You can lift a car more easily than you can lift a car seat. Okay, that last point isn’t completely accurate, but I would be willing to put money on the fact that some compact cars are a lot closer in weight to a car seat than you would think.

There are so many wonderful aspects about becoming a parent but buying a car seat is not one of them. It’s not even in the Top 50. I’d rank it closer to the ‘vaginal tearing’ part of the list, but vaginas eventually heal. Car seats last forever.

THE REVIEWS

Like many first-time parents, my pregnancy was filled with excitement over planning for the incoming bundle of joy, which included researching the best car seat. This excitement quickly gave way to sheer terror. If you’ve ever looked up car seat reviews, then you know that people love to share pictures from their car accidents and tell you about how their car seat saved their child. The problem is that just about every car seat review includes these stories, as well as stories about how their child got loose from the car seat, how the car seat injured their child, how the car seat never fit safely in their car, and how the car seat spontaneously caught fire one day (essentially). If every car seat can save your child and harm your child, which one do you buy? That wasn’t a rhetorical question, I really don’t know. I recently asked a friend whose child is the same age as mine about which car seat she was going to buy next. She said she knew I was doing all the research and was waiting to see what I bought and then was getting the same one. She is the smartest person I know. Car seat reviews are the worst.

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THE OPTIONS

There are about 10 major car seat companies and they all offer many options for various stages of car seats. Many. Options. I counted more than 15 options for convertible car seats alone on the Graco site that are all within $150 of one another. Other than cannibalizing their own business, I can’t think of a reason to offer that many options other than to prey upon very tired, very stressed out, very scared parents (Graco is a great company and I own one of their car seats, but they do need to make it easier for parents to know which seat to buy). Kids are in car seats until they’re ready to get their learner’s permit, so prepare to be completely overwhelmed for the next decade and a half.

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THE LANGUAGE

Are you a FTM buying a car seat for your LO and you and your DH don’t know if you want a car seat that is LATCH-equipped? Do you need a 3-in-1 car seat or a convertible car seat, which FYI, is not a fun car seat that has a top that lowers, which is what is sounds like. Should you get a Backless Booster or High Back Booster Seat? How long do you want your child to be RF before they’re FF? How heavy is the detachable base? Is the car seat FAA compliant? Does it use lower anchors? Can you find the seat belt path? The top tether? Will you need a second seat for your MIL or IL’s car? Rethread or no-rethread? Five-point harness? OMG? WTF?

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THE MATH

Car seats are designed to keep tiny humans alive, so yeah, that can get pricey. Like any product, there are car seats that are affordable and those that can break the bank. While it’s great to have options, the issue lies in attempting to discern where and how price differences come into play. The $200 car seat has gone through the same testing as the $500 car seat. The more expensive car seat may be lighter and easier to install, but $300 lighter and easier? Are we bad parents if we put a price on our child’s safety and get the less expensive car seat or are we just being smart?

Then there’s the math involved with trying to figure out how to buy the least number of car seats. If you have one child and are planning on a second, do you buy an infant car seat for the first that the second can use, or a convertible car seat for each, or an infant, then a convertible for the first one to use that the second can use later, but there needs to be enough of an age difference that the first can be in a booster seat by the time the second child comes along. Do you get the convertible car seat that’s on sale because it’s last year’s model, but that means you have one less year before it expires so will it be ‘good’ long enough to work for the second child or should you pay full price to get this year’s model?

Actual image of every parent buying a car seat:

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THE TRAVELLING

God forbid you need to be able to move the car seat between cars or take it on an airplane. If you’ve managed to successfully install your child’s car seat and your fingers and marriage are still intact, that seat is never moving again. If you fly more than twice per year and want to bring your own car seat, I recommend getting a lightweight and inexpensive second travel seat. And a rolling system for taking the seat through the airport. And a seat on a plane that your family isn’t on. Just meet them at the destination.

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THE INSTALLING

Read the manual, watch the YouTube videos, follow the Facebook pages, scroll through the chat rooms, make an appointment with a car seat expert, and accept the fact that your car seat will still never be installed properly. A recent study that I just made up but believe in my heart is true found that after money, the leading cause of divorce was couples installing car seats together. Prove me wrong.

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THE SHAMING

When it comes to kids and cars, you can’t be too safe. I get that. I also get that people are mean. I don’t like to say never, but I will never post a picture of my child in her car seat. Never. She could have the voice of Mariah Carey and give a performance in the back seat of my car that would surely land us on Ellen and have us going home with an oversized cheque and 15 minutes of fame and I still won’t do it. I check and recheck her car seat every time I put her in the car and I still know that someone online would see the picture and tell me that I was endangering her life. Do I want to know if I’m doing something wrong? Definitely. Is there a helpful and constructive way for keyboard car seat crusaders to inform parents of how to properly use their car seat without also telling the parent that they are the world’s worst mom or dad? According to social media, no.

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