The Politics Of Borrowing Baby Stuff

Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

I’m sure most of you have heard that at least once in your lives (usually from the kind of family member who starts the sing song at a wedding). It was Shakespeare who coined the phrase, the advice being that to borrow something from, or lend to a friend, can more often than not result in losing both the thing loaned and the friend.

But borrowing and lending makes the modern world go round, and usually we know the rules.

If someone asks for the loan of a tenner, we know it needs to be paid back. If a friend asks can she borrow that dress you wore last Christmas, we all know it should be returned promptly (and dry cleaned).

And we all understand how borrowing from the bank works (unfortunately).

It struck me recently that a lot of borrowing and lending goes on around babies, and the rules are far less clear. If you borrow a car seat, are you borrowing it for the whole length of time that you will need it, or just until you can afford one? How long is too long to hold on to it? Is it a loan or a gift? Did that pal stop sending you Christmas cards because you never returned her changing table? Is it like squatters’ rights — after a certain number of years, can you claim ownership??

It’s a risky business.

As I am based in London but still in Dublin for work, I had to double up on many purchases. And then there was my parent’s house — they take my son for me a lot when I am here, and that would have meant tripling up on the basics. But one of my oldest pals Caroline (in years that I have know her, not age!) lent my Mum a rake of baby paraphernalia which I appreciated greatly. A cot, a walker and various other bits and pieces.

As I understand it, we should return the items as and when we are finished with them (unless requested sooner).

But another friend of mine who found herself unexpectedly pregnant, was seething to find out the cot she had lent a neighbour had since been passed on to someone else, and there were too many degrees of separation (and baby stains) to ask for it back.

Another had borrowed a twin buggy offered by a friend, but was berated for the wear and tear on it when it was given back two years later.

She was guilted into replacing it which meant she may as well have bought herself a new one at the start.

Kitting out your baby is an expensive business, and often friends and neighbours will have attics and garages full of stuff that might lessen the burden. But what are the unwritten rules of borrowing and lending baby gear?

Or is it like Fight Club with no rules at all?

Here’s my understanding of this unexpected mothering minefield:

- Never accept anything offered after a few drinks. They may not mean it and will ask you weekly if you’re “finished with it yet?”.

- If an item is offered to you, don’t assume it never has to be returned. Even if years have passed, offer it back to the lender, and for the love of God, don’t give it to someone else. This is the equivalent of getting involved in a parenting Ponzi scheme.

- Even if a friend says she won’t need something back, an unexpected pregnancy automatically negates all loans. If this happens, offer the item back immediately (even if you still need it).

- Don’t be offended if you offer a new parent something and they look horrified and tell you they’re “buying all new things for the baby”. Wait until they have a second and they’ll come cap in hand…. “About that double buggy….”

- I shouldn’t have to say this, but if you are returning something, CLEAN IT! You haven’t known true horror until someone returns a high chair covered in food and possibly shit stains.

Shakespeare never mentioned shit stains….