Why IKEA is secretly awesome for parents

Strolling through IKEA this morning — okay fine, I was totally lost in the maze of affordable European bedsheets, light fixtures, and shelf systems — I confirmed that it is prudent to suggest an IKEA outing to those of you who are lucky enough to live near one of the 40 United States stores. (European readers, hello! I didn’t know you were here! Welcome! Wilkommen!)

Things to know about IKEA for families

Here’s what parents should know before they go to IKEA:

{the good news}

  1. Family parking. Super pregnant and lugging a two-year old? You are invited to park right up front. Look for it. You’re welcome.
  2. The free IKEA FAMILY program is worth enrollment. It took me about three minutes on a kiosk at the front of the store to sign up and a plastic membership card was spit right out. Certain products are discounted for members. This grey laptop bag, for example is $29.99, but $19.99 for IKEA FAMILY members. Plus, I got a free frozen yogurt that day for signing up.
  3. Free coffee or tea for me. Another benefit of membership: free coffee or tea during every visit for IKEA FAMILY members. No, they are not paying for this post – I am just really excited. Or, I had too much coffee, because, free coffee!
  4. Baby care area. You need not sneak in a diaper change on the floor model changing tables. There are special places in the store to do that.
  5. Free childcare for the potty-trained. It is nearly impossible to make a decision about dressers with a three-year old hanging from your leg, so this is great news if your child is willing to play in a crazy awesome colorful, yet tasteful, play area for an hour. There is a very specific window for the childcare however, and it’s based on height. So if you have one child between 36 and 48 inches, you’re in luck (at my local IKEA). The website says that children are welcome at Smaland, as the kid zone is called, from 37″ to 54″.
  6. This play kitchen is totally gender neutral and $99. Both of those qualities make it my new favorite play kitchen. Skip the top cabinet and it’s only $79.My new favorite play kitchen from IKEA
    I have the doll bed from this same series, which is perfect if you want a plain wooden doll bed for a little boy or girl. (See other homemade and IKEA-hacked play kitchens for less than $50.)
  7. The restaurant welcomes babies and toddlers. There are plenty of high chairs on hand, playthings for those who cannot sit in the chair for more than five minutes, and a microwave in case it takes you so long to get settled at your table that your food has gotten cold.
  8. Kids eat free on Tuesdays. At least they do at the IKEAs I’ve checked. Please call ahead, or at least don’t be mad at me if you end up spending five bucks on your kiddo’s food.
  9. No nonsense furnishings. Sure there are some whimsical items on the showroom floor, but if you’re in search of a budget-minded nursery and don’t like frills, I cannot think of a better source for a crib, stools, or even a potty chair that costs less than $10.

IKEA tips and tricks for parents

{the warnings}

  1. Bring your own bags. I’m not sure if this is just in my area because we have a no-plastic-bags law, but they don’t give out any bags or boxes to carry your stuff home. Be prepared. I have ended up at checkout with my arms full of wrapping paper rolls and picture frames that I had to carry to my car. Today I brought my two largest reusable grocery totes and was very pleased with myself.
  2. Measure — and convert — at home. Since we are dummies when it comes to centimeters here in the home of the brave, next time I’m on a shopping mission at IKEA, I will be sure to know how many centimeters are between the floor and my children’s bedroom window. I was unable to make a decision on a nightstand because I didn’t know what would fit in the space I have in mind. Also, in European fashion, the kids bedding is labeled with centimeters, so measure your child’s mattress, too, as the toddler bed linens are so very tempting.

Discounts and freebies aside, IKEA is a terrific outing for a couple of parents and toddlers. When they were new walkers, my kiddos loved nothing more than to climb into a chair, out of a chair, and into another chair. IKEA is a wonderland of stools, sofas, rockers, and futons that will keep curious preschoolers busy until naptime.  I recommend IKEA as free entertainment though I’m pretty sure no one can go in there without making a purchase.

Related: Wake up and go to IKEA with twin toddlers; Painting a crib from IKEA