My kids had been hard at work compiling their Christmas lists.
Older Boy, who is 5, had a long list this year, with items ranging from Skylanders Giants to a Rip Rider. Younger Boy, who is 3, had only one thing on his list: Monster trucks.
My husband went Christmas shopping with his mother when she was visiting from Texas over Thanksgiving. There were frequent text messages from him while he was at Toys R’ Us the Sunday after Thanksgiving, inquiring about whether one child would prefer this item over another. Would Older Boy like a Razor Scooter? Which type of chair would Younger Boy prefer? Should we buy different things for each child or should we get them the same thing in order to minimize fighting? Mother-in-law wanted to buy some things for the kids – what else do they want?
With each text message, I began wondering to myself about something I have found myself struggling with in the past: Just how much are we spending on material things for the kids? Just how many gifts do we need to get for the kids? Are we actually being good parents by trying to fulfill all of their Christmas wishes?
Is all of this consumerism good for our kids?
Look, I’m like the next person: I love getting something new that I’ve had my eye on for a while. But I also understand that I can’t have everything that I want. I don’t have enough money to buy all the things I would like, I don’t have the time to do all the things I want to, I don’t have the energy to accomplish all of the things I want to.
And that realization, that understanding, is what makes the things that you do have – whether they are material possessions or relationships or what have you – that much more valuable and precious. That realization is important.
In my psychology practice, I often see parents who come to me, frustrated, because their children don’t seem to appreciate them or the things that they have. Time and time again, I hear upset parents tell me about how they strive to fulfill their child’s every desire, and in return, they receive no gratitude and no respect. And my response is simple: If your child expects material items – like an iPod or an Xbox – in the same way he or she expects food on the table and a roof over his head, if he or she feels entitled to these things, why would he or she display any gratitude for it. We value things more when we have earned them or they are unexpected. If you want your kids to value the things you provide for them, don’t give them everything they want.
It’s like that song from the 60’s goes: “You don’t miss your water til the well runs dry.” Or, in the words of Sheryl Crow:“It’s not getting what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.”
Which brings me back to my kids and their Christmas lists. The Husband and I talked about it and decided that Older Boy definitely was not getting everything on his list, and we were not going to go overboard on buying presents. Even though it’s the holiday season and we love giving our kids presents, we are, first and foremost, their parents. And as their parents, it’s our job to make sure they learn the lessons that will serve them well in life. Those lessons, those realizations, might be the best gifts we could ever give them.