Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This Just In: My Kids Aren't Spoiled Enough

My mother takes every opportunity to compete with me for the children's affection but she always qualifies her actions with that's what Grandmother's are for like that makes it all right that she lets the kids eat an entire jar of peanut butter with a spoon. Sure, we ate peanut butter from the jar when I was a kid but we were country and food was scarce. We also ate dirt but that doesn't mean the kids need a steady diet of it.

My mother's competitive streak is particularly irksome around the kids' birthdays because she thinks we ought to buy them lots of Stuff and she tells me so. Well, that's not what we do. We lead a life of voluntary simplicity which is antithetical to having Stuff. We own a small house. We share one car. The kids have a modest amount of toys. Soon, we plan to grow some of our own food and maybe get a chicken or two. We would rather spend money on personal enrichment than on Stuff that brings us instant gratification but no long-term fulfillment.

My mother doesn't understand this philosophy because she is a hoarder. She collects everything from McDonald's toys to buttons with witty sayings on them, which is all Useless Stuff in my mind but completely necessary for her happiness and well-being in her mind.

Obviously we will never see eye-to-eye on this issue but when it comes to the children she should understand that Stuff is a poor substitute for time and attention. She has told me that the reason I got so much Stuff as a kid - and I was a spoiled bratty one at that - was because of her need to overcompensate for not spending that much time with me.

Long story short: I didn't live with my mother until I was ten because she was on active duty in the military. I lived with her sister instead. After she left the military, she worked two, sometimes three, jobs to support us and to buy me as much Stuff as my little pre-teen heart desired. I was alone a lot but her theory is I had Stuff to keep me company. I just wanted my mother.

Fast forward to now. I am a woman whose parenting style is deeply influenced by my childhood and my children's lives are a stark contrast to my childhood. I buy the children everything they need, with some fun stuff thrown in for good measure, but they do not get everything they want. My childhood, and deep seated abandonment issues that arose from it, are also the reason why I am usually in the stay-at-home/work-at-home parent camp more often than not.

But I don't waffle on the issue of Stuff. I'm not going to do it, but I will take them to museums and baseball games, give them pedicures, bake cupcakes with them and let my mother - and all the other grandparents and aunties - buy them all the Stuff their little hearts desire (and trust me, it's a lot).


Hyphen Mama said...

All our birthday invitations say "No gifts, please". Everybody brings gifts. I do ONLY a few little things or one thing I know they need, knowing the grandparents are going to over indulge. AND I've made it very clear that when things come in, others go out. So after birthdays and Christmas we go through and bag up stuff to send off to kids who don't have anything. Anything that can be recycled is. And my house is still overrun with toys.

sorel top said...

Ditto to hyphen mama. It seems like we are always hauling the plastic crap out of the house and it still multiplies.

For my daughter's 5th birthday she told me she didn't want gifts. How about food bank donations instead? It really showed other people's priorities when some of the guests brought gifts anyway (generally disbelieving me that it was our daughter's idea and how could I be so cruel). Our favorite family friends brought two cases of canned vegetables even though the invitation said to just bring a can of food.

It's a battle to fight the consumer consumption machine. By the way, did you see Wall-E? What did you think?

LawSchoolMom said...

@hyphen mama: We used to regularly purge the kids toys to avoid becoming overrun with stuff. I would consign and donate and yard sale and still there was stuff. It made me crazy. Life is much more manageable now.

@sorel top: I haven't seen Wall-E but I will be checking my local library for it once it hits DVD, which will probably be just in time for Black Friday.

EatPlayLove said...

My 19 month old knows when a priority mail package arrives on our doorstep that it's from "non-nie". Crazy.

I try desperately to fight the stuff, the marketing, the junk. Things disappear whenever I have an opportune moment, otherwise my daughter just can't let it go. We are working on that one.