Is it possible to have too much?
I’m not talking about money. I guess it’s not possible to have too much money because you can always give that away.
I grew up in a middle class suburb of New York City. We always had enough to eat, our clothes were not holey (although as the second of 3 brothers, I wore my share of hand-me-downs – at least I wasn’t the third one to get them like my little bro was). We had lots of home birthday parties but were more than happy with them. We took family vacations – maybe not to Europe but we had lots of fun trips together. The point is, we didn’t necessarily have the latest this, or the newest that, but we didn’t care.
I look at my kids and their friends and it amazes me how much these kids have today. Playrooms overflowing with toys, shelves bursting with books, more clothes than they can wear out before they grow out of them. These kids go with their families to Vail for ski vacations, rent houses in Italy for a week, etc. The only place I ever flew to on a plane as a kid was Florida because my grandparents lived there. Other than a driving trip to Montreal one year, I never stepped foot outside of the United States until I was in college.
One thing I want to clarify here is that with few exceptions, my kids and their friends don’t really seem to ASK for stuff. It would be one thing if these kids were constantly nagging and begging for the latest, newest, best. But it’s more that parents and family members are just constantly giving.
Every parent wants their children to have things they never had. But are we sending the wrong message? Are we instilling in our kids an appreciation of what they have? How can these kids understand what it’s like not to have when they don’t even need to ask to have things showered upon them?
There are signs of hope. Monkey Boy’s friend recently turned 8 and on his birthday party invitations, asked people to bring a donation to Katrina Relief instead of a present. I’m sure it wasn’t the kid’s idea but I think he was OK with it. Mom and Dad convinced him he didn’t need 15 more board games or PlayStation cartridges. They promised they’d take care of him with a nice present. And you know what, that kid collected more than $750 for Katrina Relief. Not bad for an 8-year-old.
MLB and I are working on this too. We donate to charities. Before the kids were born, we used to volunteer at a soup kitchen periodically. When Monkey Boy and Peanut get a bit older, we’re going to try to start that up again. We work with our kids to donate toys and clothes when they grow out of them. This year, for one of the nights of Hanukah, we’re going to let the kids choose between several different charities to make a donation in lieu of receiving a present.
I’m glad we can afford nice things. I think we’re very fortunate. I just fear what happens to all of these kids when they grow up. Once they’ve been ingrained with an expectation that things will shower upon them, what are the consequences if/when it stops?
If we give them less, will they love us less? I sincerely doubt it. In fact, they may value the things they have, and the lessons we teach them, more.