At dinner Easter evening our kids reported on all the things the other kids at church got from the Easter Bunny–iPods, new clothes, video games, gift cards, and more–and I had to wonder: when did Easter become Christmas?
I know this is going to sound like a “When I was a kid” rant, and I suppose it is. But seriously, it doesn’t seem that long ago that Easter was just candy, and perhaps an Easter dress for the girls (never mind what Easter is supposed to be about). Why does it need to be about presents? That’s Christmas’ job! And if their Easters are any indication, these parents are likely still paying off Christmas as it is! I’ve also heard about other kids at school getting expensive Valentines Day gifts from their parents as well. Valentines gifts?!
I shouldn’t judge, I suppose. These parents could be rich. Maybe I’m just jaded because my parents were just getting by when I was a kid and we weren’t lavishly plied with presents at every turn. Our Christmases were modest, and many of the gifts were homemade (and wonderful!). But I don’t recall ever feeling unloved because I didn’t have the latest, greatest in consumer electronics. I don’t recall having a miserable childhood. I recall hours of fun with houses made from Lego-type blocks, and using marbles as people. I remember just being outside, making up our own games and having a blast.
Maybe I just feel guilty that I won’t emulate these parents and do the same for my kids (not ‘can’t’, mind you, just ‘won’t’). But if our Christmases have shown anything, it’s that kids can be bored spitless while surrounded by piles of fun things to do. My kids get more enjoyment from a free library card than a pile of expensive presents. Our daughter has her own room, complete with CD player, desk, and a rather comfy bed, but she only sleeps there. The other 15 hours a day she’ll be fighting with her brothers for a spot on the loveseat in the living room (or perhaps we should call it the reading room). The cat spends more time in her room than she does.
I understand the desire to give our kids all the things we wish we would have had when we were kids. I understand the urge to prove to ourselves that we’re not poor by buying stuff all the time. But if my kids are any indication, you could buy them everything they ever wanted and they’d only find new stuff to want. More often than not with kids the fun is in wanting, not in having. Things are seldom as exciting in reality as they are in our imaginations.
I don’t think we’re doing our kids any favors by buying them lots of stuff. All we’re teaching them is that “wanting” and “having” go hand in hand, while likely teaching them nothing about the necessary step of “earning”. I shudder to think what some of these kids are going to experience when they get out on their own someday with no ability to deny themselves anything, having been shown most of their lives that if they want something they should get it.
I admit it. I’m biased. I’m basically saying “my way of doing things is the right way.” But I have at least anecdotal evidence to back up my claim, having lived through a childhood of “gratification deprivation” and still turned out okay. I didn’t suddenly go off the rails the minute I got a good job and suddenly had money to throw around, trying to make up for my “miserable” youth.
Okay, I admit my sister and I, when we shared an apartment, did splurge on Quaker Oh’s for breakfast, the occasional cuts of beef for dinner, and provalone and brown mustard for our hot sandwiches. And the occasional pound of chocolate-covered peanuts or cashews (no, wait, I don’t think I ever bought more than half a pound). And a couple of times we took extravagent vacations, driving at least 200 miles to stay with family in the cultural mecca of Boise, Idaho so we could take in a free concert.
But that’s the point. I know I live more extravagently than my parents did. While I saw that we weren’t rich and learned not to expect to get all the things I wanted, I didn’t really see all the things my parents did just to get by. I don’t do everything they did to cut costs. I do spend more on my kids than my parents spent on me. Some things they considered luxuries I can’t help but consider a necessity.
Someday my kids will grow up, and they’ll expect to have the lifestyle they were raised with, plus some. Would I really be doing them any great service in setting that expectation as high as I can afford? One look at the current climate of unemployment, falling wages, and strained educational system and I can’t help but feel the answer is no.
One of the best gifts I can give my kids is to say “No.” Especially if it’s followed up with lessons on “how to earn your own money.” My parents did that for me, and I can never thank them enough.
I’ve perhaps become a little side-tracked from my original rant, but hopefully there’s some substance behind it now. I’m not saying we should deprive our children of everything fun. But I really don’t think that the trend of “holiday escalation” is a good thing. It’s okay to let our children grow up experiencing want. It’s sure a lot better than later on experiencing need.