I've Been Lying to Myself: My Child Is Spoiled

5 years ago

We'd been running errands all afternoon. It was hot and we were both hungry, tired, thirsty.

"Last stop," I told E as we walked into Rite Aid. "You've been really, really good today."

As we waited in line to pay for the couple of items I needed, she asked if she could have a drink of water from the fountain. She came back holding a pair of pink, tiara-shaped plastic sunglasses.

"Mommy, can I have these? Pretty, pretty please?"

They were ten bucks. She'd been a trooper on a boring afternoon. She almost never asks for anything.

She said please.

I said yes.

She insisted on wearing them right that minute. I took the tags off. I took a mental snapshot of the grin on her face. They were just plastic sunglasses from Rite Aid.

A few days later, we were at the Grove, browsing the half-yearly sale at Nordstrom while we waited for J's car to get detailed (a much-needed surprise for his birthday). "You can pick ONE pair of sandals," I told E.

She fell in love with pink suede ballet flats with bows made out of silver jewels.

"But I LOVE them, Mommy," she said, pirouetting around the floor and curtsying to anyone who would look. "I just really, really LOVE these shoes."

Is she spoiled? No, of course she's not spoiled. We never buy her presents unless it's her birthday or a holiday. We donate toys she doesn't play with anymore before new ones get put into rotation. She's made sandwiches for homeless people, saves pennies in a piggy bank for charity, and almost never asks for anything when we're out and about, even in the toy aisle at Target.

"She's so well adjusted," I said to J. "She never asks us for anything."

"I think we're spoiling her," he replied. "She never asks for anything because she doesn't know what it's like not to have everything."

When my mother-in-law was visiting us last August, she looked around E's room with a mixture of wonder and confusion.

"When I was a kid, we were so poor we had nothing...just one doll, one puzzle, one book. I can't imagine what it's like to grow up with all this stuff."

I looked around at the bins of stuffed animals, the giant bookcase stuffed with books, the cabinets full of blocks and puzzles and crayons and games. It hadn't seemed excessive to me before. It was just what she had. It was what every kid we knew had.

Today, GG was taking E to Toys R Us (an excursion I remember with fondness from my own childhood) to buy a scooter. E woke up cranky and refused to go. She wanted to stay home and watch TV. (Another issue for another post...)

I told her she could make that choice, but that she'd have to sacrifice the scooter.

She lost it.

"I WANT the scooter, Mommy!" she wailed. "I just want YOU to go and bring it to me."

Oh My God. My kid is spoiled. I've been lying to myself. How could I have let this happen?

One of my main parenting mantras has always been "Say YES more than you say NO." Not in an indulgent, irresponsible way, but in a way that allows for a little more fun instead of always giving in to that knee-jerk impulse to shoot little kid wishes down. Can we go the park before dinner? Yes. Can I have one more bedtime story? Yes, just this once. Can I have one more bite of brownie? You're in the fifth percentile for weight, baby girl...knock yourself out.

But is saying yes more than I say no causing my kids irreparable damage? Should I have said no to the pink tiara sunglasses? To the on-sale, totally impractical ballet flats she just had to have? Is her natural inclination to admire things without needing to have them a result of good parenting, or just a complacent reaction to never knowing what it's like to do without?

What other lies I am telling myself when it comes to my kids? Too scary to think about. I bet there are a lot.

Ugh. My head hurts.

Or how about the lies I tell myself? Like that I'M not spoiled, either? Like this laissez-faire attitude toward having stuff comes from absolutely nowhere?

Pass the Tylenol, please...

E recovered from her post-nap crankiness, accepted my lecture about spoiled children not deserving scooters with good grace, and apologized in her heartbreakingly sincere "I'm sorry, Mommy" 4-year-old way. We went to Toys R Us, where she admired a $200 princess two-wheeler with streamers and a basket shaped like Cinderella's magic coach.

GG and I informed her she would need to wait until her fifth birthday. E nodded and smiled and skipped down the aisles clutching her new $40 scooter.

Of course I want her to have everything. I want to say yes, because life is so very short and it takes so little to make her happy. But maybe what I'm doing to teach her about poverty, and gratitude, and working hard to earn the things we want and need, isn't enough. She needs to know what it feels like to want something, to work for it, to feel the uncertainty of maybe not getting it.

And I -- I, who just today couldn't help ordering a pair of Toms wedges I've been lusting after, who snuck into Whole Foods to buy overpriced kale smoothies and yet another brand of sulfate-free shampoo even though I knew setting foot in there would blow the grocery budget for the week (it did), who has been known to obsess over sunglasses, too, (though not the plastic tiara kind) and who couldn't stop herself from ordering Emily Maynard's awesome phoenix necklace from the Bachelorette finale (with a little help from Possessionista, thanks!) -- I need to start by looking in the mirror.

Because perhaps Mama -- even though she donates to charity and makes sandwiches for homeless people and gives away her old clothes before she adds new ones into the rotation -- is the teeniest bit spoiled, too...


Blog: Karma (continued...)

Twitter: @jennyfeldon

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