How To Deal
With The Gimmes

Listen to Your Mothers is a space to come together with the ones who understand the maternal struggle and joy best - in the hopes of turning the motherhood into one, strong sisterhood.  In this installment, Geralyn Broder Murray discusses the challenges of fulfilling her childrens' wishes.

Boy at toy stores

To give or not to give?

"I wish I could have a green frog like Emma's," my four-year old son Finn says during a playdate, pointing to the stuffed animal by Emma's front door, just in case I wasn't clear on the amphibian in question.

Listen to your mother

I know, baby, I know.

"I just wish," he says mournfully.

I would feel badly for him, and I do a little, but I would feel more badly if he hadn't also just wished – only in the previous hour – for a blue plastic plate, a superhero coloring book, a tiny purple thingamabob belonging to Emma's two-year old sister and, a peanut butter sandwich, hold the jelly.

Stuff, stuff... and more stuff

The fact that he scored the peanut butter sandwich and the blue plate did nothing to stop the wave of demands. Finn is consumerism personified; he and his big curly hair and tiny Converse sneakers are a one-boy tireless, unwavering campaign for STUFF. STUFF includes everything and anything: tiny balls of fluff, big balls of plastic, jagged pieces of foam, random pictures of Captain America, other people's baseball hats, anything blue. And like adult onset consumerism, getting stuff only stokes the fire for - you guessed it - more stuff.

"What did you bring?" are the first words that boom out of his mouth when you enter our front door. While knee-deep in his own holiday gifts this past December, he was already eyeballing the Batman pajamas his cousins just unwrapped, wishing aloud, just wishing, they could be his.

It's not them, it's you

It's all so complicated because kids are such people, after all. Finn is a gentle, funny, lovely child and really, I just want to do for him. I want to see his face light up over and over again. I want to witness his happy dance, his little Irish jig, his fists pumping in the air, his smile rivaling the holiday lights.

It's all my fault, of course. As much as he's addicted to STUFF, I'm addicted to seeing him happy. Happier. Happiest.

"You can't help it. You're in love with the kid," my husband Chris said the other night, shaking his head as I held up a Spiderman action figure in Wal-Mart, imagining the joy on Finn's face when I presented it to him.

And Chris is right, yes. But I'm also in love with our seven-year old and I'm not trying to light her up via retail therapy; that may be because she's not stuff-inclined. (She asked Santa for socks. Socks.) But then, if you mention the word "chocolate" within twenty feet of her, she becomes airborne with delight.

So, predictably, I love to bring her chocolates. To see my precious girl take flight.

How not to give

Once again in this parenting journey, it is me who is the one learning – and right now, I'm finding one of the toughest lessons is to how not give to my children, at least not so much. Because as lovely as the moment of indulgence is – for all of us - it passes.

What you said

And in my heart of hearts, what I truly want to give them, even more than the moment of sky-high happiness, is the lasting gift of appreciation, of being content with what they have, of seeing the loveliness in the everyday.

Now if I can only hold back on Spiderman until Valentine's Day.

Tell us: What do you think? How do you give to your kids? What are your challenges when it comes to fulfilling their wishes?

More on raising grateful kids

About Listen to Your Mothers

Only another mother knows the truth about motherhood. The sleep deprivation. The preponderance of plastic, neon-colored toys that make horrible, repetitive noises in the middle of the night. The battles: just eat two more bites of your corndog for Mommy and you can have dessert.

The messiness and heart and complexity that is raising children: it's all so very humbling.

Listen to Your Mothers is a space to come together with the ones who understand the maternal struggle and joy best - in the hopes of turning the motherhood into one, strong sisterhood.

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Tags: spoiled kids

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Comments on "Does giving gifts spoil kids?"

angela February 06, 2011 | 1:47 PM

I just cleaned out our daughters closet and was amazed of how much stuff was piled in there. I looked outside while she was playing in the backyard and she had an old sand bucket and was mixing flower petals and water!! I will try and keep it simple!!

stella January 26, 2011 | 9:33 PM

I must admit, I too, am addicted to seeing the kids happy. My husband says I am a push over, but I enjoy it. They are only young for a little while and then they will be teenagers, and then AHH, it will be all over. Loved your article. Stella

Jackie January 22, 2011 | 11:03 PM

"Once again in this parenting journey, it is me who is the one learning" - fantastic line in your commentary and it really hits the nail on the head. Parenting requires much more thoughtfulness than I ever anticipated...

valerie's mom January 22, 2011 | 12:33 PM

Great timing for this article! Still have piles of x'mas gifts not put away and yet am still drawn to even more STUFF with all the post holiday sales for my little one. Is it for her or me? This article has helped me understand that it's really for both of us as I, too, of course love to see the delight in my sweet daughter's eyes. But I will be thinking of this piece the next time I pick up yet another Barbie, or package of silly bands, or...

Geralyn Broder Murray January 21, 2011 | 9:37 AM

@Jennifer: Love the dinner table game. We've been trying it and it's making ME more grateful too! Thanks. @Jennifer: on our own indulgences - so insightful! Trying to hold back my own consumer-ness is harder than ever. @Lara: thanks for making me feel less alone in my need for the quick fix! Really appreciate your words and your honesty.

Jennifer January 21, 2011 | 8:36 AM

A topic I struggle with daily - how much is too much. I love to see that delight on my girls' faces when I come home with some little trinket or something (that likely cost less than my Starbucks) but then I feel guilty that I'm contributing to the "gimmies" and missing out on the opportunity to teach gratitude. They clearly don't "need" those trinkets. But do they not need them anymore than I need the Starbucks I'm holding, or the three books I just picked up at the book sale (despite the 17+ I have sitting on my nightstand) or the Thai takeout I plan on ordering for dinner (rather than cooking a meal with the things that are packing my fridge, freezer and pantry). I feel conflicted about being really tough on my kids about the gimmies when I'm doing just about the same thing (okay, maybe not quite as bad - and hopefully not quite as whiny!) but I have the means to get in the car and do something about it without asking someone else. So hard to know where that line is that defines how much is too much. I think it becomes obvious when you're at the end of the spectrum but it's that gray area in the middle that seems to get me. I love the idea of sharing gratitude at the table each night. We did that around Thanksgiving time (and around Christmas time when we were talking about the family we had adopted for Christmas) but it's something we should continue each night - love that idea. Keep the topics coming! Such great conversation pieces!

Lara January 21, 2011 | 8:27 AM

Thanks, I needed that. I too am guilty of wanting to see that sparkle in my son's eyes and hear those words said in such an addoring way: "Thank you mommy!!!" It's addicting. I'm constantly torn between wanting to teach him to appreciate all that he has and wanting to surprise him with something I see that I know he will absolutely love. I need to work on the appreciation thing more. The buying is the easy...

Geralyn B Murray January 21, 2011 | 7:06 AM

@Ruby: what a great idea! Having them research the idea and talk themselves into (or out of) what's best. How empowering and smart! @Rebecca: Love that book. So inspiring and I love that your little one was able to get that same "sky-high" feeling out of giving instead of receiving - what a wonderful thing you are doing for him. Making a note of these, ladies. Thank you for sharing!

Jennifer January 21, 2011 | 7:02 AM

Randomly, at our dinner table, we play the game "What are you grateful for today?" and talk about how lucky we are. Lucky for our healthy food and our warm house. Lucky to go to school. Lucky to get "treats" every so often. Here's to hoping the game "sticks".

Rebecca January 21, 2011 | 6:37 AM

I've been reading a book titled The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and in it, there is a chapter on "Teaching the Attitude of Gratitude" that is wonderful. It reminds me that though my son may want something with all his heart one moment, the next moment the special something may be totally forgotten. This last holiday we spent an evening delivering Christmas gifts to families who may have otherwise gone without and my little guy put together a bag of dinosaurs for the boys we were giving to. I was really proud of him and enjoyed seeing him so especially happy when he handed that bag of dinosaurs over to the mother in need. I really want to teach him to find joy in the things that he has (and in new ways to play with them and sharing them with others), but this is certainly an ongoing challenge.

Ruby January 19, 2011 | 6:49 PM

It's really hard to not smother our kids in cool stuff. But I look at it as sheltering them from prosperity. My kids are older now and I try to leverage many want-itis cases into opportunities to teach savvy consumerism. Before we bought our 14 year old on a guitar, we emailed him a questionnaire with all of our questions and asked him to research his options, narrow his choices down to his top 3 picks and outline the pros and cons of each choice, summarizing which he thought would be the BEST choice. Then we went out shopping and test driving. Ultimately he ended up getting something completely different from the options he researched because it was such a good deal, but because of the research, he knew exactly how this choice fell in line with other options on the market.

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