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I Am Not Giving My Child Everything

I Am Not Giving My Kids Everything

By Chris Jordan

Mom, are we poor?

Poor?  No, not at all.  Why?

Well, why won’t you buy us everything we want?

Oh, honey, that’s not because we’re poor.  That’s because I am mean.

No, you’re not.

My son laughed when he said it.  That gives me hope that sticking to my conviction that less is more isn’t going to scar my children for life.

Years ago when I was pregnant with my fourth child I met a woman at the library who was there with her child. Our kids played together. When she found out that the three were mine, she quickly said that she was only having one child because she wanted “to give him everything.” At the time I was offended. I felt like the implication was that I didn’t want to give my children everything. It was a defining moment in my parenting. From that point on I wondered about the perceptions other people had of me and of my family.

But as the years have passed and my children have grown, I realize I don’t give my children everything. And even more importantly, I don’t want to give my children everything.

I am not sure that there is a parent out there who doesn’t want to give their child a better life than what they had. Even those of us who had pretty great childhoods strive to give our children even more. But more what? Stuff? Material possessions? At what cost does giving “everything” come?

I have a friend who goes on and on about how she gives her kids everything. And I can attest to it, she does buy them everything their little hearts desire. Unfortunately, she also goes on and on about how unappreciative and ungrateful they are. I can’t help but think these two things go hand in hand. How can anything be valued if it comes so easily?  Her children are constantly looking for the newest thing, the latest upgrade.  They whine for new things, yet once they acquire them they are quickly bored.

My daughter came home from school the first day after the Christmas break and told me that several of her friends had received an iTouch for Christmas, a couple got iPads, and that one of her friends had even gotten an iPhone. I wasn’t really sure whether I should believe it. Did I mention my daughter is seven years old?

My nine year old son confirmed it. It is the same with the children in his grade. He is one of a handful who do not have a phone of their own, a fact which he complains about on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Several have iPhones. Aside from the unrestricted access to the Internet which I find worrisome, I am not sure what reason there is for buying a child something that expensive. Not to mention breakable.  And who exactly are they calling?  Their mothers?  My children talk to me enough face to face, I don’t need them phoning or texting me also.  My ears need a break sometimes.

It isn’t so much about the phone or the technology, but about the instant gratification and the importance being placed on acquiring stuff at such a young age that unsettles me.   My children have much more than I could have ever imagined having at their ages. Yet compared to their peers, they have much less stuff.

I’ll admit that at times it isn’t easy.  I want to make them happy ALL THE TIME.  But I know that isn’t realistic, or, dare I say, healthy.  It has opened wonderful conversations with my older children about living within your means and the concept of credit card debt.  I also make it a point to tell my kids when I really want something but am not getting it.  I think sometimes they believe that I just buy myself everything I want, you know like groceries.

As I watch the friends of my children get things at increasingly younger ages, I wonder where it goes from there. If you get your own cell phone when you are 7, what are you getting when you are 10, or 15? What is there to look forward to if you have already gotten it all before you are out of elementary school? Isn’t there a benefit to wanting something and having to wait for it? Isn’t there a life lesson to be learned in wanting something and not getting it?

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Lacey (Laptops to Lullabies)

    January 19, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    I TOTALLY agree! My husband and I do not want our children to always have the latest-and-greatest stuff, because you’re absolutely right — the kids who do never appreciate it, and grow to expect it. Our son is only seven months old, but we are already setting realistic expectations when it comes to Christmas gifts, etc. There is just no need of giving him 10 presents — plus all of the other gifts he’ll receive.

  • suzie

    January 19, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    When my kids were younger (now 12 and 14), I was very conservative on what “stuff” they had.  But now, reading this, I feel like I have caved. 

    My 7th and 9th graders are relatively well-outfitted.  With electronics and with clothes.  I feel like I do still say no, a good bit (like when my 14 yo marked up my Sundance Catalog … hello?  That’s my DREAM catalog, you don’t get that stuff!!)   

    But as our budget has increased, so has their resulting benefit.  I don’t think we’re over the edge, but they definitely don’t need as much as they have.  

    At the same time, I think that years of having a very limited budget has made them a bit humble, and their requests aren’t off the wall.  They are aware of the value of things, they talk about cost, and they are very appreciative of what they have.  (For several reasons, that’s true more for my 14 yo than my 12 yo …).

    Yet, I know they’d be (more than) fine with less.

    Thanks, Chris, for inspiring such important conversations and contemplations.  Your posts are much appreciated.

  • crabbyappleseed

    January 19, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I have cousins who have everything. I completely agree with you, that it comes at a price. They expect things that no reasonable person should ever expect, and they never really seem happy. When you get a Mustang for your 16th birthday, how can you be excited by the Kraft easy mac and homemade cookies care package you get as a freshman in college? (I’ll tell you: you don’t get particularly excited and it shows.)

    I can see the temptation, because I just want my kids to be happy, and sometimes it FEELS like giving them material things will make them happy…but most of the time? I’m glad we don’t have the financial resources to even come close to giving them everything. It’s like a parental-giving lap-band, sort of, it stops me whether I want to stop or not. And I don’t think I’d be very good at stopping myself without it.

  • Annie

    January 19, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    My husband and I just married in August, so no kids yet (only a giant dog who thinks he’s a human!), but my husband was a youth pastor for 9 years before we got married–he likes to say that the best way to turn your child into the devil is to treat him like a god. It’s no wonder so many people my age have huge amounts of debt when they were raised with parents who didn’t say no and failed to teach them financial responsibility. They come out of college expecting the same life style they grew up with. We want to have a big family, both through adoption and natural birth, but we have had friends tell us they want a small family so their kids can do/have everything they want. We’d rather spend more on experiences for our future kids–travel, learning, cultural experiences, etc.–than stuff. In the long run, they’ll value that much more than a gadget that is out of date a year later.

  • Kerry

    January 20, 2011 at 12:45 am

    LOVE this! I’m not a parent yet, but I have a niece that I love beyond words. It would be so sad to see a innocent, kind child grow up into a self-centered, materialistic jerk. Learning to how to tell yourself “NO” is such an important lesson! You learn self control, empathy, charity, and humility. You learn to value yourself beyond your belongings or appearance. I marvel at people who take their 6-year-olds to get mani/pedis, massages, and highlights. What are you leaving your child to look forward to in life? IMO, I think spoiled children often grow into adult drug/alcohol addicts, because they don’t know how to just be satisfied with the simple things in life.

  • diana

    January 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

    My favorite response to the lady in the library would be “yes, everything except siblings!” I cannot imagine life without my siblings, I mean, who would we tell our crazy parent stories too?

    Thanks again for a thoughtful post. I am always interested in what you have to say.

  • tanya

    January 20, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    I agree with Diana she may have wanted to “give her child everything” but by amking the choice to have an only child she chose not to give them siblings. There are benefits and disadvantages to being an only child just like there are tradoffs we make if we chose to have a big family.
    I think it’s a matter of personal choice how many kids a couple has and there is no right number.
    However, by GIVING our kids ‘everything’ we don’t ‘give’ them the satisfaction of working hard to earn something they really want, of having to wait and anticipate getting what they want.
    My kids will have a phone, laptop, car when they can earn the money to buy them themselves.

  • Pam

    January 21, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Our philosophy has always been that it is not our job to give our children everything, it is our job to teach them to get it for themselves. It worked.

  • s

    January 22, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I am really struggling with this now – to give my kids gifts they want without giving them everything. For Christmas, my 2 older kids (11,8) wanted iTouches – “all” of their friends have them, and surprisingly that is fairly true from what I’ve seen myself and talking to other parents – not “all” their friends, but many many of them. And some of those parents don’t have a ton of money. I don’t have an iphone or itouch or even a “cool” cellphone – I use it for emergencies only right now and never anticipate using it much until my kds are old enough to have phones. That’s another issue – most kids here get cellphones for their 6th grade graduation, but I see no reason for my kids to have cell phones yet. is there a happy medium? I don’t want to be indulgent yet I know the feeling when you really want the cool thing “everyone” else has. how do we draw the line?

  • Jenny

    January 23, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Thank you for writing this! I considered sharing it on Facebook but I was afraid that my friends and family who spoiled their children rotten would know I was thinking of them when I read this. 
    My husband and I are expecting our first child in May and we are determined to not raise a greedy monster. We are both high school teachers and have seen first hand the consequence of giving in to everything. The “get me this” attitude doesn’t stop at home; it very readily transfers into the classroom with negotiations for grades and other unappealing behaviors.  Stop the cycle!

  • Mariana

    January 24, 2011 at 9:58 am

    I totally agree with you! But not about the high-end product. There are so many cheap “junk” nowadays that our kids want (mine is 4 yrs-old) and I have to set a limit, she doesn’t need all of them. And we do have the money for is, but is just not necessary. So our standard conversation is “do you really need this honey?” Sometimes it breaks my heart, but I am thinking about the future as well.

  • Rachel

    January 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Oh I so agree! I thought when I was pregnant I would give my child everything because my childhood had been fairly devoid of anything, I had to work way too hard, too young for everything in my life and by the time I had navigated my way through University I was wiped out financially and physically but epiphany I came to realize as my child grew that if he had everything done for him and given to him he would have no motivation or desire to strive for anything. So I found a balance. I buy him and provide for him within reason throwing in the occasional spoil. When I do buy I make it good quality, and what he has picked and though we don’t have to wait for sales and he is aware of that I sometimes do just to help him see the value of money. If it is not an urgent item I explain to him how saving money on something is good! I find him very appreciative of what he has, he takes very good care of his things and he is aware of the value of what he has. He also has learned to work towards getting what he wants if we won’t get it for him. Making your kids work too hard or do too much for themselves at a young age is not good you’re only young once and you have many working years ahead of you but having everything handed to you or done for you on a silver platter takes your initiative away and makes you helpless.

  • Mary

    January 31, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    I have to say I totally agree with you.  My sixth grader comes home every day lamenting  the fact that he doesn’t have _________________________________.  My high school student does have his own phone and an iTouch.  

    Last week, in the same breath, because he talks really fast, he told me that some one stole his backpack with his required agenda and notebook in it.  I’d not have been upset but this is the third time his backpack has been stolen this year.  It’s fun among the  middle set to steal backpacks and agendas so the other person gets in trouble.  

    I pointed out that while I don’t feel he’s responsible enough to have such things  – what use would they be when he’s either at home or at school or with us. – at school they’d only get stolen and leaving hem here would defeat the purpose.  

  • gem

    February 1, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    My kids are totally deprived! None of them have laptops, none of them have TVs in their bedroom. None of them have I phones. They are 16,14,12 and 10. My 14 year old did get an I touch for his birthday, and the older 3 do have phones  which they got for their 11th birthday. My oldest will probably get a laptop for his birthday next year. Lots of reasons for above, none really financial. I just think it’s mad giving kids grown up accessories/toys whatever as kids. If they have everything when they are 8/9 where do you go from there? Having said all that the older 2 have sailing dingies (second hand!) and the oldest got a moped for his 16th birthday, so they do get stuff, but things that will enhance their lifestyle and give them life skills.

  • MamaTech

    February 9, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Amen and Amen. My kids are grownups now, with kids of their own. I am pleased to see that they appear to be raising their own kids with the time is more valuable than things attitude. My kids didn’t get a cell phone until they were old enough to drive and THEN the phone was FOR EMERGENCIES ONLY because we lived in the country – believe me, I checked the bill.

    When they were younger, at first I tried to get them EVERYTHING on their Christmas list until I realized that EVERYTHING was never enough. Finally, I found that Christmas, birthdays, etc, if they got ONE important gift, they tended to treasure it more, and the day in general was more enjoyable all the way around. Once they were old enough to live on their own, they did not expect me to foot the bill – my oldest worked SIX part time jobs to make it through college with a full load of classes as well and still managed to graduate summa cum laude.

    The “give them everything” attitude bleeds over into all parts of their lives. I currently work at a job where I encounter helpless 18-21 year olds EVERY DAY. They are waiting for someone else to take care of them. I even dealt with one who could not be bothered to take the most basic steps until her father drove 300 miles to do it for her! I told one girl, when I was in my most irritated mother mode, “It’s a power cord. I am not sending out a field tech to unplug a power cord. If you don’t know about electricity now, I guarantee you are going to need to know how to disconnect a power cord before you graduate college.” Then again, if Daddy comes to take care of it for her, maybe not.

  • Nadeem

    November 14, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    But is it common that when it comes to Christmas presents that in the beginning kids or young kids are thrilled but after a few days or even a few hours they lose interest or they are not as enthusiastic about their presents so having mentioned that it can be a cause for concern if children are lavished with excessive xmas presents but after a short while they lose interest or enthusiasm over their presents.