Saturday, August 14, 2010

Spoiled Rotten

Recently (ok, it's been a month, but things have been busy) we went to see my great-aunt in Kentucky. I think her entire house's square footage would fit in half my first floor. My great-uncle built the house from leftover items when he worked construction. The first floor has a small dining room to the left and living room to the right. The kitchen is on the other side of the living room and it has a table in it, but the room is very narrow. The master bedroom with a bath is beyond the dinning room and there is another small room with stairs to the attic. The attic has two bedrooms, a full bath, and a large family room with a door to balcony deck. The house is nestled into the land. It is a warm, cozy house that I love to visit. When we were trying to figure out sleeping arrangements for my family and my parents, I started to think about the fact that my relatives raised seven children in this tiny house. There are pictures everywhere of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They regularly get together for family meals and there is a warmth and a closeness there that is seldom seen these days. In some ways, it is like stepping back in time.

Most of my relatives worked in the coal mines. My Uncle Sam chose to leave coal country, head north, and work construction. I know they struggled at times raising seven children in rural Kentucky. Partly because of economic difference and partly because of generational differences, I know my mother and her cousins never had the wealth of stuff that my kids have now. I often ponder who is better off?

No one wants to raised spoiled children. We want our kids to be grateful for what they have and to appreciate how lucky they are. We also want them to have it better than we did. It is another one of those fine lines we have to walk. Giving them opportunities we didn't have without giving them too much. I don't think I've navigated this line too well. When I was growing up, my parents didn't have a lot of money. My mom always did her best for Christmas, but there was always the day-to-day disappointment of "no, you can't get that" and I think I was aware early on that it was an issue of money. I knew we didn't live in the nicest place and I didn't have the "latest" fashions. I think in some ways, I've tried to compensate for that with my boys. Instead of having sons who are appreciative of what my husband and I do for them, I have three boys that take things for granted. If they leave a toy out and the dog chews it, their response is either , "daddy will fix it" or "we'll just go to the store for a new one." They love art and I love fostering that. But, they leave the caps off their markers, break their crayons, let the glue sticks dry out, mix the Playdoh up until it's gray, and waste tons of paper. I keep threatening not to replace the art supplies if they get ruined. But, how can you not let a child color? They leave their toys outside to get rained on and don't care. Even if I threaten to take things away, it usually isn't a big deal. They have so many toys, they won't even miss them.

And so, I'm in a quandary. One part of me wants them to feel secure and not be worried about money or not having enough of anything. I rarely felt that way growing up and it's not a feeling I want my children to experience. On the other hand, I do want them to realize there isn't an unlimited supply of money, that things have a cost (and not just the monetary cost), and that you don't always get what you want when you want. I'm planning to scale back. I used to buy them souvenirs for every trip we went on, no matter how big or small the trip. Our last trip to NYC, I almost bought them "I Love NY" t-shirts, but then stopped myself. I didn't get anything at the museum gift shop. They didn't ask or complain about these facts.

I'm planning to go through their toys and get rid of all the ones they don't really play with. Realistically, there are four or five things they consistently play with. The rest just gets dumped. We'll put them in the yard sale and put the money towards our charity bank or bring them somewhere to donate. My parents usually give them change when they visit. A few months back, I started having them split where the money goes. Some goes in their banks, some into the family charity bank. It is a small start, but it is a start. It sounds cliche, but there are things more important than money. My great aunt and uncle raised a large, loving family in a small house with little means. They probably don't remember the things they didn't get, but they will always remember the love and laughter in that house. I want that legacy for my sons.


  1. Jenn, as your mother, it was a little hard to read this and not start feeling inadequate as a mother. But then I put the brakes on those feelings. Long ago I came to terms with the type of life I was able to provide for you and your brother and sister as you were growing up. I was able to do this by remembering my own childhood. It is true that my childhood was a money poor one, but also true that it was filled with family, every child knew love and family ties. I was able to come to nursing school in New York City because I had the support of my mother and eventually my poor dad who wanted to keep me safe on the farm. In time, I think you will be able to look back and say "I am so proud that Glen and I reared three happy, secure, loving boys. This is my greatest accomplishment."

    I say this to you because if you look at your parenting values, I think you will find that you are being true to you ideals. You chose to leave your career and stay at home with your boys instead of adding to the family coffers. Money is tight for you at times, but you weather through that because you know you are doing the right thing. I wouldn't worry about things like caps off markers, broken toys etc. You are teaching your children that they come first for you.♦ You are teaching them to be respectful of all others and to value things that are important. Those are important lessons for them to carry through life. I love you all. Mom

  2. Jenn and Louise: thanks for sharing. Best blog post and response I've ever read. You're both awesome.