In the process of potty training The Boy, we have purchased a fair number of small toys that he earns as prizes when he fills up his sticker chart with stickers. The first time he filled up his sheet we were really generous and gave him an Emily wooden train from the Thomas line of trains. The next time he earned a small die cast Tow Mater from the Disney/Pixar Cars movie, then a small die cast Lightning McQueen, oh and I think there was a Toby wooden train in the mix too. Now he is requesting specific items, and we foolishly promised them to him. First he wanted Mack (the semi truck and trailer that transports Lightning McQueen in the movie), and now he wants Sally and Doc. Of course this can all be blamed on DH and me. We should have just told him that he can’t pick his potty prizes, that he just gets what he gets, but we offered specific items so now he has an expectation that he will get the specific prize he wants. Foolish, foolish, foolish parents! The hilarity comes in when you hear that in order to find Mack, we visited not one, not two, but 5 local Targets, 2 Walmarts, 2 Toys R Us stores, and called the Disney Store (not to mention some serious web sleuthing). Thankfully DH scored a Mack for somewhere in the neighborhood of $15. The Boy was happy with Mack, and is still happy with Mack, but has started telling us that he will get Sally next. The tough part is that all of these little $2.99 die cast cars are sold out everywhere because, as the nice woman who pointed DH towards the Mack at Toys R Us explained, collectors are buying them up in mass quantities. As DH and I were discussing our strategy to find Sally and Doc we finally had the discussion about all of this being too much for The Boy. We are spoiling him by giving him so many toys, and making each toy he has less special because there is always a new one that will come along next week. Heck if he really forces himself he can earn several each week, but he might end up with hemorrhoids in the process (he now gets 1 for having a dry Pull-up, 1 for peeing, and 2 for having a BM). Soon he will catch on that if he drinks mass quantities of water he will have to pee more often, but we aren’t quite there yet.
The bigger issue of course is the how much is too much issue. DH and I both grew up in families where money was an object. My often told example of how poor my family was is that when we ran out of milk we just made another pitcher of it. Yes, we drank powdered milk. Adding water to the milk flakes was a common task I performed. I’m not sure when we changed to regular milk, but it must have been somewhere in late elementary school for me. I know my parents economized as much as possible, and my brother and I didn’t get everything we asked for. However, I can’t say that I ever felt deprived. One of my favorite toys as a child was a Noah’s ark that was filled with small plastic animals (I liked the animals…no religious meaning to me!), and my Mom confessed to me recently that it was a garage sale find. I also remember receiving a homemade Cabbage Patch Doll when they were all the rage. Even though I received several real Cabbage Patch Dolls subsequently, she was always my favorite (I think I still have her in a dusty old box in the basement to subject upon my kids when they can appreciate her). I didn’t even realize that we didn’t have much money until I reached junior high, and I wasn’t even close to wearing the “right” clothes. I think I managed a pair of Guess jeans in 7th grade from a local second hand store, but I had to use my babysitting money to get them. DH can recount similar stories of getting not quite what he asked for at Christmas and his Birthday, and he has horror stories about having to buy clothes at Fleet Farm (shudder).
How do people strike a balance between feeling good that they can provide extras for their children, and providing so much that the things are no longer valued? DH and I are finding this very difficult lately. The Boy is old enough to understand that we can buy him new toys, and he realizes that he can make requests. We are smart enough (I think) to realize that we shouldn’t buy him new toys whenever he asks for them, and that we should buy him new toys far less often than we currently do. However, it is fun to buy him new toys. It is fun to watch his reaction as he flutters with excitement playing with the new thing for the first 5 minutes. Of course we realize that the new toy eventually becomes old toy and collects dust at the bottom of the toy bin. In some ways I think it would be easier if we just couldn’t afford to buy him new things so often, but as a result of our dual incomes we can afford it. We buy new things for ourselves when we want to, though we both have horribly old wardrobes, and really don’t buy much for ourselves aside from lunches out and the occasionally Caribou Coffee. We are both hoarders, and automatically invest a good chunk of our income automatically each month. Buying toys for our children will not break us financially. It could turn our kids into spoiled brats though.
I want my kids to grow up knowing that money doesn’t grow on trees. I want them to realize that there is a cost for all of the little trinkets they covet. I think this means that DH and I need to start putting more of the money we would spend on toys into their college accounts. We are not doing them any favors by indulging their every whim, even though they do get big smiles on their faces when we do. I want my kids to have nice things, but I don’t want them to think it is their birthright. While I entered junior high wearing the “wrong” clothes, and my parents couldn’t afford to buy me the “right” clothes, we will be able to afford the “right” clothes. The struggle will be to teach our kids that there really is no such thing as the “right” clothes or things. Our possessions do not make us good people; in fact they can make us bad people if we aren’t careful. I don’t want my kids to be ridiculed by their classmates, but I want them to be able to stand up to those who are ridiculing others. Mostly I want my kids to be above all of that junior high bullshit.
A good friend of mine was the target of a clothes chart made by several of her classmates in 5th or 6th grade. They kept track of her outfits so they could make fun of the fact that she wore the same things multiple times in one week. This friend now has the means to afford plenty of her own clothes, but it obviously left a big mark on her for many years. How do I teach my kids that making a clothes chart is a ghastly, evil thing to do? I suppose the answer is that I need to model my own behavior in such a way that they see we aren’t better than anyone else. If I can really get my kids to understand this, I will be happy. I hope for my kids to understand that life is so much more than the labels on your clothes imply. I know the answer lies in me not making a big deal out of labels, and designer outfits. Even though we can afford to buy them Polo, we need to buy them and us Target clothes as well, because it really doesn’t matter. If I can teach them that being kind to others is paramount, I think I will have done my job…and now I am rambling.