Friday, 1 April 2016

How Much is Really Enough?

I was sent a link to a great article the other day. I hope you have a moment to read it and think it over. It echoed many of my own sentiments about children and "stuff" and even made me question some of my own attitudes towards what is sufficient and what is excessive--whether it be lifestyle, possessions and most definitely the expectations of the young. Because remember, the two year old who is used to having the flashiest and fanciest gear eventually becomes a 16 year old who understandably expects the same.

We live in the countryside near where I grew up. I have many relatives in the area, most of whom are still actively farming. I am lucky in that there are many families around that buck the consumerism trend and share hand-me-downs, garden produce, budgeting ideas and best of all, down to earth ideals. If I was surrounded by materialism and felt the pressure for my kids to "measure up" I might not find it so easy to maintain a simple, frugal life. That is not to say that the pressure doesn't exist or that I don't sometimes give in. I used to worry a lot when other kids would come to play here because we don't have the fanciest toys. That is, until I saw 5 town kids show up and have the time of their lives catching grasshoppers in yogurt containers for hours on end. That's when I realized that kids are kids and they need to think up their own entertainment sometimes. I remember those being the best times together when I was young. I was pleased to hear, recently, about a nearby town where the children never tease each other about their appearance or possessions. If all there is at the park is a broken down pink bike, even the older boys will hop on and ride it. These are not the rich and trendy kids, you see. These are the kids interested in having fun together who, thank goodness, can see beyond brand names and labels and status symbols. So how about you?

When I think of what I want my kids to have "enough" of, I immediately hope they are always getting enough fruit and vegetables, enough time outside, enough exercise. Do they do enough to help out, are they kind enough, am I a good enough parent? Conversely, I don't want them to have "too much" junk food, too much TV or screen time, or have the expectation that things will always come easy. I think by giving them "too much" it will give them the sense that they will always have everything they want. But what if they don't? How much of a shock is it to a new college grad that can't find work, burdened with debt, used to having every gadget and convenience available? Talk about a rude awakening. I read recently that many people are unable to retire because their children's debts are sinking them.

There are definitely times when I say we have given the kids too much. Every year I swear that next Christmas will be smaller and hear myself complain that "they don't appreciate it anyways". But that is not a fair estimation of my children or anyone's children these days. It's not that they don't appreciate it, it's that they've never gone without it. They've never had one favorite, monumental toy because we've been able to give them more, and more, to excess. In one way, we've deprived them of the fantastic joy of waiting and wishing for and finally receiving that one cherished prize, whatever it may be. We equate possession with joy, "stuff" with love and often give toys rather than our time. I wonder what happens when you remove financial transactions entirely. Instead of fleeting excitement that ultimately gives way to boredom, I want my kids to know the pleasure of a job well done, the anticipation and reward of saving for what they want. I'd like them to experience going above and beyond the call of duty to help someone even when there is no foreseeable payment. I want them to get off on doing good things.

This morning I snuggled a lanky 4 year old up in a fuzzy blanket and rocked him for almost an hour when I really should have been busy with other things. It was quiet, I sang to him like when he was a baby, and I tried to memorize each freckle on that adorable little face. Because I know there is one thing that I will never have enough of, and that is time.


  1. Hi I think this is a very important topic. And frankly it extends beyond just *stuff* to everything we give ourselves and our children. ("Our" being used because it isn't just parents but all of us who interact with children).

    I raise my hand and say that I am definitely guilty of giving too much. Although I try to make sure everything I give to children has an educational component, if you catch me in a store right before I'm about to see some littles and anything child-like is in front of me I will pick it up and think, "should I buy this too?" It doesn't matter if I have already got 1 or 3 or 5 gifts.

    And those of us who don't see kids that often (this includes parents who are separated) try to fill the gap with gifts.

    I think the overall theme is that *choices* are overwhelming. Kids and adults don't need that much and when they are given the option of having a lot (1) it means much less and (2) it is actually quite stressful. And it certainly raises expectations above what is normal/achievable in the long-term.

    I may have gone off-topic again! Hope you have a good week!
    ~ Pru

    1. Not off topic at all, Pru--I absolutely understand what you mean. It is worth it occasionally to sit with our thoughts and question what it is that drives us to always desire "more". Even if we are giving it away. And it is not about the money--I don't sit and think about money nearly as much as this blog would insinuate...what are we seeking for ourselves and others by continuously consuming and what hole are we trying to fill? Why, when I am away for my kids for an afternoon to do my Christmas shopping, do I feel this rush of sentiment in Walmart and feel like "just one more thing" will show them how very, very much they mean to me? Ditto for Husband and my family. It's not what we are purchasing but rather, I think, the process of thinking of what will make him/her happy, what suits them best, what will they then feel for me in return, how wonderful will the day be when everyone is excited, this will be a great memory etc. It's quite normal to want all of that but it ends up crowding our homes and needs paid for and the excitement fades so fast!

      I try to remind my kids often that we are very privileged and fortunate and that we have every thing we need plus so much more. Of course it's hard for them to grasp. But I try to draw connections to what actually makes us feel happy, glad, content. It's not usually "stuff". My brother cut a load of wood for us yesterday because I've been here solo parenting most of the winter and ran out. On the way home I asked my boys what they thought of a busy man doing that for us when he already has so much other work to do. Isn't it nice? And they decided it made them feel very good to think of someone doing that and not expecting something in return. And they hadn't realized that it probably made their uncle feel good to know that we have the wood here if we need it. But they both quickly said that when they are "grewed up" they will cut wood for me, and for gramma, and for their uncle (some of which they will stick in his bed, haha, because he is always teasing them). I think it's most important to always communicate with them about consumerism and why we feel like we want/need things. Thanks for commenting, it is an important topic, I think :)

    2. OMG I love that comment about wood in the bed :-)

      I suppose there is a bit of a difference between wanting to give your loved ones wonderful memories/make sure they have enough to make them happy and the pure desire for more. Not that we shouldn't be conscious of it and strive just for enough.

      But it does remind me of my grandma's cooking and how she would always out do herself (like most grandmas) for the grandkids. Now I definitely overate when I was at her house (especially at the holidays) and at the time I knew that was her way of showing her love. Except for many grandmas (well grandmothers for people our age and older), cooking and keeping home were their primary skills that they and the rest of society recognized. Many of us *feel* we have no time to make homemade things or sit down with family and just be so we tend to make up for it with consumption of goods. And I think that goes for ourselves as well - we aren't stepping off the treadmill to just be and to check in with ourselves and see what we really need and really want.

      Okay I'm done! :-) You do post such thoughtful topics!

    3. This brings to mind an example of the difference between having enough and wanting more--my coffee machine died recently. It had a timer so that every morning it came on at 6 and my coffee was ready and waiting when I got up. It also shut itself off after 2 hours which is handy. It worked every day for 8 years, it was a great machine. But I had a $15 coffee pot that used to be in our camper (we sold the camper and do not need an extra coffee pot anymore--my husband used the camper for work so yes it was used daily and really did need its own coffee pot). But when my fancy coffee pot broke down we were going to immediately go buy a new one in the $100-150 price range. I debated about the $75 price range. Then I sucked it up and got the white, no frills coffee pot out of the attic and it's doing just fine. It doesn't match my stainless steel appliances and it's not cool looking. But it was already bought and paid for. It is good "enough", although I did initially want "more". Many of my plates have gotten broken over the years so I'm now also using my camper plates in the house--I bought them right out of high school they have blue flowers and berries on them lol. They aren't my style now, but I've realized they are just plates. Part of me wants to go to a fancy store and pick out some new dishes--at one time I would have considered that a "need". But I'm trying to dissect those impulses and I realize that I'm usually seeking approval and trying to present a certain image. As I get older I'm more ok with letting that pretence fall away.