Give Your Kids Less, Help Them Learn More


My eldest on her special birthday adventure…

* Column of the Week:

I under-spoil my kids.

Even though we live in a culture that convinces my 5 year old she needs a Baby Bullet and a Pillow Pet in the first 3 seconds of watching cable (and yes, I admit that her head is currently resting on a giant plush pig), I’ve never wanted my girls to take anything for granted. Growing up in a city like Boca Raton (where people’s rhinoplasty and Porsche Boxer have more money than my current small town combined), it would have been easy to think that whom I’m wearing and what I’m driving means something.

And even though the majority of my childhood friends are now highlighting, tanning and dancing on square platforms for a living, my family never let me forget the important things in life (even if highlights sometimes admittedly take precedence). While my sister encourages her kids to walk a mile holding water-filled jugs (just like children in impoverished countries endure daily), her teenage daughter is busy raising money for her next mission trip. Instead of worrying about cattiness and cads (which was my professional concern at 15), she truly knows who she is and isn’t concerned with societal pressures to tantrum out at her Sweet 16 or demand a push present for her Teen Mom debut.

But despite my best intentions and balanced ideas for raising my girls, I’m continually met with opposition for this way of thinking. Now don’t get me wrong, my kids definitely enjoy a gift or two on any given holiday (and every other checkout from Target), but personally, I never want to see my child look at a special memento from a well-meaning family member, and respond with “what else did you get me?” I want my girls to enjoy experiences with family as much as the latest toy. I want them to spend time creating and imagining with items they’re given, and not throw them on the increasing mound of plastic in the basement. And I never want them to look at their grandparents or relatives simply as a means to an end (i.e. a time share in Tampa), instead of the fascinating, worldly beings that they are.

I’ve always found that insight and advice come from the most unexpected places, and in my case, it came from a Ghana-born cab driver in New York City. He explained to me that in his culture, the elderly are revered for their knowledge and appreciated for everything they have to teach us. (On the flip side, we put anyone with a Senior Citizen Kroger card out to pasture faster than you can say “life insurance policy”). He also believes that every teenager in America should spend at least one week in a third world country before going off to college, so they can truly realize how blessed they are. And frankly, even though I sometimes count watching the odd episode of Coming Home or Extreme Home Makeover as my community service for the week, our empathy needs to extend far beyond that (both within the world and in our own backyard).

What’s a better gift then time with family?

But how can we manage to reward our kids for their good behavior and strides in life, without taking it into the realms of materialism? As my eldest daughter’s birthday fast approaches, we look forward to skipping the party fanfare (which translates into stress, family drama and way too many leftover favors from Oriental Trading Company on my part), and enjoying our current familial tradition of treating her with an educational trip. By taking a weekend away to visit museums, aquariums or the zoo, we put the focus back on what matters (spending time with our child and enjoying how much she’s grown), and less on who’s passing her the next gift.

But no matter how much I try to avoid spoiling my children (or making them feel like they have a “right” to whatever they want), it seems almost impossible to shelter them from our current “me” society. While watching the Housewives recently, I hear more about rejuvenating therapy sessions and vaginal rejuvenation, than I do about what book they’re reading to any of their mythical offspring. Parenting should not be like an episode of Friends (where their newborn baby conveniently disappears and sleeps through every plot point). It’s an all encompassing, 24-7, utterly sacrificing and entirely fulfilling experience which leads us trying to balance our own desires as women (in my case, listening to Talk Of The Nation without a temper tantrum from the backseat), while still placing our children first.

None of us are perfect and sometimes a little bit of decadence or tasteless voyeurism is utterly and truly needed (heck, I still watch E! and wonder if Kourtney Kardashian even has a baby any more?) Yet maybe if more of us stood up for what really matters and stopped buying into the infomercial laden, 7-day-vaca, 7 karat, spa week, rejuvenated va-ja-ja counter culture we’re creating for our youth…we’d stop making a gift list and start appreciating the little things in life.

Perhaps one day we’ll finally be able to take the kids to Disney World, but for now…. I love that they think Chik Fil’ A truly is the happiest place on Earth. And when it’s finally time for my daughter’s birthday, we’re all rewarded with the most important thing around (Baby Bullets excluded): each other. Family is our greatest reward, whether we’re finally listening and learning from our elders, or teaching our kids that the world is a place in which they can create change (even if they secretly think it revolves around them).

The only thing that we have a “right” to in our day-to-day life is giving that extra ounce of love, appreciating one another to the fullest, and occasionally turning off Bravo in favor of a good book.

And if that’s the gift that I’m given this year or any day, I couldn’t think of a better way to grow old.

(But I’d still like a Pillow Pet.)

* Bailey Vincent Clark is the Editor-in-chief, author and founder of Makeover Momma. She hosts Makeover Momma TV on Tuesday (7 PM/EST & 4 PM/PT), and writes this column weekly (at least in her dreams!)

Makeover Mommaâ„¢ occasionally receives cosmetic products for review, with no obligation to positively promote or cover said brand. Receiving products has absolutely no influence over our recommendation of any particular product.

Posted in 2008 - 2011 Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
One comment on “Give Your Kids Less, Help Them Learn More
  1. Karen says:

    Absolutely awesome post. I feel exactly the same way and it gets harder and harder as the kids get older. My sweet little boy turns 6 in May and he is not as bad as his big sister but he wants to invite his entire class to the Playstation (a place with lots of tubes to crawl thru)…..and he and his sister have both gone to bday parties there for others. Some times I wonder if we should have just said no to letting them go to all of those friends bday parties in the last 9 yrs because if they don’t see it, they don’t know what they are missing!! Why didn’t I think of that earlier?

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