I live in an area where I’m surrounded by wealth. Look around my town and you’ll see beautiful Martha Stewart-esque houses filled with designer fixtures. Garages and driveways are occupied by cars that come from “exotic” locations, and the people that live in these houses are very chic and well put-together.
I genuinely respect my neighbors and coworkers (except for ones that are self-absorbed, but hey…those exist everywhere) and this is definitely not a post to criticize their ways of living. After all, I live amongst these people, I do so voluntarily, and they are my friends. Many of these people have worked hard to get to where they are now, and the truth is that I LOVE my town. But despite loving it, I worry…about my children and ways in which to keep them grounded amidst the excess.
My husband and I both grew up comfortable – my dad had a steady, well-paying corporate job for my entire life, and my husband’s parents worked in high level academia. To an outsider, we could have been been labeled “privileged” and this wouldn’t necessarily have been a lie (although it wouldn’t necessarily have been a truth, either). Our parents took every opportunity to remind us that we should be grateful for the things that we had because they grew up struggling – this only resonated with us because they repeated it over and over again, and it was very clear that their sentiment was real and deep. Our parents understood that they were fortunate to have their new comfortable lifestyles, were truly grateful for the opportunity to make life better for us kids, and tried to instill these values in us.
I like to think that both my husband and I are relatively well-grounded because of our parents’ experiences, but I know that the appreciation that our parents have for the privileges of their hard work has been lost in the generational passage. I fear that because we have never had to live without certain comforts, we won’t know how to stress the alternative reality to our children, and that this in turn will put them in a world with an unrealistic mindset. Already, my kids ask me, “Will you buy me [fill in the blank]?” And when my only credible rationale for saying “no” is that they have to earn it, they tell me, “But Johnny’s got one because he ate all his broccoli last night…” The sad part is that I’ll often discover that their “but” statement is indeed true – Johnny received a prize because he accomplished something that he should be doing anyhow. In the world of toddlers, there’s little that you can say to compete with that.
This morning, we brought a new doll into school for the Toys for Tots drive. This doll has been sitting in our “new toy pile” for three years; completely unopened. My daughter had a fit in the car on the way to school, crying, “I WANT it…” and “I NEED it…” in spite of having way too many dolls and never having thought twice about this one. I tried to explain that some kids don’t have any toys at all, and that this was a gift that we were giving to another child. She dried her tears, dropped the toy into the box and as we were walking away, she asked me, “How come her mommy can’t buy her a doll? Why is she taking mine?”
As a parent, it is my responsibility to do everything I can to teach my children that while I personally promise that they will never have to fight for a good education (one of the reasons why I live where I do), things that are considered luxuries outside of their little bubbles are truly PRIVILEGES and not RIGHTS. It’s hard to instill these values in them when I admittedly take them for granted myself, and don’t always have tangible experiences from which to draw. I want them to understand that these gifts can be taken away as easily as they have been given to them, and that nothing should ever be taken for granted. I’m working on it a little bit at a time…