The half-life of treats

My name is Catherine and I am spoiling my children.

When I say “spoiling”, I don’t mean that I have lost control. I believe in parents being in charge. I believe in saying no. I believe in no sweets before tea, unless it’s a very special occasion; in eating your broccoli whether you like it or not; in bedtimes and manners and moderation.

And yet I’m spoiling my children.

Perhaps it would be more true to say that I haven’t lost control yet. I just feel that my control over what they have, what they see, what they consume is slipping away.

Compared to a lot of their friends, they’re not “spoiled”. They don’t have the same gadgets, the same spending power, the same level of veto over their everyday lives as many of their classmates. They don’t have exotic holidays, they don’t have designer clothes, they don’t even have the same degree of attention. So why do I feel that they have so much that they don’t value it?

Perhaps we’ve overdone the day trips. Perhaps they need a long period of boredom at home to refuel their imaginations rather than taking castles and beaches and parks as so many torture chambers designed to keep them away from what they really want to be doing (which is, obviously, playing on screens).

Perhaps we’ve let them watch too much TV, given in too early to the demands for screen-time and Minecraft and YouTube.

Perhaps we’ve acquiesced too easily to the toys on the birthday and Christmas lists that we knew would bring a morning of excitement and fun, before disappearing into the back of the cupboard or breaking beyond repair.

Before I had children, even when they were tiny, I was adamant that I wouldn’t give in to pester power; determined that they would grow up making the most of small things rather than learning early to take the big ones for granted. At first, it seemed to work: they’d have more fun with a cardboard box than whatever had been inside it;  would spend hours engrossed with sticks or pegs or imaginary friends; would be satisfied with an occasional packet of chocolate buttons.

As they get older, though, I feel that I’m losing. I’m failing in the trade-offof what I think is right with the world in which they live. I might be giving them too much, too soon, but I know what can happen when you lack the social capital to interact with your peers. Principles make poor playmates.

They don’t get everything they want, of course. There are plenty of things they think they’re massively deprived by the lack of that they’ll just have to learn to live without, for financial or other reasons.  There are others, though, that I’d rather they didn’t have but to which I don’t – or can’t – object as strongly, and (not being as joyless as I realise this post sounds) others again that I know will just make them happy.

How do I teach my children to be grateful for what they have, rather than pining over what they don’t?

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5 thoughts on “The half-life of treats

  1. I think it is natural to want what you haven’t got, we all do it a bit. I stare at big kitchen and whooping gardens in magazines and *want* but it is never going to happen and I’ve finally got that. I think. Children are ever hopeful, whereas I am cynical. I am still gutted that I didn’t get a tiny tears as a child. It sticks with me, more than the Barbies I did get. Weird.
    Isn’t this all part of the ‘marshmallow test’ that is everywhere at the moment? Maybe the book explains how.
    My son has more than I imagined he would, but there are still things he doesn’t have. I remember a friend being pressured by other parents to take her children to Disney Paris, because in not doing so she was somehow failing her children.
    I spent hours discussing ‘need’ and ‘want’ with my son. Personally, I think it’s an explanation one thing at a time.

  2. I think children are capable of understanding more than we think they are. Try giving yours more insight into how and why you make your decisions. Give them the opportunity to help make difficult choices. If your finances are small, tell them. If you are upset at their lack of appreciation then choose some of the things you do for them and stop doing them. The majority of children today have no idea what a “hard time” really is. They will not stop loving you, you are their precious Mum.

    1. Ever since reading Enid Blyton’s stories as a child (where the children are often involved in major family decisions) I’ve agreed with this theory. I’m doing this with my own children as much as my can because I believe children are much more ‘responsible’ and understand FAR more than most people will give them credit for.

  3. I’ve spent some time thinking about this and think that in part it’s down to perspective. When I think back to my childhood, so much of what went on in my head was hidden from my parents – the bits I could and did express were quite basic (I’m cold, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I want that toy). Gratitude, appreciation, learning to love what you have – they’re quite sophisticated and nuanced emotions in a way that require a pretty wide view of the world, and I think smaller children have trouble understanding exactly what they mean or how to recognise them.

    I’m not suggesting they shouldn’t be encouraged to get there – mine are taught to say Please and Thank You and I try and instil gratitude and thankfulness and sharing at all stages – but isn’t constantly longing for the next thing part of growing up, in a way? Tedious as it is for parents, I think those lessons only really ‘take’ in hindsight, when they become adults, have to earn their own way, and finally understand what we were going on about.

  4. It sounds to me as if you are doing everything right, and I understand your feeling of quiet despair about it. I’m afraid these are the hard yards — you just have to put your head down and keep going, reinforcing all the time. They will push back, all the time. It will infuriate you. You will think them ungrateful — I know I feel that about my children, who at the same time I can see are really not bad. Part of the feeling, I’m afraid, comes from the intense pressure you are under as a mother to model gratitude and good behaviour yourself at all times, which can feel nearly impossible. I think that very pressure itself creates resentment — how could they NOT understand that they must stop asking, when I have been so good myself for so long? I think that being honest about what is realistic is crucial, even if they don’t like it. But you are doing a grand job — you are in charge, and that’s the bottom line. So well done for sticking to it, and keep going.

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