Stopping Spoilage

How to avoid child-centered materialism.

My husband and I have overdone it with stuff for the kids — toys, games, you name it. Well-meaning relatives have only amped up the materialism quotient in our home. How do we scale back without sparking a revolt?

You are asking two questions. One, how can my husband and I cut back on our excess? And two, what can we do to slow down the supply and resupply from loving relatives? Let’s focus on you this time. Next time we’ll talk about your relatives behind their backs.

The first law of child-rearing economics is: Don’t give materially all you are able to. The second law is: Don’t give materially all a child wants you to. Many rationales push parents into breaking these laws. Let’s consider a few.

I want to give my children what I didn’t have. If this means love, attention, time, affection and praise, then by all means open the floodgates. It’s hard to give too much of these good things. They are gifts that can’t be broken, hoarded or fought over — well, most of the time. Sometimes the worst brawl can erupt over who gets to sit on dad’s lap first.

If your childhood was materially poor, certainly you want to give your kids a higher standard of living, but going too far may lower their level of living. Materialism can be a forerunner to self-centeredness, endless demands, ingratitude, boredom. I have seen few children lacking for character because they lacked material perks. I have seen quite a few who lacked for it because they were indulged.

I like to see them happy and excited. In the short term, gift storms excite kids. But humans are creatures of habit. We grow accustomed to things, and what was once exhilarating loses luster. Consider a child’s glee upon opening his first gift on Christmas morning. He wants to linger and play. But there is a whole stack yet to consume. By gift No. 7, he’s in a full ripping frenzy, stopping only long enough to reach for the next surprise. Another human trait: The more we get, especially if it’s free, the less we appreciate it. And we often come to expect it.

So many other families/kids have it. The pressure from this perception is most acute concerning the latest games, gimmicks, clothes and $90 athletic shoes. Whether or not 999 homes of 1,000 sport the latest designer lunchbox is completely irrelevant to your home having it. Good parenting is not majority parenting. You can be different. Maybe your parenting is better than most.

Will your youngster feel cheated or apart from the crowd? Possibly, in this small matter. But whatever tiny, temporary identity issue this might cause will be more than offset by the lesson he’s learning about life, himself and moderation.

We can afford it. I won’t dally on this one, but will refer you back to the first law of child-rearing economics. The fact that buying for your children puts little strain on your wallet bears no relationship whatsoever to what’s good for your child. Certainly you can also afford many harmful things; you would never consider getting them. In and of themselves, toys and goodies aren’t trouble. Given to excess, they can breed qualities that are nothing but.

Good parenthood evolves. It’s a long process of scrutinizing, rethinking and changing, if need be, ideas that aren’t working out. All parents follow some notions that eventually prove faulty. Materialism is a common one.

You’re a wise parent. You’ve realized that even the best of intentions can teach unintentional lessons. Next visit we’ll look at more ways to help you moderate your generosity, as well as that of your relatives.

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Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.