While some might argue to the contrary (my husband, for example), I don’t write 24/7. I do have a life. Which brings me to topic of children. We have two. Both boys, just 17 months apart in age and the joy of my life.
Our hopes and dreams for our children are no different today than they were the days they were born. We wanted to raise strong, godly men who would be kind, self-sufficient and generous. And it’s been an uphill battle given our culture that peddles just the opposite: entitlement, greed and self-centeredness.
Naively, I assumed most parents — at least those with a lick of sense — shared a similar value system. At the very least I would have thought most of us agree that it’s not good for kids to have everything they could possibly want and to overindulge them just to see that happy look on their faces.
Recently, I read a column in The New York Times, “Tweens ‘R’ Shoppers,” and couldn’t help but smile. Imagine a 12-year-old child “perfectly coiffed and lip-glossed,” addicted to shopping, hopelessly hooked on Abercrombie and Juicy Couture. I kept waiting for the twist, the punchline — the lesson Seymour’s readers would learn from this account of her shopping experience with her daughter and two other children. And I waited some more.
By the 19th paragraph, I was getting uncomfortable. This can’t be for real. Surely Seymour can’t be condoning such ugly attitudes of entitlement and self-centeredness.
If her goal was to get me to read her column right to the last word, she succeeded. And I arrived with a sick stomach.
Dear Lesley Jane Seymour,
I read with interest your column in The New York Times. As a mother who is years ahead of you, I’d like to give you a few unsolicited pieces of advice:
Enabling a 12-year-old child to, in your words, “make shopping an acceptable hobby, even an obsession,” is going to come back to bite. You’ll know what I mean when your precious daughter turns into a dissatisfied, ungrateful, narcissistic woman. That’s what happens when you overindulge children.
I know this because my husband and I have raised two sons. It’s not easy to buck the materialistic society in which we live — a culture that screams at our kids that they are entitled to have it all. And I can tell you that it can be done. Our sons prove my theory.
I know about this because I hear from the people years down the line when their marriages are busting up, their lives are in shambles and they wonder why on earth their parents didn’t have the courage to teach them the pitfalls of materialism, entitlement and self-indulgence.
You quoted Juliet B. Schor, author of “Born to Buy.” I hope you will read the entire book. I believe it will give you a much different picture than what you seem to have drawn for your readers from your day at the mall.
If you’re trying to teach your daughter that enough Abercrombie or even more Juicy Couture will eventually make her happy, you’re doing a pretty good job of it. But that’s a flawed lesson plan because there’s not enough of any material thing to make her happy. More will never be enough. And even more will never bring true satisfaction. What does bring satisfaction and happiness is contentment — buying what you need, wanting what you have.
It’s not easy to fight the pull that our culture places on our children. But I can tell you that the adverse effects of materialism will be lessened in your child when she’s taught the joy of gratitude and thankfulness.
I wrote the foregoing 16 years ago in 2007, back when shopping malls were still the hot ticket for youngsters, kids didn’t have phones and social media was a foreign concept. Today, our boys are 16 years older, both flourishing in business and in life. Our family has grown by two grandsons. And my message has not changed. It is as timely now as it was then. And because you may be wondering, I never did hear back from Ms. Seymour.