The Parent Trap: Wanting Your Kid to Have “More” Than You Did and the Culture of “More”

We all want to be the best parents possible (if you are in fact a parent). And we all want what’s best for our children. But somewhere along the line the consumer media machine and the nature of American addictive consumerism convinced most of us that what was best for our children was for them to have “more” than we did. And by more they didn’t mean “more happiness” or “more well-being” or “more security” or “more satisfaction.” They meant more “stuff.” Of course, the overwhelming feeling in contemporary society is that stuff is equal to happiness, well-being, satisfaction and security. We all know that it’s not, but if you find yourself falling into the “I want my kids to have more” trap, here are some grounding realities to bring you back.

“More” Will Never Be Enough

In terms of the ever escalating concept of more, first stop to ask yourself what qualifies as more than you had? Chances are that, like many parents, you’re using the word “more” to simply mean “as much as humanly possible.” It’s natural to want your children to have more than you had as a child. So if every year you got approximately half of what you asked for on your Christmas list, than giving your child sixty percent of what he or she asks for on his or her Christmas list is “more.” More does not mean that your child should get 100% of everything that he or she asks for at holiday or any other time. You can give your child more than you had, but that doesn’t mean that you need to set the expectation that they’ll always get all of the “stuff” that they ask for — in fact that’s asking for trouble and leads to affluenza. The best interest of your child is actually postconsumerism and learning the satisfaction of enough.

More Doesn’t Have to Mean “Stuff”

There were probably lots of things that you had as a kid that your child could benefit from having more of that don’t include “stuff.” More vacations, more time with his or her parents, more nurturing, more education, more trips to see cultural events, more high quality food. As you can see, the list here could quickly get long. But the point is that there are plenty of ways to give your kid “more” that are actually more meaningful than stuff. In fact, you may be surprised to hear this, but many years from now your child probably won’t remember the fifth upgrade to his or her game system or cell phone. But he or she will remember many of the other things that we just listed.

Is Your Motivation Really About Giving More Than You Had?

It’s also important to periodically stop and check your motives. Is wanting your child to have more about wanting your child to have a better life, or is it about keeping up with the Joneses? We know that this isn’t something that most parents want to consider as a motivation behind their actions, but sometimes upon reflection you’ll realize that it is. If that’s the case, then you’re doing neither your child nor yourself any favors by allowing American addictive consumerism to dictate what’s important to you. Step back, re-evaluate and then come at your parenting philosophies with a clear head.

What Are You Sacrificing to Give Your Child More?

Giving your children “more” is great — and we all need to find our own level on the Postconsumer scale in terms of what we’re comfortable with there. But modeling to them that it’s appropriate to live beyond your means or to sacrifice financial security to get more “stuff” (or for that matter more experiences or more vacations) isn’t worth it. We’ve all watched an entire generation of individuals get caught up in the consumer credit crisis. You certainly don’t want your child to sense your financial stress or to grow up falling into the same pattern and creating their own financial instability or stress. You’ll be giving them “more” by ensuring that that never happens.

Has More “Stuff” Made You Satisfied?

Before thinking that more “stuff” will make your child happy, stop and briefly consider whether it’s truly made you happy. Or has the quest for more and more and more actually added stress, depression and dissatisfaction to your life? Will more “stuff” actually make your child delighted, or will it be a temporary bandaid to other issues that are diminishing the joy in your child’s life (such as a lack of time with you while you’re working extra hard to give your kid “more”). If it hasn’t worked for you, will it work for your child?

Remember That You Are the Role Model

Most importantly, remember that you are the one setting an example for your child. If they see you associating satisfaction with “stuff” then they will grow up to do the same. If they see you modeling bad financial habits, then they will grow up to do the same. Show your children how to find real joy (and security) in life and how to keep “stuff” in perspective.

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Photo Credit: David Zellaby via Flickr

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