One of our darling daughters (henceforth DD) recently told me the following story.
DD had taken four of her daughters, ages 5-11, clothing shopping. When she was checking out, the store proprietor pointed to a bowl of chocolate coins and told her that each chocolate had a discount coupon inside the wrapper. Picking one, our daughter received a percentage off her purchases and was left with a circle of chocolate about one inch in diameter.
DD proceeded to give each of her girls a ¼ of the chocolate coin, and they responded by thanking her. She was rather astonished to find the store owner gaping at her. “I’ve never seen that,” the owner said. DD actually didn’t know what she was talking about, so the woman explained that mothers shopping with children tended to fall into two categories. One group pocketed the chocolate making sure that their children didn’t see it, while the other group was besieged by children complaining about how small the chocolate was, or each particular child whining about why she should get the whole coin. Tears, rudeness and whining were not unknown. Frequently, the mother ended up promising more chocolate to everyone. In the best scenario, the children simply gulped down the chocolate.
This story brought to mind a friend, now married for many decades, who had a rather rough adjustment in his newlywed phase. Brought up in an upper-middle-class home, he and his siblings had separate bedrooms. He never went to sleep-away camp nor did he dorm at college. After he married, he was shocked to discover that his wife (and new roommate) expected to have a say in what the bedroom looked like and even had clothing and other items that demanded closet and dresser space.
Loving parents want to give their children everything. Doing so, however, means that they are not giving them the gift of deprivation. In general, my husband prefers teaching adults to children. He once made an exception and agreed to learn with an American boy approaching the bar-mitzvah age of thirteen. At their first meeting, in an attempt to break the ice, my husband shared an exciting story from one of his safaris in Africa. The response he got was heartbreaking. At twelve, this boy was completely jaded. The son of very wealthy parents, he had been everywhere and done everything. The proceeds of a garage sale of his possessions probably would have yielded enough money to support the average American family for a month.
Some of us who grew up wearing hand-me-downs may get a thrill in buying our children new clothing. If a highlight of our childhood was seeing a performance on ice, we may want to make that an annual outing for our own children. Maybe we only read library books and can think of nothing greater to give our kids than crisp, new books.
If they fit in our budget, here is absolutely nothing wrong with new clothing or books or expensive family outings. Certainly, much that I take for granted, my grandparents would have seen as luxuries. Yet, in one way or another, each of us should make sure to never give so much to our children that a small gift or pleasure cannot be appreciated.