The Gift of Deprivation

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.

5 thoughts on “The Gift of Deprivation”

  1. Dear Susan: My husband grew up poor as 1 of 8 children. They did not have hot water in their home. They had to boil water in a pot and go up the stairs to the bathroom to add it to the cold water in the tub. He wore socks on his hand for gloves, and some of his story is is just too sad to recount further. The public schools were full of bullies and gangs..he had to quit because he could not pay the bullies protection money…one brother got kicked out of public school due to schizophrenia in 2nd grade and never got to go back. There were no mental health services like we have now. A woman in my church told me she lived in a chicken coop for a while as a child because of hard times…I cannot imagine what that is like. Most of us are spoiled in comparison. Few have had access to the wisdom you share with us. I am so grateful to you for your ministry. Sincerely, Ruth

  2. As the only child of a single mom I grew up poor. Our frig was always almost empty. My dresser was never full of clothes. I never had a closet. Mom and I only had 1 bedroom apartments until I started high school. Clothes were bought once a year at the beginning of school. To this day I still have clothes that are over 10 years old. I still have the first socket set my dad gave me and the first jig saw my mom got me when I was 17. I am 57 years old and care for and respect everything I own. Kids today, for the most part, just will not understand what it is like to be poor.

    1. My husband writes in his book, Thou Shall Prosper, Frank, about how poor is an undefined term. It is relative to what is around us. One of our jobs, for ourselves and for our children, is to foster appreciation no matter what we do or don’t have.

  3. The parents attitude has much to do with how any gift is perceived , your daughter is doing a great job! I know this because I have seen other situations which did not go as well, and the parent was reaping what she had taught.

    1. Sometimes we see bad behavior and it’s just a bad day, Karen, when a child isn’t feeling well or is hungry or tired. Or there are other extenuating circumstances. But I do think my daughter works hard on being a wise mother.

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