Sometimes I worry that I love my son too much.
I was thinking about that this Christmas, when I saw the haul of toys he received from his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and watched as he was indoctrinated into the Culture of More. It definitely made for a fun holiday -- the joy of little kids can be contagious -- but it also made me nervous.
There's a reason we call it "spoiling." Overindulgence breeds assholes.
Mom and Buried and I have long been on the fence about having a second kid, for a variety of reasons (see these older posts on the subject). But one of the arguments for that extra mouth is the fact that the inevitable competition between two (or more) siblings -- for affection, for attention, for toys, for food -- can help breed many positive qualities that, it can at least be argued, can help one become a better, more successful, more well-rounded person.
Last Christmas, after watching my son tear open gift after gift, only to finally reach the end and have the balls to say "More presents?" I'm about ready to hop on the Brangelina bandwagon and raise an entire orphanage.
We give our kids too much. We get so concerned with having a nice Christmas, or providing them with more than we had, or making sure they're happy, that we don't realize the ways that short-term, brief-burst happiness of Santa delivering everything they asked for have negative effects later in their lives.
This time of year such unintended consequences are on full display. The Facebook posts and Twitter feeds and Gawker posts featuring greedy, ungrateful children always wanting more are the flip-side of those unsettling viral videos wherein children go berserk upon receiving that one special gift. But we shouldn't blame the kids; we should only blame ourselves.
Eventually we all reap what we sow. Spend their early Christmases loading them up just to see them smile and suffer the consequences of an adolescence (and beyond) of expectation, wherein too much is never enough.
Whatever happened to "tough love"?
As I said above, competition can be a positive thing. So can deprivation. I'm not saying we should raise our kids Amish or enact the Hunger Games or get kids back working on assembly lines. I'm not even saying we need to change their behavior. We mostly just need to change ours.
There's a way to support our kids without overpraising them. There's a lot of room to provide from our kids without spoiling them. It is possible to be loving AND firm, we just need to find the right balance. I love my son to death but I'd be doing him a disservice if I didn't raise him with his future in mind. If that means a leaner Christmas next year, or a Dad that's not his best friend, so be it. I'm no Great Santini, but I hope I can find a way to balance my desire for my son's daily happiness with my need to prepare him for the future.
This is a daily struggle for parents of all stripes. I imagine most of us fall prey to the tendency to spoiling our kids, especially in the early years, before this job burns us out. My wife and I certainly have. But as I think about sitting around the tree watching my 3-year-old son embrace the dark side of Christmas -- gimme! gimme! gimme! -- it makes me sad to think about a potential future in which the holiday is ruined by an unfulfilled desire for the latest trendy toy or hottest piece of tech. So things may need to change.
One of the joys of parenting is making your children happy, but it can backfire. Especially if you only consider the short-term.
Even if giving them too much doesn't handicap kids out of content and productive adult-hoods, it still can't hurt them to have to strive a little harder to get the things they want, rather than just wake up and have them handed right to them, in bulk.
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