My kid is a brat and I don't know what to do about it.
In an effort to show our love and to make ourselves appear happy and successful, we are creating a society full of spoiled brats. Children who are lazy, overstimulated, ungrateful and greedy.
How I came to this conclusion
On the road again: When I was 10 my dad lost his business and as a result we lost our beautiful home in the Hamptons. In less than a year I went from living 10 minutes from the ocean, attending one of the most amazing schools in the country, having two Austrian nannies catering to me, a swimming pool and anything and everything my little heart desired, to living in a 17 foot travel trailer with a whole lot of nothing.
My sister and me 1991
We lived on the road for over seven years. We went from having very little to having nothing to having very little and then back to having nothing over the course of that seven years. I remember being hurt and angry for the first year or so, but over time I found that I was happier. My happiness was no longer wrapped up in whether I had the newest styles like my friends or what kind of extravagant birthday party I was going to have next. My happiness was being found in new and more meaningful things. I found joy in reading, meeting new people and discovering new places. I was entertained and amazed by all kinds of little things that I would never have noticed before.
Whatever Dad was doing to make money at the time, whether is was selling t-shirts on the side of the road, doing wild west reenactments (I always got to play Annie Oakley), concession stands at fairs, construction, washing cars... etc I was his right hand girl. It wasn't ideal, but I learned how to work when I didn't feel like it, how to be dependable and how to deal with people.
When I was 16 I raised enough money and moved to Peru for a year. I was not your average 16 year old and so my parents agreed to let me go. So while other girls were going on their first dates and learning how to do their makeup, I was hanging out in the mountains of Peru.
Learning how to love: When my first child was born in 2004, something happened and suddenly I had this urge to have things. The love I felt for her was like nothing I had ever felt before. I wanted to give her all the material things I had lacked for the past 12 years of my life. I wanted to fill her life with the absolute best of everything. I didn't want her to ever have to walk in to a food bank, wash cars in the freezing cold or take hand-me-down clothes that were four sizes too big. I wanted her to have anything and everything her little heart desired. I wanted her to take every class and go to every fun kids' event within driving distance. I wanted her to take dance, gymnastics and any other thing she showed interest in. I was on a mission to make her childhood amazing. Billy and I both worked really hard and Niyah was given everything and then some. She was such a precious little baby and I just knew she was going to be better off having had all of these amazing things.
A day of reckoning: It was a Tuesday in the fall, I remember it so clearly. I was getting Niyah and Alayna ready for a fun day out in town. I had a host of things planned for them. I was trying to get the house ready to be cleaned while we were out. Niyah was 4 (almost 5) at the time and I asked her to pick up her clothes before the cleaning lady arrived. She looked right at me and said, "Why? That's not my job, that's ______ job." It it hit me like a truck. I felt like my whole life came to a screeching halt.
A season of change: What had I done? I dropped what was in my hand and sat on the floor next to her. I didn't get mad, I just said "I'm so sorry." I was apologizing to her, to the universe and to myself for having let this happen. I had been ignoring all of the little things..fits when I would say no, not being grateful when she received a new gift, not valuing her things, never having enough, lying to get what she wanted. It was right there in front of me, but I didn't want to see it. My kid was turning into a little brat and I was 100 percent responsible! For over a year I had been telling myself that this was normal behavior and that she would grow out of it because I just didn't want to see the truth. I didn't want to see that all of my hard work to make everything perfect, all of my love in the form of gifts, all of the running around to make sure she got to do every fun thing available was actually hurting her.
A new day: I knew how to change it, but I knew it wasn't going to be easy. Taking things away, putting her on a budget, simplifying, getting her more involved with chores, not giving in when she cried for things she wanted, learning to say no and stick with it, exposing her to poverty so that she could begin to appreciate all that she was blessed with. The other big challenge I faced was finding ways to entertain her without a thousand talking plastic toys and games to help me. None of those things were easy, but they were necessary and we loved her enough to do it.
Personal note: We did not do anything overly drastic. I wrote down the change we wanted to see in our household over the next 12 month period. All of our decision and actions from that moment forward were based on our ultimate goal. A goal to simplify the kids lives, leaving them more room for their imaginations to go to work and their hearts to grow with wonder for the natural world around them.
The other day our middle child said:
A: "Dad makes really good money, doesn't he?"
Me: "Yes. Why?"
A: "If we have all that money then why don't we move into a bigger house and why do we shop at Goodwill and stuff?"
Me: "Because we love you that much!"
At this point in our life, we have the means to give them almost anything their little minds could dream up, but just because we can, doesn't mean we should.
We have found other ways to show our love... we craft, paint, go on walks, read, meditate, work on our farm, garden, do puzzles, talk, play board games and cards (Texas hold 'em ha ha), dance, drum, write stories and poetry... all things that cost nothing.
We love them enough to give them less.
Fewer material things and more of our time.
Brooke Hampton is the author of Enchanted Cedar: The Journey Home and co-founder and owner of Enchanted Cedar, a local Chaga house and Bookstore in Lorena, Texas. She writes at barefootfive.com, where this post first appeared.