Sunday, August 15, 2010

Undoing the Damage

Yesterday afternoon, I spontaneously decided to take the girls to the Magical Secret Beach for a couple of hours, to get them out of the house, into the fresh air, into the ocean and to break up an otherwise quiet day at home. I called the Saads, and Chris and the kids joined us. They spent a couple of hours frolicking about, while Chris and I chatted and watched the seagulls...and the children, of course. The girls put together some sort of musical routine that was designed to get us to take them to the movies...we didn't pay it too much attention, because they daily put together musical routines for one purpose or another. We said no, having other evening plans, and the three of them pitched a fit. (Well, mostly mine, but still...) It was one of those disgusting displays of spoiled-brattiness, a serious case of the gimme-mores, and I hit the ceiling.

We are now launching into the second installment of what I affectionately call Consumer Depravation Period. I did this once before, a year or so ago, when they had ceased to show the appropriate appreciation for the life they have, the "stuff" they get from toys to orange coolatas, and it was very effective. What it means is that there are no treats, no dinners out, no ice cream, nothing besides what's already in our house. Not one red cent will be spent on them in any fashion. (I wish I had not picked up groceries for camp yesterday morning - though I did stash some of it away already.) This, of course, is accompanied by stories of my early childhood of poverty, of the hard work and stress my mother had to experience even to provide us with the basics, let alone the luxuries...the feeling of waiting in the "free lunch" line in the cafeteria and lunches of government cheese. They have no idea how great they have it...but in this next week and half, until we leave for vacation, they're going to get a taste of it. Chores are being doubled, and if they don't come out of this with a greater appreciation of their toys and their own rooms and their wonderful lives that are NOT a feature of good luck, but of the hard work and loving tendencies of their parents, then we will spend the weekend in Pennsylvania NOT in Hershey Park and Amish Adventure Land (or whatever it's called) but driving through the slums of Philadelphia. (What? I ain't scared.)

I know that it sounds extreme to freak out over one little temper fit on a beach, but it's been building. And I am not above using Serious Drama to make my point when it matters.

So, no running out to meet the ice-cream truck, no extra dollars for the snack bar at camp, no back to school anything until further notice. But, of course, there WILL be trips to the mall, the bookstore, Target and CVS, where they will NOT get this one book they've been waiting for forever or one little pack of gum or just a bottle of water...

I hate to think that I have spoiled my children, and prefer instead to recognize that wanting things is natural and normal, and that this is just a phase. They do appreciate things, generally - family time, and gifts from their grandparents, and special trips and events. But there have just been seven too many exasperated sighs when they don't get that little bit more that they want. I will NOT have children who feel entitled to everything under the sun. I want them to appreciate the simple things in life, the ones money can't buy, and I intend to fully double my efforts to align our family values with our actual day to day family life.

I think about what President Obama said about everyone needing to tighten their belts, stop living lives of excess, and I am as guilty of that as anyone. I can do better for our family that I've been doing, set a better example, and spend my money on the stuff that matters, instead of the crap that doesn't. It'll be good for all of us. (Insert Patriotic musical swell here.) We are so lucky to have this big beautiful house, more than we need to entertain us and nourish us, body and soul. It's time to make do with what we have much more, because we have so freaking much.

Turning over a new leaf today.


  1. Isn't it amazing how our lovelies choose those moments when we are with a group of others to work on us to get something they want? When my kids were little, Dennis and I had a rule that said the kids were not allowed to ask us to do/buy anything in the presence of others. That way we could avoid the big, begging eyes of their sweet little friends (partners in crime) if the answer was no...the kids knew not to ask us without following the rule or the answer would automatically be NO, even if we had been inclined to say yes otherwise. They had to follow the rule. This helped avoid situations like the one you described, and of course we came up with it after similar situations happened repeatedly. I don't think it's at all an extreme reaction. Sometimes one of the best things we can do as parents is take off our rose colored glasses. As teachers we've been to those meetings where we've met ridiculous parents who admit no fault in their children, and of course they are the very kids who need a kick in the ass. Your acts of discipline are just as much a measure of your love as taking them to the Magical Secret Beach. I don't even call it tough love-it's true love. You're molding moral human beings. KUDOS MOM!!!

  2. I love this! And I support you 1000% in this approach. One thing I will not tolerate with my children is the descent into brattiness over a luxury. Yes, it's normal and typical for them to ask and even ask for more. And it's normal and typical for them to test limits. But when the drama overtakes the request and it becomes more about getting me to say "yes" than about the "thing" itself, the answer is always "no" and additional privileges are lost.

    Limits are loving. And it's not like you are making them survive on bread and water and sleep on the floor. No one dies from lack of plastic crap from China.