Tuesday, May 23, 2006



A while back, I posted a meme where you check off a bunch of stuff on a list and then count up your score to see if you are “spoiled”. I did the meme without editorializing, but Elizabeth and Phantom Scribbler both hosted some interesting discussions on what exactly it means to be spoiled.

After taking in all that (and a little bit more, but you’ll have to find that reference on your own), I’ve been thinking about it in the context of spoiling your kids. This is one of the things I worry about frequently, because I know my kids are very privileged (to use a distinction Phantom Scribbler made), and I know they are perfect little consumers, target markets as susceptible to advertising as their supposedly media-savvy mother.

But are they spoiled? What does that mean?

We went to the mall on Sunday morning because we had to get out of the house and it was five degrees and windy and raining outside. (Yes, I am still complaining about the weather. Only several hours of sunshine will dry up this puddle of resentment.) The boys just about drove us batty with their requests to go to the toy store so they could play with the train table and the dollhouse while we browsed in a few other stores, but through an entire morning in the mall they never once asked if they could have anything. They rarely do, in fact, and if they do and we say no, that’s usually the end of it. I can’t think of a single meltdown or even argument we’ve had over being denied a treat in a store.

I like to indulge them. I like to give them inexpensive little treats like stickers and colouring books and plastic toys from the dollar store every couple of weeks. Beloved prowls the sale bins at Winners to find good deals on Thomas and Bob the Builder toys. Birthdays and Christmas tend toward the excessive (excessive in my definition is more than three or four presents each) only because we keep finding stuff we know the boys will love, and we are both kids at heart. There are toys and books and videos creeping out from under the furniture, overflowing bins and stacked four deep on the shelf. But does having stuff mean you’re spoiled? Or is it more about your relationship with stuff, with what you have and what you don't?

Tristan continues to covet trains. He will often say, “I wish I had an Oliver.” Or he’ll talk about whatever gift-giving occasion is on his radar screen and say, “I hope the Easter Bunny brings me a Douglas, Mummy!” For a while, I was making a conscious effort to reply to these pinings with a reminder of all the stuff he does have: “Yes, but you are very lucky to have a Gordon and a Henry and all these other trains, right?”

And then I realized I was being hypocritical. After all, I am the Queen of Covetousness. It doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what I have, it just means I have a bit of a weakness for what I want - a new couch, a fancy-ass digital SLR camera, a new wardrobe. Fun to want, to dream about, to plan and pine for, but I know realistically that I'm not getting them any time soon. And if Tristan is merely expressing what he might like to have without throwing hissy fits because he can’t have it, how is that any different?

Is it hypocritical to feel smug because I would never indulge the kids with a $500 ride-on Thomas, but will probably spend nearly that in traveling half way across the province to let them ride on a life-sized Thomas - again?

So what is spoiled? Is it about acquisitions, or is it about attitude? My kids are only two and four, but they seem to genuinely appreciate any little thing we give them, even if their attention span is measured in minutes instead of days. They don’t get everything they ask for, but they get way more than they ‘need’. I look around the house sometimes and feel a guilty shame at the sheer amount of stuff they have – and other days I’m grateful to have been able to provide it for them. I’m conflicted.

Do you worry about spoiling your kids? When does consumerism and materialism trip the line into being spoiled? Does indulging your kids lead to a sense of entitlement?