M. D. Jackson has studied psychology since 1989. While her specialty is family relations, she also loves neuroscience and behaviorism.
The Year Easter Went Overboard
At the end of March 2018 in a small Arizona town a church had candy filled eggs dropped from a crop duster. Within hours of this even the local fire department reported on Facebook that the crop duster had not been cleaned and the candy was most likely going to make kids sick (the pilot denied this claim). The comments that followed on Facebook reinforced the greedy and ungrateful nature of people who were not just complaining about an event that was free to them, but the parents who stated their children were mistreated by other children during the event. My first thought with reading this was "who drops candy from a plane and second what happened to the old fashioned egg hunt?
Then on Easter a family friend mentioned that her Facebook feed was full of "bikes, video games, and even one teen who got a CAR for Easter. Seeing this and knowing what I know about parenting, I'm cringing on the inside. What happened to Easter? What happened to here is your stuffed bunny, some jelly beans, and a peep? I'm wondering how many of these parents realize the life disappointment they are setting their kids up for when they are adults? Let's explore the idea of over gifting and what it means.
Calling All Misguided Parents
If you feel like you need to get a kid a bike, a car, or anything over $20 for Easter you are "Compensation Parenting". What is "Compensation Parenting"? Compensation Parenting is when you know somewhere inside of you that you are not doing the best you can for your children, so you compensate by buying them outrageous things to make up for your inadequacies. The people I see Compensation Parenting are people who both work, work too much, have little parenting skills, or when a parent just is not a good parent and they know it. This doesn't mean that these parents do not love their kids. It simply means that guilt is their motivation.
Here is the problem with Compensation Parenting, it does not make a child feel loved and it does not fill the void inside the parent for being inadequate. What happens is that parents find themselves in a trap of buying bigger better gifts and eventually they can no longer top themselves. In the mean time they are raising a child that believes everything should be handed to them which creates the next problem, which is that the child grows up and continues to believe these gifts are needed to maintain a relationship. Keep reading we will discuss how to fix this problem in your life.
The good news is that just like with any skill, parenting can be improved. People are not born good parents, they are either raised to be good parents or they learn to parent. I recommend the "Discipline Book" by Sears for any new parent. Even if you have good kids and you are skating through, I recommend getting the book and reading it cover to cover. It will change your parenting dynamic.
There is another aspect of parenting that is clearly a guilt complex for parents today and that is time. School age children are obviously at school most of the day. The job market is still tough. Finding a job that keeps to the kids schedule can be difficult. I encourage parents to consider the reward of having at least one parent home when their children are not in school. I worked nights for years to be there for my kids during the day (my husband worked another shift). To have a functional family, you have to be a family. Define what that means for your family and prioritize so you do not have guilt. I guarantee that when you are older the amount of time you spent at work is only going to matter in terms of how much it kept you away from your kids.
What Are The Holidays About?
Most of the United States celebrates "Christian" holidays even if they are not practicing Christians. As many of us are aware, Jesus was technically born in the spring, and we celebrate his birth in place of Winter Solstice (Yule) which was a Pagan holiday. Then we celebrate the resurrection of Christ in the spring around the Pagan holiday Ostara. Both holidays were agreed upon in Roman times and carry a lot tradition. These holidays are spiritually and symbolically important to Christians. However, many of kids today are raised without a spiritual Christian upbringing.
Parents have opted to not include the meaning of these holidays in the celebration. While this is a personal decision for families, Christian families should center these celebrations around Christ, not gifts. That said I will give you two examples of how these holidays are seen by children. As a child my Father was an atheist. We were not allowed to talk about Jesus in our home. Yet, we celebrated Christmas and Easter. This was a confusing dynamic to grow up with, we never went to church so these holidays became "gifting" holidays. We looked forward to them as "gifting" holidays which was a disappointment holding little meaning.
In contrast I am a Christian, I raised my children going to church. We celebrated holidays with a centered around Christ. We read the birth of Jesus from the Bible at Christmas. On Easter I hid my children's baskets and they had to go on a biblical scavenger hunt to find them, starting with the bible on the kitchen table. My kids loved the scavenger hunt so much that at the age of 18 my son (who had moved out) called me and wanted to know if he was getting a basket to find in the scavenger hunt (I did include him that year). Not that I have not had moments where I spoiled my kids, however they were never given extreme gifts in the manner we see today. Nor would I have thought to do so.
On a spiritual level I think it's good for all kids to understand the beliefs behind these holidays as a point of reference. You don't want your child to learn what Christmas is really about at the age 15. They should understand that it is celebrated because "some people believe". If you are a parent who believes their child should decide their own spiritual path, tell them that. Let them know that you are giving them the space later in life to decide what they believe. Understanding religious beliefs is an education not given in schools. It's up to you as parents to guild your child's spiritual training. Know that if you don't someone else will.
As a side note here are some things children learn from spiritual training:
- Faith in something bigger than themselves
- Reverence in behavior and attitude
- A sense of community with others
- To meditate on things/ideas (rather than making rash decisions)
- To be kind to others
- Sense of responsibility for other people
While people will argue that all of these things can be taught at home as well, church focuses your life around these ideas rather than making it a side note in the child's upbringing. It is difficult to focus on teaching a child these principles if you are constantly focused on survival. For me as a parent, church was amazing for personal reflection. Many of my best parenting epiphanies came from sitting quietly with my children in church after a rough week.
Appropriate Gifts For Children/What Message Are You Sending?
We are going to get scientific for a moment. John B. Watson the noted Behaviorist/psychologist who performed the "Little Albert Experiment" went on to become an advertising mogul. He discovered through the "Little Albert" experiment that he could condition people to buy things. If you think I'm making this up, you can check into it. Watson used scare tactics and manipulation to convince people to buy products. His tactics are still in practice today. Which means you are being manipulated to buy things that your children do not need.
The first sign that you are inappropriately gifting your child is that they are ungrateful. Your childs behavior is the first indicator that your gift giving is inappropriate. When a child says: "I didn't want that", "why would you buy me this?" or my favorite when they pitch a fit over what they got, you are out of control with the gifts. This child has learned to be ungrateful and will probably continue to behave in this manner. What does this teach the kid? It teaches them that love is about what you get out of someone. This dynamic will destroy their relationships in life. Eventually, this child will have a difficult time being satisfied with anything life has to offer. Life is tough and most people have to work hard for what they want. Teaching a child the principle of hard work early in life prepares them for when you are not around to provide for them.
Meaningful gifts enrich the lives of the receiver. Too often we take the easy way out. We buy an expensive thing, because it's easier than putting thought into something. We think we are going to "wow" someone. Too often those "wow" gifts become the catalyst for a high expectation that cannot be maintained. Love your kids with affection, time, and experiences. Take them camping, teach them to fish, go to museums and learn about other cultures. If your kid has a bike, then don't buy them a new one "just because".
Children under the age of five do not need ride on go carts and play video games. What are your values? Do you value health, intelligence, and ingenuity? Do your gifts match your values? Work backwards with your kids, what do you want them to be? If you want them to be well rounded, grateful, good people as adults you can't get there with expensive gifts. You get there with the time you put in and the example you set. There are no short cuts in parenting.
How Do I End The Cycle?
You are sitting at your kids $500 birthday party you paid for on your credit card and it finally hits you that this has gotten out of control. Now what? You can't change what you have done. You can sit down and write a list of all the things you want to teach your child before they turn 18. Now start centering your gifts around teaching your child those things. This is deliberate parenting, This is parenting thought out and considered. Think about your own childhood, what were your favorite things?
Know that the first holiday after you recenter your parenting may be tough. An announcement concerning the changes might even be appropriate. That announcement goes something like this "This Easter we are starting a new tradition and we will be going into another neighborhood and leaving eggs with candy for other kids to find". I promise you teaching your children to be giving and grateful will be the best experience of your life. It gets easier to parent as you change your parenting perspective. Children are resilient, with your involvement you can change how they approach holidays. The holidays are an opportunity to teach your children, do not let that pass you by.