Don’t Equate Love with Things

This was originally posted December 5, 2006 on my self-hosted blog.

I routinely read parenting articles, many more than I share with you here. I happened along this article yesterday and I’ve thought about it ever since. Let me ask you:

How many gifts are too many? What’s the limit? Is there a number? When does it cross over the threshold of thoughtful to obscene?

How many gifts do you buy your children at Christmas? How many do they expect? Do your relatives go overboard on them? Do you set a dollar limit on their gifts? Is your personal gift giving to your children based on guilty feelings? Are you trying to overcompensate for your parenting skills?

I confess, I’ve spoiled our boys in the past. I’m embarrassed to tell you this, but I ended up giving them everything on their wish lists for quite a few years (I think one Christmas they actually got 11 gifts each. Doh!). Of course that was before their tastes matured and the gifts were under $20.00. Now they’re lucky if they get a couple of games apiece because geez louise those suckers are expensive. I wonder if I would continue to spoil them if they were not?

Why have I done this? Why do I feel compelled to spoil them now? I had never really thought about the psychological reasons behind this in the past but now I wonder if perhaps I was subconsciously trying to make up for all the times I was mean/strict/harsh with them?

I’ve kept this thought in the back of my mind for the past two days and I’ll go out on a limb here and be brutally honest with you ( as opposed to all the times I sugar coat it *grin*) – yes, I think perhaps I have been overly generous with them on their birthdays and Christmas in a warped way to appease my conscious. Oh sure, I want them to have a good holiday; I want them to have good memories and a warm, loving childhood, but is it more than that? Am I trying to make up for all the times I’ve yelled at them? For discipling them? For saying no?

I’d like to think I’m a stronger person than that but what about the Nintendo Wii? (We went to GREAT LENGTHS to first find, and then buy, a Wii for the boys in 2006 – perhaps I’ll post the story to that soon). Why were we so adamant about buying a hard-to-find toy for our boys? Does it go beyond the simple desire to make them happy?

I’m not sure I want to analyze it, quite frankly. It’s a sobering thought to think that perhaps the driving motivation behind my desire to make the boys happy is so that they will love me just a little more.

I have a relative who does that – brings gifts nearly every time he/she comes over. I really think this person does this because he/she doesn’t really know how to relate to them on any other level.

Though I know how to relate to my kids (at least, I hope I do), I still feel compelled to buy them the latest and greatest thing. Part of it might be due to the fact that their friends all have it, but I think the real reason is because I want them to love me, perhaps even LIKE me, that much more. The time is coming, and it’s just over the horizon, when the kids won’t want to be around me. It’ll be uncool or it’ll simply be time for them to test their wings and fly away. I want them to feel like they can come back home when things get tough, that I’ll be here for them through thick and thin.

I guess I want to ensure, or at least try to secure, a place in their hearts just for me.

I wish I could say that I’ve matured since writing this article in 2006, but honestly? I don’t think I have. I STILL feel compelled to spoil these boys rotten and I still think it’s partly due to the fact that I feel the need to fill in all of my rotten parenting moments. It’s sad, actually.

3 thoughts on “Don’t Equate Love with Things”

  1. I do this too, but for different reasons.

    For years, after the Marine and I divorced, I always felt like I needed to make up for Kitty’s lack when she was with him. He bought a PS2 for himself one year and a pair of pajamas for her. Another, he bought a new computer for himself. She got 6 dollar store vhs movies but their video player was broken. She didn’t benefit from the computer or PS2 as those were HIS and she didn’t get to play on them.

    That is a mild example. Now, because I had Dude, this extended to him as well. Because, it’s not fair to do for one and not the other.

    Also, during that time period, my mother re-married. Christmas presents to my children became non-existent. No other relative sent presents on holidays, as was the norm during my childhood.

    And, sometimes we would spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with one of my friend’s and her kids. Her kids would get a ton of presents from all their family members. I didn’t want my kids to feel bad/slighted so I’d get more presents for them (small things, usually) so they’d have more to unwrap.

    Last Christmas, CP was laid off. Christmas was a little lean. I think I went overboard this year to make up for last year’s lean. However, with the winter storms here in the PNW, not all the presents will arrive that are ordered before Christmas!

  2. No offense taken. I know my shortcomings, I recognize and work on my flaws. Though it’s never been my goal to be my children’s friend, it’s always been my goal to be the best mother I can be to them. I think it’s a parent’s duty to set guidelines and boundaries about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in life. Sometimes that requires a firm hand, sometimes it requires a loving ear, knowing WHEN to apply either method …

    ah, therein lies the challenge. And it’s extremely frustrating when we choose the wrong method, especially when our emotions get involved. There is guilt – there is IMMEASURABLE guilt – when we make mistakes.

    It has been, and will continue to be, a bumpy road; I realize that. However, I know in my heart, I’m doing something right because my boys? Are awesome. They truly are. And I’ve been around enough of their friends to really see this.

    So, I suppose lavishing them with cool gifts is partly to ease my guilty conscience, but mainly it’s because I WANT to spoil them because they are good kids and we’re blessed to have them in our lives.

    Thanks for your comment.

  3. This is a tricky post on which to comment because, if I’ve learned anything about working with parents and kids is that, parenting is the one thing that are parents are touchy about. However, since you posted this for all of us to see, and most of it are unanswered questions, I’m going to take the liberty of commenting; though not without first saying that I have no intention whatsoever of upsetting you or critiquing your parenting techniques.

    I think I can offer a little insight into these concerns because I’m actually at that point where getting away from the parentals is the perfect gift and, being born in Cuba (very poor country where Christmas doesn’t even exist) gifts were never a technique my parents were able to use to get me to like them. The only technique they had, barely by choice though, was sacrificing themselves for me, even for a meal.
    After coming to the US, in 1994, it was all the same. I didn’t have any built in Christmas spirit so December gifts meant little.

    The point is that without gifts, I still have no feeling of wanting to return home once I leave. The key is bonding with your kids and going against that impulse to scold and scream whenever we screw up. We, most of the time, KNOW we screwed up, having you (parents) scream it at us doesn’t feel good, help, or make us want to come to you [at all] next time we screw up.

    Sometimes it’s hard for parents to put themselves in the shoes of their children because parenting is such a big, complicated, absorbing duty that you guys become consumed in “parenting” and forget to become our friends, that person we always want to turn to, gossip with, and cry to when times are hard. You forget to become our spiritual home.

    This is my view as an in between child/adult. I hope this makes some sense and doesn’t upset you in any way. I can really relate with your concerns for spoiling vs. bonding because I have all the same concerns with my younger brother. Since I don’t think my parents (specifically my mother) did a very good job with the bonding, I feel like I need to fill the role for my brother.
    I hope I succeed.

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