Keeping Up

I recall seeing in a superb documentary entitled “Affluenza” a young black woman who lived in the projects of a large city; she was bothered about the fact that her son had wanted a pair of expensive basketball shoes because his friends all had them. She could barely afford to put food on the table, much less buy expensive shoes for a growing child. But in the end, with help from her sister, she gave in and bought the shoes at considerable sacrifice. The story was echoed in some comments made by a “non-traditional” student in an ethics class I taught years ago. She also wondered aloud “what is a parent to do if her child wants something all the other kids have and she thinks it’s a waste of money?” The amount of peer pressure is immense and parents don’t want to deny things to their children.

I was lucky enough to live in a small town when my sons were growing up where the kids were happy to ride cast-off bikes and wear their older brother or sister’s outgrown clothing. They most assuredly didn’t demand designer clothing or expensive basketball shoes. So in many ways we never had to deal with the sort of peer pressure those kids in the stories felt — or the pressure their parents felt to keep up with their neighbors. But when our sons wanted something we simply couldn’t afford or which we thought was a waste of money we simply said “no.” Our thinking was that this is part of life: it’s a question of building character. It makes the boys better men in the long run. But is this simplistic? Or unfeeling?

Parents decide that the children ought to do without but all their children’s friends are displaying the latest fad and the kids feel left out. The kids can’t understand about priorities — even when it comes to putting food on the table — and the parents don’t want to deprive their children and see them unhappy. As noted above, I have always maintained that the parents should hold the line and simply deny their kids the toys, clothing, or games the other kids enjoy when the parents know it is a waste of money. But the kids I see around me seem to win out in the end nearly every time. A conscientious parent doesn’t want to spoil the child — or spend money on something frivolous that the child will probably toss aside in a few weeks. But at the same time she doesn’t want to see the child unhappy.

I am going to take a page from that stellar blogger newsofthetimes and ask other people what they think about this. I regard it as a real dilemma in parenting and one that I am not sure I “solved” satisfactorily. What about others who have faced it: what did you do? In a way, it is one of life’s little tragic situations — you can’t win for losing. Whatever you do it will be OK from one perspective and wrong from another. I don’t see a simple answer!

12 thoughts on “Keeping Up

  1. Always an interesting challenge. I recall my parents being very careful with their money, feeding and clothing 4 kids couldn’t have been easy. I’ll always remember the time in high school when all the girls were getting painters pants from The Lean To. My mom bought me a pair and I knew it was a frivolous purchase for her. I was so grateful and appreciative.

    From an early age I taught our kids that they don’t get everything they want. Many tears were shed at the target checkout. I truly believe it paid off. Our kids have been so gracious and thankful for the things we buy them. When the kids are grateful and appreciative, I personally don’t have a problem with buying them things they want, but not necessarily need. Having said that, I don’t mean fulfilling every request they make. Kids want and need to hear “no” but it’s always wonderful to be able to tell them “yes” too 🙂

    • Thanks, Robin. I do think we all appreciate things more if we have to wait a bit and if we are denied them right away. You seem to have struck just the right sort of balance! 🙂

      • I want, I don’t want, and on and on… if we do not take control of our desires at an early age, then the body takes control of you and you become a slave to your body and all its desires which can be many. Teaching children ” will power” for the mind is the best thing a parent could do, so later on the child becomes an adult with a very disciplined sense of both himself and the world around him and learns that with ” self control” comes everything, without it , total slavery to his ravenous desires. c.calderone

      • Very well put. You said much better than I what we were trying to do with our sons! Many thanks.


  2. Great question. I think moderation is the key, as usual. You probably need 10 no’s for every one yes and then kids can better understand that this is a special thing. I don’t have kids, but I certainly heard a lot of no’s when I was little…and a few yeses!! 🙂

  3. My kids save for things we deem not necessary to their survival. My older kids both saved for Kindle Fires and I usually help at the end by paying the sales tax and buying protective covers. Kids think twice about the purchase when they have to take a monetary hit.

    When I was younger and wanted something more trendy, my dad would chip in the price of the practical version and I paid the difference.

    Both of these tips require patience and saving. When the gratification is not instantaneous, the reward is often greater.

    • Well said, Katy. Thanks for the comments. I dare say you are a great Mom and I know your mom and Dad were the best!


  4. Dear Hugh,
    Great post. My Mom was raising me by herself after my Dad died. Money was tight.
    I’ve always loved clothes. When I was in hs…I only seemed to want the most expensive jeans…and expensive everything.
    Mom’s solution was this:
    Say I wanted $80 jeans. She would make a deal with me. . She would pay 1/2…I had to come up with the other 1/2.
    If I REALLY wanted it…I would babysit and bean walk for it. If not…then I decided on more reasonable jeans *;)
    Funny how well that worked*:))

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