When my children were babies I picked them up every time they cried, despite all the dire warnings. I buy my kids things that they have not earned. And I often do things for them they could easily do for themselves – sometimes even their chores. So, I suppose some people would say my kids are spoiled, but I disagree. By definition, spoiled means ruined. And I can assure that you my children are not ruined. In fact, I would argue that these extravagances are not only not spoiling my children, they are actually helping them to become the best version of themselves.
We as parents take great pride in our children’s accomplishments. And as American’s we have a particular admiration for independence and hard work. We hold in high esteem the “self-made” man, and we want our children to possess the qualities we believe made this country great. Maybe this is the reason this quote by Anne Landers has been circulating around the Internet so much recently:
It’s not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.
Pshhhhst. As if the entire point of raising children is to make them independent, self-sufficient human beings. It’s not that those are bad qualities in a person. In fact they are essential. But I certainly don’t think they are the supreme measure of success. What about compassion? What about kindness? What about generosity? In fact, I’d say a better motto might be: It’s not what you teach your children to do for themselves, but what you teach them to do for others that will make them successful (and good) human beings.
But how do you teach generosity, kindness, and self-sacrifice? You model it. This is not to say that I am the perfect model. In fact, I struggle daily with my own selfishness. But my own parents were and continue to be so incredibly generous in every way, that I am at least aware that there is a better way, and I want to teach it to my own children. Here are the ways I “spoil” my kids for the sake of generosity.
I BUY THEM THINGS THAT THEY HAVE NOT EARNED.
I remember once when I was in high school and my mother took me shopping. On the way home that evening, it suddenly dawned on my how selfless she was. This was by no means the first time my mother had spent a day out with me like this, but as we drove home and she chattered excitedly about how cute my new boots were and about all the places I could wear my new outfits, it occurred to me that she hadn’t spent a dime on herself. She was absolutely delighted to have spent the entire day walking around the mall, waiting outside dressing rooms, and spending money on clothes all for me. I don’t even remember exactly what we bought or how many things. I don’t think that mattered. But I do remember being suddenly and utterly awed by my mother’s generosity – not because she spent a fortune (I’m sure she didn’t), but because she was just as happy to spend her money on me as she would have been on herself. In fact, happier.
So, yeah. I do the same for my kids. Not all the time and certainly not whatever they want. But I don’t always make them wait for a special occasion or until they’ve saved up their own money to buy them nice things. Recently Charming Mary wanted a record player. Apparently in this age of digital downloads, record players have suddenly become very hip. It was shortly after Christmas – not the time of year one usually buys gifts. But I did. For no reason other than the fact that she wanted it, and I wanted to do something to please her. And please her it did. She was completely delighted and extremely grateful. (And as an aside, I might add that the record play has been transformative, improving her taste in music and inspiring her to reorganize her room.) Of course I could have made her wait and save her money, maybe do some extra chores, to earn her record player. There are certainly valuable lessons to be learned from that kind discipline – patience, hard-work, frugality – and those lessons should be taught. But so should lessons of unearned generosity and kindness for the sake of kindness. That lesson was certainly worth the price of a record player.
I DO THINGS FOR THEM THEY COULD DO FOR THEMSELVES.
I make my kids’ beds. Well, not usually, but for Lent this year I’m doing it. I also sometimes offer to do their farm chores if they have friends over or if they are in the middle of a good book. I fix them snacks that they could easily fix for themselves and, while they know how to do their own laundry, I often do it for them. Why? Because I want them to be the kind of people who help other people. As parents we want kids have to learn to be responsible – even when it’s hard. But sometimes in our eagerness to make kids responsible, we neglect to make them kind, flexible, or compassionate. Rigid rules about who does which chores and inflexible schedules not only build resentment, but they also run the risk of building a kind of pride ,and they foster a notion that we shouldn’t help those we presume are perfectly capable of helping themselves.
My parents have always seemed to derive a real sense of pleasure from doing things for us. Even today my father goes out of his way to pick up my kids from school to save me a trip. I don’t wait on my kids hand and foot. But I do help them – even when they don’t need it. Because the truth is, they rarely need it. But I want them to see that helping others is a kindness that doesn’t have to wait until the need arises. Helping others can just be a way to make someone else’s day a little easier or a little brighter.
I LAVISH AFFECTION ON THEM
When my kids were babies, I heard all the dire warning about my children manipulating me with their tears. I was warned that they would never be able to sleep alone or self-soothe. I was told they would control my life. Meh. I picked them up anyway. We let them sleep in our bed when they got scared. And I carried them way past the age when they could walk on their own. (all just like my parents did for us) Well, they are all big now. And no one wants to sleep in our bed or be carried around, and they never cry to get their way. Those years when they were little were a vapor. I am so glad I rarely missed a chance to cuddle or comfort. And I am convinced that their own sunny and compassionate personalities were formed, in part, by a childhood of extravagant love.
THEY ARE THE CENTER OF MY UNIVERSE.
Next to God, that is. And my husband. Actually, alongside my husband. That’s how we want it. We’ve heard all the marital advice about not letting your kids come between you, but we think it’s silly. Sure we need to make time for us and we do. But it was our love that created them. Giving more of our love to them does not drive us apart. It brings us closer. It’s not us against them. Our family is one unit. And our love doesn’t divide. It multiplies. When we were first married, many well-meaning people told us that we should put each other first. Well, who says anyone has to be first? Our policy has always been to put the person first who is neediest in the moment. When they were little, it was usually one of them (or all of them at once). But sometimes it’s me. Or Charming Hal. The point is that I want every person in my family to feel as if he or she is most important person on earth to me. The current wisdom is that kids need to learn they aren’t the center of the universe. I’m not worried. The universe will make that pretty clear as soon as they walk out the front door. But I do want them to think they are the center of our universe because our love for them should give them a glimpse of the love their Heavenly Father bears for them. And He loves them with a love that is completely self-giving and all encompassing. He does not worry about sending us the wrong message about our own importance. And it’s a good thing because the cross sends a pretty strong message that God thinks we are a big deal. He is capable of loving each of us as if we are the most important person in the universe.
So, there it is. My dirty little secret. I spoil my children. But the thing is, I don’t think I’m the only one. If fact, most parents I know are just as generous and helpful with their own kids. However, thanks to Facebook and Pinterest and 24/7 info-tainment, we are constantly reminded of all the ways we can screw up our kids. It seems like a lot of the advice we are getting warns us not to over-indulge them, coddle them, or make them think they are too important. Yes, there is some great wisdom in all of that advice, but I must have missed the posts, pins, and articles about teaching kindness, generosity, and self-giving. The funny thing is, for most parents, those things are the easiest things to teach because they just come naturally.