Monday, September 29, 2008

Oh, that my mind would turn off

It has been a nightly battle, to get this brain of mine to go to sleep. I'm about to knock myself out with some tylenol pm already. But since what is on my mind is so important, I think, I figured I would do the only possible scenario to get it off my mind..which is to write it down and let you fix it:)

"I want." How about "I give?"
How do we learn it? How do we stop wanting? The past few days I have felt so much fury regarding the wants of my daughter. I hear over and over and over again "I want" or "can I have?" etc. It's not even all material things, but rather the wanting to stay up later or wanting to go somewhere or do something. It is just always I want. My saying "no" is never enough to make her stop asking again. To her credit, I am sometimes a bit unavailable in the focus department--so I often say no to everything, and then suddenly realize that what she is asking is okay and so I change my answer. I have to work on that. But regardless, no means no, so please stop asking!

Here is the scenario that got me reeling. Last night we went to Target so that Brianna could buy something with her $1.00 bill. A few days before she had wanted a notebook from the dollar bin that I told her she needed to buy herself. For the next few days it was "when are we going to Target so I can buy that notebook with my dollar?" But then we got there, and although she was satisfied initially, she began to want more and more. It was "can I get this instead?" and "how much does this cost" etc. I could have easily turned it into a mathematical game of cost plus tax, but instead I was tired and sad that my daughter was so dramatically unsatisfied with what she had originally chosen. My saying "no" to the $7.99 and $29.99 item was wearing me thin...

Now, I understand that you can't take a kid into a candy store and ask them to not want any candy. We are human, after all. But I began to wonder if I have given her so much in the past that she has become ungrateful? She certainly does not seem to have that quality, but is the begging for everything a sign of that?

I lamented to my fabulous friend Jana today about it all. I had read previous articles about teaching your children compassion--like whether or not to have their birthday money go directly to a charity etc. And then there was the other parental point of view that said that was unfair to the birthday girl. And so there is the toss-up of forcing compassionate behavior or being an example of it.

In my experience, I grew up really poor. I remember being given wonderful anonymous Christmas gifts and I knew exactly how blessed we were to have anything at all because my parents really drilled it into our brains. Obviously, it was unbearably hard not to have a lot of things that my friends had, but we did manage to make do and I am truly grateful to have had that experience first hand. And while it is important for my child to learn those humbling lessons, I would not want her to go through what I did. So I thought, well if she doesn't have those same experiences first hand like me, how can she learn the same lessons?

But then Jana made a good point. She stated that she never had a lack of things in her childhood but she grew up to understand what compassion meant and how to give. She said perhaps it is just innate. So if it's not how you physically grow up, and rather innate, still then, how do you teach it to your children?

As we left Target and I expressed to Brianna how unhappy I was (don't you love how I put that instead of "I yelled at her" :) I asked her if she realized how lucky she is to have what she has and that there are so many children in this world who don't even have food to eat or clothes to wear. She said, "No I didn't know that."

So after I kicked myself for obviously not teaching my child well enough about giving and less getting, I have now let my mind wander all day about how I can teach her. There are the wonderful ideas of charity during the holidays which I love to do and have done, but what I am really looking for is more than that. Answers on how to help her/our family live a less selfish life daily.

Any ideas?


Mary Seals said...

Don't be so hard on yourself. My kids visit an orphanage regularly and see the poorest of the poor and they still don't get it most of the time.... but if you're thinking of having her do a lemonade stand to raise money for something I have somewhere it can go!NOW GO TO BED ALREADY!

Four makes more... said...

I am still a huge fan of you work for what you get. We never were given anything unless we worked for it. We had a spending/savings/tithing box and 10 % went to tithing and 50% went towards savings and the other 40% was ours to use as we wished but when it was gone it was gone. Give her jobs to do around the house outside of her expected chores and then you can pay her. My mom would give us a quarter for every load of laundry we folded. If she's asking for something then give her a way to earn it. This will help her and you. I don't know though. My kids haven't been through this YET!

Jana Heller said...

honestly i have been thinking about this a lot since our conversation and i really think it is all about the examples in their lives. she sees compassion from you and she will eventually get it. she is a child and even though we should all learn to be more like little children, they want things like crazy. i guess it is up to us to teach them that it is ok to want but that doesn't mean that we will get everything we want.
maybe you should have her keep a list and have her do things around the house to save up for the things on her list. if our children can learn to understand that we have to work for things we want or need, then maybe the compassion will naturally follow. i use to be one of those who thought,
"why don't those people just get a job." fortunately one night about 12 years ago i was reading Mosiah 4 when the line "for aren't we all beggars?" really hit me hard and i finally understood.

i don't know when children learn these things but i know that with your example, brianna will learn sooner than later. don't stress out too much, just continue to teach her. you are an amazing mom and you will be able to give them so much more of yourself when you are out of that darn apartment. thanks for your example. i am going to miss you. (sorry for such a long post!)

Agnes Minerva said...

Wanting stuff isn't the same as lack of compassion. And kids are both the biggest stuff-wanters and the most naturally compassionate people on the planet.

For the stuff, I'm totally with Jenni. Charlotte has a little chore-related allowance (we haven't yet got into the savings/tithing part of it) and it makes it so much easier when we're at the store to be able to say "Save your pennies and maybe you can buy that." The other thing that works for us is if I acknowledge the fabulousness of what it is she wants: "Oh wow, Charlotte, that [thing] is so cool/pretty/looks so yummy. You don't have enough pennies for it right now, though, but let's remember that it's at this store and maybe you can get it next time." I love this one, because it validates her wants, and puts us in the same boat ("Yeah, I would love to have one of those, too!"). It also gives her a chance to think about what she wants and wait for it, instead of giving her instant gratification. Plus, she *loves* spending her own money.

On compassion, Brianna's given you a great place to start. Kids really connect with the suffering of other kids. Homeless old men, for instance, are far more distant and remote. But when a kid sees someone just like her who is suffering in some way, the injustice is huge. Give her a chance to help other kids, and find a way to show her that what she does makes a difference.

Erik said...

This is a pretty deep topic that I think we all struggle with and I have made a few observations in life that make sense to me.

First some people just have the type of personality that makes them appear a little more selfish than others but it seems with the right experience, in the long run they turn out well. They usually also, along with that selfish personality, have some pretty amazing strengths.

This next comment is not directed toward anyone in particular and definitely not Carrie and Aaron. I know of families where the parents seemed slightly discontent with where they were in life and the things that they had. This causes them to be unhappy and the kids pick up on that. They connect happiness to things they want, whatever those are. So as adults these kids will do what ever it takes to have the things that bring "happiness". Including putting off having children or both parents working instead of staying at home to raise the kids etc.

I don't think it's bad to want things or to want to better yourself and your situation but when we are content with what we have while striving for more we don't seem to pass on that discontent to our children.

There is also the issue of independence. Children are always trying to get more of it and push the limits of what we will allow them to do. Its a natural part of growing up and we have to constantly change what they are allowed as they mature but still give them the stability of knowing their limits with us. It's a hard balance and takes constant vigilance. We are currently trying to figure that out with our 5 year old right now.

Anyway. I think experience, and example are the strongest teachers and going without is not a bad thing as long as it's not excessive and people don't associate who they really are with what they have.

There you have my two cents. thanks for the other comments.

JoCo said...

You know, this subject is very important to me. Even though Asher is not old enough to understand some of the deeper things in life, my mind returns to the impact of jonathan and my example for our children. I remember hearing my mother talk about the responsibility she felt to teach us correct principles and have us grow to be faithful and strong. I can tell you the single most important thing my parents did to teach us any principle of the gospel and life-was to live it! I remember walking in so many mornings when my mom could have still slept before taking me to school, and she would have her nose in the scriptures. I remember many many times watching or hearing others talk about the things my dad gave away so freely. I think that despite our best efforts kids are going to naturally want things. The fact that you are thinking about it means something. Even though Brianna may not see this now, she will in days and weeks and years to come. She will be grateful for a mother who cared to teach her! Inevitably she will learn by what you show her. Even if in the process she has a few tantrums and pouting parties. i love you and miss you bunches! p.s. my e-mail address is

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