We took our kids to a pumpkin patch this weekend and, as usual, we walked out of there with more than half a dozen pumpkins. No, we’re not making 3 pumpkin pies or 6 carafes of pumpkin latte’s or having a pumpkin seed eating/spitting contest for the entire neighborhood (although that does sound fun.) These are decorative pumpkins. Decorative pumpkins that will last three weeks. Decorative pumpkins that cost me north of $60.
Why, you ask? Because we can (and because my wife and kids wanted them). It’s another example of our abundant culture where we buy and buy and buy even though we don’t need 3/4 of the stuff that we spend our hard earned money on.
It’s the same reason that we not only go to the grocery store each week but also to Costco and Trader Joe’s. And the same reason we buy massive cars and houses with two extra bedrooms. We fool ourselves into thinking that we “need” all these items that will improve our lives or make us more comfortable or provide a perceived status boost. In reality, we don’t “need” hardly any of it.
I think about this because I wonder the effect all this abundance and our inability to deny ourselves will have on our children and the effect it’s having on today’s teens and young adults.
Here’s a quick history lesson: A few years ago I interviewed my grandfather who grew up during the Depression. I asked him a series of questions about life during those hard times and the years after. He told me the one lesson that always stuck with him was: “If you don’t have the money to buy something, wait until you have the money to buy it.” It’s a mantra that would do a lot of us a lot of good these days.
We have an on-demand culture. I want to watch Episode 9 of the 4th season of “Friends”? All I have to do is spend a few extra bucks a month and within 30 seconds, Netflix has me fired up and ready to go. I want a new suit to wear for a job interview? Boom. There are 319 websites that will help me find the perfect look.
Just peek at our pantry. We have 47 bottles of salad dressing. Ok, not really but we have way more than salad dressing than we need unless we are inviting the 5th Fleet over for a dinner party. It’s nuts. And I fear that we are infecting our children with unrealistic expectations and entitlement issues for generations to come.
Hell, I grew up with a father who would bring home the aluminum foil he used to wrap his sandwich so he could reuse it the next day. In a lot of respects my father’s frugality seeped into my pores. I find myself telling myself — and my wife — that we cannot afford this or that and we do manage to live within our means for the most part.
But this is what I fear — we get a new phone every two years, right? Someday our children will be struggling twentysomethings who will have grown up with the same expectations and will expect to get a new phone, too. The difference is they won’t be able to afford it. They will have grown up with HBO, Showtime, On-Demand movies, Netflix, etc. The difference is they won’t be able to afford any of it. They will have grown up with pantry’s and cupboards overflowing with food and abundance of every sort. The difference is they won’t be able to afford it.
So, how do we teach them that the trappings that we can afford on our middle-class income is something to be earned and not something that is merely promised or given? I can think of at least 4 ways:
Remind them. The simplest way is to tell them. “We are fortunate.” “We have an abundance of food, clothing, toys and goodies that many other people in this country and around the world do not have.” Those words alone should at least spark some thoughts in their heads.
Choose simpler options. I’m 43 so I grew up at a time that bridged many of these technological advances. For instance, when I was in high school there was a new class my senior year called “Intro to Computers.” I remember a simpler time without smartphones, internet and video games. If you wanted to see a movie, your only option was to go to a movie theater. We can make choices at home that reflect simpler times like doing puzzles or playing board games or card games instead of watching a show on Netflix. We can eat in rather than ordering out. We can grow some vegetables or fruits rather than buying everything at the store.
Encourage them to work hard. If our children see this equation — Hard Work + Perseverance + Good attitude = Good Job/Good Pay — they might begin to make some choices that send them down a path to success. How will learn this? One of the ways is modeling our behavior.
Reward them. If your kids show signs of being overly spoiled or ungrateful, you must show them how quickly some of the goodies that they have can disappear. Maybe giving a few of their favorite toys to a less fortunate child will help them to see how fortunate they truly are.
It’s a constant work in progress and many of us know tons of adults who struggle with these same problems. It isn’t new and it isn’t going away but it should be something that we’re aware of and take steps to mitigate in our own children.