On Sunday evenings, when I was a kid, my Italian grandmother would make a mountain of pasta, meatballs, salad and Italian bread. There was enough food to feed three families. In Italian, you might use the word “abbondanza” to describe such a feast.
One look at the playroom in our house and you also see abbondanza. Our kids have so much that the room is literally overflowing with toys, games, puzzles, musical instruments, you name it. That doesn’t count the toys in their rooms and in boxes in the garage.
It’s a common theme I hear from many parents — “My kids have so many toys they can’t even play with them all,” one will say. “It’s so much more than we had when we were kids,” another will chime in. My question is how much is too much?
When I think of all we have, my mind races to another family member — my great-grandmother. She came to this country from Italy in 1920 with a baby, a steamer trunk and a heart full of hope. After years of sacrificing meals and so much more so her five children could succeed, her strength and fortitude is one of the reasons I’ve been given so much.
In our quest to give our kids everything are we hurting them in the long run by satisfying their every need, desire and wish? I’ll admit my guilt. When I was a kid I always wanted a race car bed. When our oldest turned two, I ran out and found one on Craigslist to put in his room. He loves it. And it is super cool. But am I damaging him down the road by giving him such unnecessary creature comforts? Am I teaching him that he’ll get things just because, rather than learning to work for what you want?
Part of me believes that those lessons will come down the road. My father demanded that I contribute around the house and I will do the same with my kids. That’s where work ethic is born.
Yet even as I write this, I have an internet tab open to Craigslist looking for a Little Tikes Bounce House. I just know how much the boys will love it. I know how much I’ll love watching them enjoy it. But clearly, I’m contributing to the madness.
There’s one friend whose house is even more overrun with toys and gadgets than ours. While we are there even I get jealous of all the cool stuff they have. Fortunately, my kids aren’t old enough to understand the difference, but they sure love playing at that kid’s house.
Clearly, this has to stop. I’m not so far gone that I need a 12-step program for parents addicted to buying stuff for their kids but a bit of re-prioritizing is in order. First, we’ve seen some parents ask for charitable donations in their children’s names in lieu of birthday gifts. Great idea. Second, I’m planning to ask the grandparents — and with divorces on each side of our families there are 7 grandparents! — for contributions to the boys’ college savings funds instead of a pile of gifts this year at Christmas.
To honor my great-grandmother though we have to cut back, bottom line is we can do more with less. We don’t need such extravagant abbondanza.