I’m sorry you can’t have everything you want.
I’m glad you can’t have everything you want.
The thing is, even if we were wildly rich – which we currently are not – and could give you everything, I still wouldn’t, and I’ll tell you why…
If you have everything, get everything, want and wish for nothing, what’s left? What do you hope for? Save for? Strive for? How do you create a work ethic in someone that’s been given everything they want, every time they wanted it? Where’s the inspiration? Parents, in my opinion, do you no favors by giving in to your every whim, nor do we help you long term by constantly surrounding you with “stuff”. Now, that’s not to say you don’t have a boatload of stuff because, let’s be honest, you do, but you also have limits, and time and time again, for various reasons, we say no. Lately we’ve been saying no a lot.
You recently had your 4th Birthday and maybe it’s the age, or the increased awareness, or the fact that you were in present land for 2 straight months -your birthday falls almost immediately after Christmas – but we’ve found you’re requesting more and more things these days and it’s something we have to curb. Look I get it. You’re an only child. Plus, you’re the only grandchild of an only child and though your father has a brother with 3 children of their own, you also have adoring, spoiling grandparents on that side too. Add in all the friends and extended family and it’s a pretty sweet deal. However, I think unwrapping gifts for such an elongated period of time warped your mind a bit.
About a month ago we went to Disneyland. We have season passes and can go for the day if we have the time. Your Granny, who had been staying with us for 2 weeks, had just been dropped off at the airport and you were bummed. You guys have a lot of fun together and you get pretty down when she has to go. Your Dad and I thought it would be a good idea to just continue from the airport to Disney to distract you from missing Granny. Plus after such a busy birthday month, we thought it would be nice to spend the day – just the 3 of us – at a place we all love. The thing is, we weren’t there 2 minutes before you started asking for things. Now, you don’t get everything you ask for, so it’s not too hard to say no to you, but this was like an onslaught. You wanted ice cream. We made you eat lunch and then you had one. You wanted cotton candy. We reminded you you’d just had an ice cream. You wanted a balloon. No, they’re useless and you can’t take them on rides. You wanted a drink. We’d brought water. You wanted a cherro. No. You wanted a hat. No. You wanted a lolly bigger than your face. No. You wanted to be carried. We’d brought a stroller anticipating that request. You wanted another ice cream, a smaller lolly, a balloon again. You wanted. You wanted. You wanted. You wanted.
We finally lost it when you insisted you get a toy when we left the Star Tours ride. We weren’t trying to be mean, but give me a break. We explained you’d just had your birthday. Then you’d gone to Legoland and Sea World and stayed at a hotel with toys and treats galore. We reminded you of the ton of new thing you had at home and finalized our – probably way too long – lecture with a speech about getting off a ride not equalling a gift. You were pissed. PISSED. All folded arms and huffing breaths. Finally you looked at us and said, “I always ask for things and you never get me anything.” We pulled your stroller over so fast I’m sure you had whiplash. I knelt down so we were face to face and firmly explained that what you had said was “not ok.” That you were a very lucky boy who had more things than most children could even dream of, and that if that was going to be your attitude, Daddy and I would leave the park that very minute, and I meant it. You, sensing the seriousness of the situation, became very upset. You didn’t want to leave the park. You didn’t want our day to be over. Finally you said, “I don’t understand. I asked nicely.” I had to explain that asking nicely – though correct – doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, just as saying “excuse me” then pushing someone out of your way doesn’t negate the behavior. I went on to tell you that I would love to give you everything you wanted, but if I did, I’d be a bad Mom. That saying yes to everything makes everything mean nothing. You’d become, what I call, a Greedy Gus. A “Me, me, me, what’s next? I want, I want, I want…”kind of person. A stuff junkie just looking for the next high. I’m not sure how much you understood, but your attitude totally changed. You seemed to accept that there would be no toys that day and you were content to stop asking. When I stood up, your Dad told me he was glad I had bent down faster than him, because if he’d been down there, we’d be walking out of the park right now.
The rest of the day was great, and as we passed bedraggled parents, carting wailing children out of stores, I realized we weren’t alone. It’s hard to be a good parent. It’s so much easier to give in. No tears. No arguing. No explanations. But to make my life easier, I believe I’d be making your future life harder. I look at Suri Cruise in her $7000 outfits and the Jolie-Pitt kids on their seemingly endless trips to the toy stores and candy shops and I think it’s a good thing they’ll probably have everything handed to them their whole life because if these kids didn’t get everything they wanted, I’m not sure they’d be prepared to handle it. I’m going to just hope for the best for their futures because for every Montana Fishburn or Paris Hilton there’s a Nell Newman or an Ivanka Trump. Or at least I like to think there is.
Living in this town makes me nervous sometimes though. Is it even possible these days to grow up both privileged and grounded? Or, with so much excess around, do the Haves and their offspring just become more and more disassociated?
Your Dad and I left the movies the other night and were waiting for the valet to get our car. As we stood there a car pulled up in front of us. It was a white, 2 door, totally tricked out, top-of-the-line BMW. But it was the amount of extras that really made us take notice. Everything was custom. The paint job. The cream leather seats with contrasting piping. The white (!) chrome rims. Even the stereo and dash looked like they’d been specially designed. It was a FANCY car. And that’s saying something in LA. So, as we stood there waiting for the hip hop star or media mogul to come and claim it, from behind us 4 kids emerged. I say kids because there is no other way to describe them. If I worked at the Fair I would have guessed the driver’s age to be 14, except seeing that he was about to drive, I would have been wrong. As I watched him pull back his seat for his friends to climb in, his leather, low rider, skinny jeans blinging at me and his 15 year old girlfriend with her over the knee socks and Louis Vitton bag getting into the passenger seat, I realized that this was not his Daddy’s car. This was his car. The car he clearly just got for his 16th birthday and I felt kinda sick. As they drove away I looked over at your Dad and said, “What just happened?! ……. Seriously. What just happened?”
He just shook his head.
Here’s the thing. Clearly that boy was the child of some bazillionaire movie producer for whom money is no option, but where is there to go if your first car is $140K? Unless you’re taking over the family business or your parents continue to pick up the tab for the rest of your life, there’s nowhere to go but down. I feel the same way when I see young girls in Dior sunglasses and Marc Jacobs flip flops carrying their books in Miu Miu bags. What the H? What kind of precedence does that set? No high schooler should be wearing clothes that women in their 30’s and 40’s are wearing – or aspiring to wear. It gives a warped sense of entitlement that’s hard to turn off. Even little old me with my teenage Oakley’s had a hard time adjusting when I got to the real world. Granny and Granddad gave me a lovely childhood. I went to a terrific school. Spent my summers at camp and the cottage. Went on at least one trip a year, and Christmas and my birthday were almost always a guaranteed ticket to what I’d asked for. I lived a charmed life. I didn’t get everything I wanted but, I almost didn’t notice. I can still remember things I didn’t get but they were things like the green and white Benetton rugby shirt that everyone had, not like a grad trip…or bus fare. It wasn’t till later that I realized how blessed I was to come out of University with no debt, and it wasn’t until I moved to NYC – where my dad paid my rent – that I realized how much of a struggle life could be, and how hard it was to keep up with the lifestyle I’d taken as a given. I was shocked and more than a little dismayed when I found I couldn’t afford a quarter of what I wanted (or expected) and it sucked. How could I not have enough money to eat out? How could I not afford new clothes? And vacations…forget about it. Saying nothing for the very limited vacation time a non-student gets, being an actress really meant being a waitress and that means “paying bills” money, not “living life” money. It was hard. Like wake up and smell the reality hard.
And my first car was my mom’s hand-me-down ’85 Honda Civic hatchback – with the optional passenger side mirror and tape deck that we hadn’t optioned – not a 100 thousand dollar luxury vehicle.
As I’ve mentioned before I’m still dependent on your grand-parents for help and I hate it. I want to be self sufficient but I also want to be happy and true to myself and that means slugging away in the world of the Arts till it happens. But by the time you read this I hope to be long off the parental dole. I have these wonderful dreams of paying them back – not that they’d expect it – or buying them the fabulous big ticket items they dream of – hello, new kitchen at the cottage or Gentleman’s racer – but mostly I want enough to be able to properly care for them when they’re old. I see my mom taking care of Aunt Jane or, up to last year, Grand Mimi, and I realize that there will probably be a number of relatives that I will likely be responsible for too. The gift of the only child can look a little daunting as people start to age. I need to work my ass off to secure all of our lives, and until about 10 years ago, I’m not sure I really got that. Up till then everything had come relatively easily to me, and I guess I assumed it always would. When my acting career stalled it was a major wake up call. Getting married was a shock to the system. Having a baby was like being dropped on my head, and getting sick showed me that my easy life had been but a lovely dream.
Look, I’d like you to have the best of both worlds. I’d like you to be comfortable and secure knowing that we will do right by you as far as what you need, and know that we will give you enough of what you want. As George Clooney’s character says about money in the recent Oscar nominated film The Descendants, “You want to give your children enough to do something, but not enough to do nothing.”
I want your first car to be a safe, solid, second-hand car that makes you feel cool, but wouldn’t be looked at twice by Jay Z. I want it to be a BIG DEAL when you get your first luxury whatever. I want it to be thrilling for you when you finally get that big ticket item you’ve been hoping for. I want you to budget out a trip with your friends instead of just assuming we’ll pick up the tab. We probably will. I hope we’ll be able to. But I want you to know where the money comes from and what efforts have been made to give us all the things we want.
Too spoiled can make you weak. It’s not a character builder. Many people I know who grew up with everything struggled as adults. Many ended up with drinking, drug or personality problems. It’s akin to what I said about The Death of Anticipation. We need to build some suspense into our lives to teach us what’s worth valuing. We need to create some hope and desire. Without it, you can drift through life in a haze of boredom trying to get your kicks doing inappropriate (and often dangerous) things attempting to feel “something”.
I don’t want that for you.
Your father and I have recently solidified our decision to send you to private school. After touring 15 schools, including many of the public LAUSD schools, we’ve concluded that our money will be best spent giving you the strongest possible start in life. It is our hope to instill a love of learning that gives you the foundation on which to build the rest of your life. In order to do this though, we’ll have to make some major concessions. We might not buy a house for a while…if ever. We’ll have to live within our means, and my dreams of grander will have to take a backseat to what’s best for you. You’ll quite probably get less “stuff” and it’ll be an adjustment for all. Including your grandparents who – in keeping up with their endless generosity – have offered to help. It’s a big deal for us. But it’s the best we can do for you, so we’ll do it. I don’t need you to feel guilty or even grateful – in the grandiose sense of the word – like we need constant thanks or props. I just need you to understand where we’re coming from and if you can’t have all you ask for – or all your friend’s might have – this is why.
Life is a joy but it’s also a struggle, and I think the more aware you are of the reality of the effort, the more likely you are to enjoy the path as you move towards your own success.
I wish you great success. But I also want your feet firmly planted on the ground, so when the time comes you can decide whether you even want a $140K car.
Then you can go out and buy one for yourself.
xo your mom
What a blessing and a timely reminder that really the best gift to give another person (especially one’s child!) is to see them and steer them in the direction of reality. My blessings on your and your son.
I can so identify with this post in so many ways as we also have an only child and, now that he is 18, I look back and wish I’d said ‘yes’ more (in some circumstances) and ‘no’ more (in other circumstances).
Your blog is an absolute inspiration in the sense that it raises so many child-rearing issues, as well as the fact that it raises life@death issues, so bravo 1,000 times!
I think your blog has book potential – don’t you?
Thank you so much jmgoyder! I’m working on the book proposal right now. I so appreciate the supportive words! I’ll keep you posted.
Awesome ! I so agree with this !!!
I agree with jmgoyder on your blog having “book potential.” Absolutely! In this post, I really like your focus on “character building.”
I hope you have a great day,
Thanks Amy. I’m working on it. I really appreciate the support!
I was one of five children who married an only child. We had an only child (due to health issues.) Surprisingly it was he who was less willing to indulge our son than I was. Our son was frequently told “You’re an only child you’re supposed to be spoiled” by friends who received everything handed to them. I think this is why so many celebs choose to have their families in other states, in rural areas. They don’t want their children to see this side of life. I wouldn’t know a Marc Jacobs flip flop if I saw one. I live in NJ which is the suburbs of New York and there is plenty of parents trying to outdo others but in the end the happiest kids are those who made their own successes.
This is your best one yet. You should definitely write a book.
This one resonates for so many parents. I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon a book when our first child was young called “The Bank of Dad”. It was a very simple process to teach children money management and “want” control. You can get the book for details, but the simple method is they get an allowance (the “bank” pays interest and teaches them about stocks when they get to be about 10) and it is theirs. That is the key. The premise is glaringly simple, yet eludes so many parents. No one tells you how to spend your money, so why should you control your child? The great thing is it frees you up from being the provider in these situations. We do Disney a lot too, so our method is this. Each kids gets one souvenir from us. Anything else is up to them. If they have spent all their allowance? Too bad. If I’m out of money I can’t buy things I want. Maybe I should have saved. Lesson learned. If they buy something like the balloon and it pops or flies away? Lesson learned. Maybe I will not buy a balloon next time. I think you get the idea. I was skeptical at first, but in about a week all the nagging stopped. They knew what the rules were and the cool thing is it was simple enough that we started it with all our kids when they were 3 and they got it. This one simple thing got rid of so many parenting messes. My 14 year old recently saved up and bought an iPod Touch which I would not get her. She dropped it and broke the screen in a week. She has the money to repair it, but decided not to as she now realizes it is a poorly made product (which I had let her know when I showed her all the complaints about the weak glass on the iPhone/iPod) and that it would probably break again. Just as I as an adult would have learned my lesson in the school of hard knocks, she has as well. It has helped them with the spoiling and the wants to no end for well over a decade. Greatest process I ever discovered as a parent. I have taught friends the process and every one of them swear by it for the same reasons.
I’m totally buying that book. Thank you!
This is so, so, so well-written. I especially appreciate the way you look back at your own life and reflect on what you’ve been give; As you point out so well here, that’s not easy to do, or to cope with. My parents have had a lot of economic problems since I was a teenager, thank to generational differences in terms of education, the economy, and the fact that life just sort of happens. It taught me a lot about money, needs, wants, and excess. I still don’t save as much as I think I should, but I try. The one thing I’d add is reminding you son when he gets to that point that jobs are so, so, valuable as a teen even if you don’t want one or think you need one. The people I know who never had jobs until after high school have had the hardest time in college and afterwards.
This is why in some way I feel lucky for having grown up so poor. I appreciate EVERYTHING now. I work harder and harder to keep climbing and I can only keep going up.
I do feel like I missed out on some things though. For example, evein going to Disneyland or any other such “just for fun” activities were not options when I was a kid. I do hope I will be able to give my children more than I was handed… but as you have illustrated in this excellent post, not too much.
While I was struggling in college to pay my own way hnd work mutliple jobs at the same time, I was baffled by my classmates by not only how easy they had it, but how UNAWARE they were of what they had. With my own children I want to help them so it isn’t as hard, but make sure they know not everyone has it as easy.
Leigh, this is an awesome post. I’m struggling with this right now with both of my daughters (nearly 4 and nearly 5), and have had some real knock-down-drag-outs with their grandparents, who INSIST upon giving them some sort of present every time they see them. I was recently humiliated by my oldest daughter greeting my mother with, “Hi, Grandma! Where’s my present?”
Oh. My. God.
It is SO hard to raise children who understand that we’re suppose to love people and use things, not the other way around, and to remember that giving them whatever they want creates a whole lot more problems than it cures (in the short term) headaches. As usual, reading your blog tells me that I’m not the only mom in the world who is absolutely appalled by teenagers (and, Heaven help us, even younger children) receiving things that use to be reserved for adults, which leads me to the same question you’re asking — what will this kids require to feel a thrill when they’re older? What will happen to these kids when they’re confronted with the reality of rent, utilities, and having to pay their own money for transportation?
Thanks for being you,
Thanks for getting it Kelly. It’s a tough road to navigate. And if it makes you feel any better, my mom just came to visit and Loch was looking all around her bags for “his present”. It was pretty bad. xo leigh
BRAVO!!!! I totally agree with both your observation of the overly indulged as well as your understanding of your role in building the character of your son as you raise him to manhood. I’ve always told my kids I would eat macaroni and cheese every day if that’s what it would take to give them a solid education and all that they need. I will try diligently to give them some of what they want. And in the end, they will learn the value of earning the rest. BRAVO once again!
While my father could have afforded to buy me my first car, he made me buy it myself. It was some sort of Toyota, it had 2 million miles on it and it cost $1000. We put a boom box on the floor of the passenger seat and my girlfriends DJ’d with cassette tapes. (!) I LOVED that car and the times I had with it. While I went to a high school with a parking lot full of BMWs etc, I never thought twice about it. I was just proud of my purchase and excited about my own wheels. No one else made me feel less-than about it either, not even the BMW owners. Nobody really cared. Sadly, I’m not sure that would be the case today.
I love that story. I totally get it too. Back in the day I don’t think we were as caught up in labels and status. Having a car meant something, not having a certain car. I remember watching Sweet 16 on MTV or VH1 or whatever and watching these girls pick out their birthday presents at the Hummer dealership or being presented with their white convertible beemers at the party in front of all of their friends and thinking…this is going to be a problem. This land of excess that kids – but also parents – are living in. It’s like another form of status to be buying your kid an expensive car or having an enormous birthday party. It’s a way of saying “look what I can do.” But it doesn’t serve your child. All it does is increase their expectations to the point of lunacy. What’s your wedding look like if you had a 100 thousand dollar Quinceanera/Bar Mitzvah/Sweet 16? It’s a set up for a fall or a grossly, indulgent person.
Well said. We struggle with this too, with an only child who has two sets of grandparents to whom he is also an “only”. I have to inform him on a regular basis that saying “please” does not guarantee you’ll receive what you’re asking for, as well.
Fortunately we’re not well-off so I can’t say ‘yes’ most of the time, even if I wanted to.
Did I just write “fortunately we’re not well-off”?
You did and I know exactly what you mean.
It’s still pretty funny though.