Parenting & the ephemerality of possession

I struggle mightily with materialism. On one hand, I am an inveterate early-adopter gadget-hound. I want the latest, greatest, shiniest toy. On the other hand, I hate buying things. At some level I don’t even particularly like owning things. I’m all over eBooks for the same reason I very quickly embraced digital music (once I figured out I didn’t have to rip at 128k) – it reduces physical clutter, but allows me to still partake in a passion – discovering new music, new books.

aside: I’m not yet down with physical media-less video simply because the quality of a Blu-ray disc generally FAR exceeds anything I get online – sound, video, extra features. Give me all that in a digital-only download & I’ll switch in a heartbeat. Until then, I’ll keep renting & buying the physical media.

And so of course imparting this sort of internal struggle to Liam is important to me. I want him to cherish his possessions, recognize the value of them and derive happiness from receiving and interacting with them. At the same time, I don’t want to raise a hopeless materialist who only derives happiness from buying new things, and always wants new things. And I want him to understand how liberating and joyful it can be to get rid of possessions. I know some of this is just being a child, but a small part of me gets really unhappy that Liam looks longingly at the dollar toy-in-an-egg machines, that he’ll choose a kinder egg over other candy because it comes with a toy every time. And that if and when we get these toys, he’ll play with them for a little while – sometimes an hour, sometimes a day, and then they’re tossed in a toy-bucket never to be played with again. I feel very much to blame because we have been willing to buy him things if he asks for them.

aside #2: Liam has this thing which drives both Leah and I nuts where he’s incredibly passive about things and won’t come out and ask for them. He’ll say things like “I was thinking about a kinder egg” when what he means is “I would like a kinder egg”. It drives me up the wall. I’ve now taken to being flippant (if I’m in a good mood) or sarcastic (if not so much) in response to this. Liam doesn’t deal very well with rejection, it must be said, so I suspect that this is his defense mechanism – he’s not as disappointed if what he’s thinking about doesn’t happen compared to if what he’s asking for doesn’t happen.

So we’re working on the idea that a)we don’t buy everything we want just because we want it (about which I do admit to feeling quite hypocritical) b)that we cherish and value the things we have and take care of our possessions c)it’s a good thing to share with our friends and not be too possessive. So these are somewhat contradictory ideas that really, for the most part, Liam seems to be getting. I think. I’m not sure. He certainly gets the idea of delayed gratification, which is great. But I admit that we’re struggling with this and I do worry that I’m raising a materialist who always wants more stuff, regardless of if he actually wants the item, or just wants to satisfy the act of wanting….

Bleh. This post kind of went off in a different direction than I’d intended. Oh well.

Conflicted, again

Every holiday, birthday or even the occasional weekend, I find myself again conflicted over the a) the celebration of a religious holiday, no matter how distorted and b) why everything seems to be celebrated by buying something for Liam.

Don’t get me wrong – I love buying things for Liam – the way his face just lights up when he realizes that he’s received a gift; the way he says “thank you” – all hurried and hushed as if he doesn’t say it fast enough, it’ll all be taken away; the unadulterated joy of watching a child play and explore something new. But then I’m immediately, glancing around the apartment at all the stuff we have, and all the stuff he has, and I feel guilty for how lucky I am, at how materialistic we are. I have a sneaking suspicion that, should I have a mid-life crisis, it might involve the shedding of possessions – even without, I sometimes have fits of wanting to throw everything away save for a laptop, a single book & my music, and go walkabout.

And holidays such as Easter & Christmas exacerbate this for me. For Leah, who grew up without a lot, these were occasions to actually celebrate, and her family made sure that there were (little) presents at these occasions, and her family made a big deal of it – which she, quite rightly, wants to continue with her family now. For myself, growing up, Easter wasn’t a big deal at all. When I was younger, we did the semi-mandatory Easter-egg hunt, but that was about it. Christmas was certainly celebrated, with presents and the like, but with less fervour. I suspect my own parents had very similar conflicting feelings. As we kids have become adults, Christmas has switched to be an occasion were we’ll all be able to take some holiday to actually see each other, spread as we are across 2 continents and several timezones – which I like.

To compound this issue further, I always feel vaguely quite hypocritical when taking advantage of any religious holiday. I’m not relgious in the slightest, so why should I celebrate? And I realize that it is because in part, these holidays have become quite secular, or rather, quite commercial, and so have successfully divorced themselves from religious significance. I don’t know where they do come from (I suspect, somewhat ironically, that both may have pagan origins), but neither the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus feature in any biblical text that I know. But they do feature strongly in commercials wherein they bring gifts to people!

Even Liam’s birthday is a time for this guilt for me – I was recently at another toddler’s second birthday, and it was an orgy of presents! So much that the kid was overwhelmed, I suspect, and won’t really even notice many of the presents for days or weeks to come. Which isn’t great for the giver, for we always want our gifts to be appreciated and toddler’s just don’t have the capacity to process so much. I want so much for Liam’s birthday to be good for him, and good for those who attend, and if I must place, good ‘for the world’. I do well enough that Liam’s not really wanting for much now. There’s nothing in particular that he needs that we could ask our friends and family to get for him. But I think my friends and family would like to buy something for him, as opposed to contributing to his college fund (which would be great!) or donating to Oxfam or some other well-deserving charity on his behalf. I have hopes that we’ll be able to work with him to instill the desire to help others, and maybe, follow the examples I’ve read on parenting blogs of their kids wanting to have guests donate to a cause. Of course, the flip side of these is that they’re nearly always related to some very personal tragedy – cancer, mental illness, etc -and I certainly don’t want Liam to have to experience that sort of sadness.

I don’t have a solution for this. I have some ideas that we’ll put into practice over the next little while. I’m even considering, when Liam’s old enough to understand, taking Liam to church for these holidays, or at the very least, trying to teach him the origins of why these holidays exist, so that while we’re blatantly disregarding them, he might be able to understand why I’ve disregarded them – or he might decide that the religious aspect is meaningful to him (the very idea of that, I’ll admit, terrifies me). Who knows. But maybe if he can understand my ambivalence, he’ll, in childhood innocence, suggest a clear path through.