Kids and All Their Stuff: Enough is Enough

By Ann Brown, Parenting Coach


Those of you in my classes and parenting groups have heard me start many sentences with, “after the revolution, when I am in charge of the world and we all live on communes in peace and harmony….” But today, I am going to write about what we can do while waiting for the revolution.

It’s getting out of hand, all the “stuff” we all have. Even those of us who endeavor to buy mindfully wind up with too much stuff. And not only is there too much of it, so much of it is…well, you know what I am thinking.

What do kids need? Other than the basics, of course: love, acceptance, security, a home, clothing, food, and family. And other than the next round of basics, of course: friends, community, appropriate exposure to the beauty of the world (art, music…), laughter, and a sense of being necessary to others.

Hmm….actually, that list looks pretty complete to me. I’d add a few more things: a spiritual grounding (not necessarily religious, but mindful), ritual, milestones, and stories.

Yup, that looks complete now.

But we also live in the modern Hallmark world and gift giving exists. So, I ask you this question – how much is enough? And how courageous are you willing to be in defending your personal definition of “enough”?

Let me repeat myself (yet again), albeit abridged this time. For generations, parents knew that their goal was to make a better life for their children. And those children, in turn, tried to make a better life for their children. My grandparents came from Eastern Europe, fleeing oppression and genocide – it was clear that what they wanted for their children, who would be born here, was safety and religious freedom and a chance out of poverty. My parents, living a better life than their parents, still strived to make a better life for my sister and me. We had a nice home, college educations, summer camp, family vacations, and Barbie dolls. It was a little more difficult for my sister and me to figure out how to make OUR children’s lives better than our own.

Those of you who have enough, who have more than enough, have a huge responsibility as well. What will your children strive for, if all children strive to improve their lives over their parents’ lives? What can they achieve to surpass you, other than an even bigger house, a nicer car, and newer technology?

My father used to tell us that each generation must leave the world in better shape than we received it. This comes from traditional Jewish teachings, but it’s not an instruction only for Jews.

If you are fortunate enough to have enough, then you must teach your children that what they must strive for is helping those who do not have enough. Allow me one more Jewish teaching: “It is not your obligation to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”

Beginning to use the word “enough” with your kids is a big first step. It’s a hard word to use with kids because they will fight you on it; after all, “enough” is so utterly subjective. But you must be strong, courageous, and committed to not raising kids who cannot even count how many toys they have in their bedrooms.

I forgot to get her permission to use her name, so I will just say that there is a woman in one of my classes (we will call her, “Mom”) who can afford to get her kids lots of gifts, but has chosen to give them each only three gifts at Christmas. This is a radical, revolutionary act. If every family who could afford to buy a lot, simply chose to give their children three gifts at Christmas, I bet it would make a small dent somewhere. And children would know that being fortunate enough to have money means that we need to be responsible with it. And those three gifts would be really exciting to the kids. And they wouldn’t get lost in the hail of wrapping paper and more gifts and endless crap that turns it all into mindless acquisition. And there’d be some money left over to share with others who are not so fortunate. All because of one pebble being dropped in the water when a family with money chose to give their kids only three gifts at the holidays.

I hear the drums beating. Next step, we buy land for the commune. Now, who’s with me?

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