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Poor Parenting?

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The following conversation occurred between my kids and a not-so-nice child in the somewhat recent past:

“Do you have an XBox360?


“How about a PSP?”

“I… don’t think so.”

“A PS2?”


“A PS3?”


“How about Guitar Hero?”

“No, but we have Rock Band!”

“Man, you guys are poor.”

As you can imagine, I was shocked when I heard that the definition of poor had changed so drastically over the last twenty years. When I was a kid (cue the violins and collective groans) it meant you made difficult choices: New school shoes. OR. A week’s worth of groceries. A root canal. OR Electricity over the winter. It meant that, while other kids were hanging out in their rooms playing Atari, I was scoping out the adult fiction section of the public library.

So when my kids reported to me that someone had accused them of being poor… well… I laughed until there were tears in my eyes. If it were up to me, my children would spend all their free time at libraries and museums, parks and planetariums. They would read books, walk along the river, paint me a picture, cook me a meal, and maybe do a load of laundry if they were so inclined. In other words, they would live like they were POOR.

For the most part, they actually do. We have a grant total of SIX stations on our TV, courtesy of the antenna on my roof. Plus, they are heavily tortured entertained by running and kicking balls when they aren’t in school or sleeping. But over the years, I’ve relaxed my rules and have allowed Antonia, the oldest, to bring her cell phone to my home. They both can bring their Gameboys and the iPods now as well. Originally, everything that their father had bought them had to stay at their father’s house.

Part of me wishes that I hadn’t acquiesed, that I had continued to be the bad guy, the “poor” parent in this two-home situation, if you will. While being a poor kid sucked rotten eggs, it gave me a perspective that I’ve come to deeply appreciate — rotten eggs aren’t as stinky as rotten children… you know… the kind that calls other kids poor. I wanted for my kids to have everything they NEEDED and little else.

But even with the cell phone, the Gameboy and the iPods, I’ve also come to realize that, with rules and moderation, they don’t necessarily have to be “spoiled” children. Toni and Jonah have to earn their right to use the things that they value so deeply, and I reserve the right to take any one of these items away in the event that bedrooms become unliveable or they DARE to make less fortunate peers feel small. On top of this, I don’t pay for the cell phone bill. Nor do I buy their music and video games to go along with these pricey instruments of theirs. These poor, poor children of mine have to accumulate goods in the same way that I do… they have to wait for Christmas and birthdays.

In the meantime, Toni has actually gotten a side job refereeing kiddy soccer on weekends to support her music habit. Jonah has taken to doing Toni’s chores for a pittance of her meager earnings to save up for a Pokemon Diamond game. Child labor, I know. In all seriousness, though, my hope is that someday they’ll grow up and have “poor” children, too.


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  • comment avatar Carol September 30, 2008

    Hooray for that attitude! I feel like kids shouldn’t have their every whim catered to and should earn some of the excessive wants that they have (or wait until Christmas/birthdays).

    I often feel like we do a little too much catering to my 15 year old stepdaughter. However her friends think we are mean for making her pay for things like ringtones and the upgraded cell phone that she wanted.

    She informed us the other day that instead of a 16th birthday bash, she would rather take a friend to New York City. I thought we were being extra generous for offering to throw her a big catered affair but that isn’t good enough these days! Needless to say NYC isn’t going to happen.

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only “poor” family around!

  • comment avatar Amber September 30, 2008

    Great post, Catherine. My kids are still young so dn’t have a concept of all this yet. However, the kids across the street are on a bad slope. They have every toy, video game and even 4-wheelers for the 3 and 5 year old. It makes it tough to watch them because we just don’t have all the “cool” toys. And we never will.

  • comment avatar Tea and Bonbons September 30, 2008

    We must be poor, too, then. We don’t have any gaming systems at all — by choice. The kids are still relatively young (9, 6, 5), but I don’t see us getting one any time soon anyway. I tell the kids if they’re bored, they can read. And if reading’s boring — tough. Right now, peer pressure isn’t a big deal, though I know it will be later. Thank goodness I’m no longer susceptible to the peer pressure of the pre-teen group!

    P.S. Amber — you probably don’t have all their credit card debt, either. LOL

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson September 30, 2008

    Let me put a disclaimer on this. I do not think THINGS are bad. In fact, they can be quite delightful. But when there is an overabundance and an expectation for things, then ingratitude ensues. And ingratitude is a very, very bad thing in my opinon.

  • comment avatar Kagey September 30, 2008

    There’s a great essay by Lee Pitts that Paul Harvey once read on the air regarding all this. I can’t find the text right now, but it started with something like this:
    We tried so hard to make things better for our kids that we made them worse. I hope my grandchildren do better. I hope no one buys you a new car for your 16th birthday and that you learn to make, not buy, the toys you play with. I hope your have to share your room with your little brother. You can draw a line down the middle, but if a nightmare scares him I hope you’ll let him climb into bed with you…

    That kind of thinking I like a lot. My older two share a room. They know that “new” books arrive on their birthdays or from the library, which means they have to return them to share with everyone else. We may eventually get some computer games, but I’ll don’t want to ever buy my kids a video game system. When they get their driver’s licenses they may earn the privilege of using our oldest vehicle, but they are going to help pay for insurance and gas.
    This isn’t being poor, it’s being smart. People who believe all the lies advertisers tell us, that getting all this stuff makes you happy, aren’t as happy as they appear.

  • comment avatar Stacy September 30, 2008

    You can choose to be “poor” in the heart or “poor” in the bank, and I would choose poor in the bank any day!!
    I have a couple of things that I wanted to say. I have two very different view points on kids today. One, children think they “have to have everything” and two children do not seem to understand that by “not getting everything” actually makes them a stronger individual.
    I have two children 2 and 4 and there is a very important rule in our house and it is summed up by “whats yours is mine and whats mine is yours” What this really means is that their really is no MINE and we are a family and share ALL of our things.
    I do buy my children things but I do it within reason and not a day goes by where I do not step back and make sure we teach them the reason they have the things we have, hard work, determination and family.
    My 4 year old daughter wants a pony and always has. I told her when she was two if she wants a pony she has to do her chores save her money and then….
    Children today need to learn that it is nice to have toys, games etc. but only when they are earned. When a child gets into the “real” world how will they succeed if everything was bought for them??? They WON’T!!

    Teach responsibility, hard work and most important when someone says something mean teach them that not everyone is nice and it only makes you stronger, just tell them to walk away and feel bad they they don’t have the wisdom on life that you do!!
    And just in case your wondering my 4 year old still has her piggy bank full of her “pony” money, and I have told her she can spend it on anything, but she has decided that her chores she dos around the house and going to be worth that pony!!

  • comment avatar catherine dix September 30, 2008

    Ingratitude… THAT’S where I was getting at with all this. Very, very bad stuff.

    Thanks, everyone, for such great comments and all the support!

  • comment avatar Nature Deva September 30, 2008

    Well, I keep thinking that there are going to be lots of rude awakenings for many kids (and parents) as we go deeper into this recession/depression.

    Lots of families will have to learn how to go to the library or play with creative indoor toys or go outside to play sports or climb a tree and use their – gasp – imagination again instead of just plugging in to video games.

    My husband and I laugh over the fact that Guitar Hero is so popular. How about learning how to play a real guitar and practice everyday? (He has played guitar for many years so this game seems so ridiculous to him). Buying a used beginner guitar and a few lessons is a lot cheaper than the video games and systems and a skill you can use for life.

    I’m not opposed to all gaming things, some are very educational. I think our society has gotten so out of balance with acquiring “stuff” that the kids become so affected with their perceptions and attitudes.

    Thanks to what’s going on with our financial system now, this is about to be corrected in our society which is not such a bad thing. “Poor” to some kids is “green living” to others.

    A great video on You Tube to watch if you haven’t yet is called “The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard. It explains everything really well and is worth it to watch it.

  • comment avatar Marge September 30, 2008

    Catherine, I love you. In my neighborhood our house has a reputation for being boring because we are electronically deficient – according to some standards anyway. We have those 6 fuzzy antenna stations that will be going away in February, no video games or wii, and dvd’s or mp3 player privileges must be earned.

    Poor? I don’t think so. My ten year old is an excellent chef, he loves to read, and he gets plenty of vitamin D in the great outdoors where he explores and engages in fabulous imaginary play. His doctor has never complained that he isn’t getting enough EFM radiation or is too active. And his teachers and even strangers who meet him often comment on how polite and well-adjusted he is.

    Our parents threatened that caffeine would stunt our growth. I like to tell my kid (on the rare occassions he complains) that electronics will fry his brain.

  • comment avatar Lori October 1, 2008

    Great post. I think “rich” leads to a sense of entitlement, which is very prevalent in our culture.

    I would like my children, no matter what they have or don’t have, to not feel entitled. My wish for them is that they feel a sense of gratitude.

    It’s not easy to model all the time!

  • comment avatar One Mom's Opinion October 1, 2008

    This is a tough one. We have just one child, so I feel he’s more spoiled than he would have been had we had 2-3 children.

    We bought our son the game boy when he was about 5 or 6 years old. We upgraded him much later to game boy advance. He has the Game Cube and I bought him the Wii last Christmas.

    He plays them all and he’s limited to 2 hours on weekdays of either game time and/or television providing that he doesn’t have tons of homework and studying to do.

    He reads a great deal, but when he has free time–he just wants to play video games. I feel we created this and feel he might have been more well rounded or creative had we not gone this route with games.

    We’re trying to teach our son about money. He’s 13 and has no concept of what money or work means. Anything major that he wants now involves effort on his part. Whether we can afford it or not, if he wants it badly enough–he has to earn half or we won’t get it for him. So far, it hasn’t worked. Minor chores and opportunities for cash don’t seem to entice him enough yet for him to stick with it.

  • comment avatar Mrs C (aka jchevais) October 15, 2008

    We don’t even have a proper internet connection at my house. Which is probably good. Cause I would be on it all the time.

    My kids have complained that they have no idea what the other kids are talking about with the wii, psp, ps3, guitar whatever stuff floating around… Wouldn’t it be nice if books incited the same hysteria?

    However, even though we have a wii now (a gift from a well meaning friend who has children who pester him constantly for access to their xbox, dslite, et al), they know that that thing is for rainy saturdays and they never ask if they can play it unless they know that all chores and homework are done.

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