Chapter 3 in Free To Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray helped me put together my own view of how we currently treat children, and how we teach them. The history of education as presented in the book, from hunter-gatherers to the present, explained how our culture, economic prosperity, or lack thereof, religions and political climate all interact to produce our societal treatment of children. Taking all these factors into account to create my own current snapshot of how we treat and teach children, I have become quite thoughtful. My thoughts have required some diligent observation of my daily life. Here is a look into what I saw.
Parents Being Mindful: Buying Our Kids Too Much Stuff
As in the days of classic agriculture, when animals and kids were both “raised” and horses and children were both “trained”, I gather that kids are now “bought”. We buy our food, we buy our clothes, corporate is king, and our economy revolves around big business. And yes, I think we love our kids through buying too.
When agricultural lives turned into modern working families, at least in the cities, parents learned to buy what they need for the home and lost the skills to make things of their own at home. This would explain why we buy our kids so many things as well. What can we possible give them?
One day several years ago, I had the thought that I was a “good” mom because I bought my daughter a toy piano for Christmas. I now realize love is the best gift, but it was probably not that far off from what many parents raising children in the industrial world think.
Another day more recently, my daughter Gigi told me she would rather have time with me than more stuff. Looking around our house, I understood. We are filled to the brim with games, and paints, and books. We just don’t use them in proportion to the time we spend shopping.
We shop till we drop, and our children see it. This example is somewhat embarrassing for me, so I have decided to stop. No more TJ MAXX. Ouch! By the time our kids are in their teens, our children make up the biggest demographic as cash consumers. They are whom the marketers market to. I no longer think this is a recipe for happiness.
On the flip side, my daughter and I went to the grocery store recently, and after a long discussion on how the kids’ sports balls with super heroes were more expensive than the plain ones, how the hot dog buns were not actually a “necessity” since we already had some good bread at home, and how we couldn’t just go and buy baseball tickets given our current budget, I felt tired.
These conversations with my daughter were a sign to me, that it was time for a change.
Being Mindful With Money Makes a Difference To Our Kids
On the car tide home from the grocery store, our conversation continued. I told her that if I bought her all she asked for, I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills. She asked me, “Mama, do you love me that much, that you would buy me everything?” I told her I would love to buy her the world, or rather give her the world. Her immediate response to my generous words was “Wow, how could I have needed those hot dog buns so much! We already have bread!” A softer, more centered child for sure.
Just taking the time to discuss money and how we might not need all the things that were being sold to us, helped Gigi to be more mindful about money as well. Talking about money is one way to take our minds off the obsession to buy, and spending that time with our kids will influence them in the long run.
Parents AND Kids are Told to Buy, Buy , Buy
When young families move into a new town, the real estate agent is sure to point out the schools in the area, if they are good. Blue ribbons hang down the entry way doors of these good school districts, voted “best school 1000 years in a row”. What everyone knows, and some sometimes say, is that the best and smartest thing you can do is to buy a house in that blue ribbon district. Buy the house, buy the school, buy the education, buy the right clothes for the children to wear, by the right enrichment programs, buy the right sport shoes for soccer……gosh darn it, just buy it!
These messages erode our kids ability to just be happy with what they have. A family, friends, healthy food, laughter, and joy, just to name a few.
My friend, a mom to 4 kids, sent out an e-mail this week that read: “Spending time with kids is better than spending money on kids.” If we spent more time with our children, which I believe is all they really want, I wonder if they would stop craving “more and more” things. I wonder if we as parents would stop buying so much as well.
Being Thoughtful With How We Spend Time With Out Kids
After all these ideas hit home, I decided to stop shopping. I would still get the essentials, but not the extras. After seeing The True Cost movie, it was easy to stop looking for clothes for myself as a weekend get away from the monotony of the home grind. If you don’t know what is going on with fast fashion, the movie might move you to do the same.
The True cost left the image of the mom in India that just about broke my heart. She was leaving her young daughter a day trip away with family so she could go work in the factories to make fashions that sell for cheep in the United States and Europe. The chemicals are bad in the factories, and all kids can do is lay on a mat next to their mom’s day after day. I realized I had enough clothes for a lifetime once I understood what was going on.
The idea that fast fashion in taking advantage of women on a global scale (80% of sweat shop workers are women) made me generalized the lesson to all things made in China, India, Vietnam, Mexico and South America. This cut out 90% of my favorite shopping venues. I felt free and much better about no contributing to the sweat shop culture. Kids, no matter where they live deserve care and the possibility of a good future. So do their moms.
Without my regular stores to provide what I needed for my family, I started visiting re-sales and rummage sales. To get the essentials, I bought clean, gently used item. They were headed to the land fill otherwise, and if some woman made the item in a sweat shop, and it never even got used, that felt unbearable to me.
Rummage sales were my way of taking action and still get the basics for my family. I was able to value what was going to be thrown away. I was able to at least communicate across many millions of miles that I would be mindful of what those moms in sweatshops did each day and nod a “Thank You” in their direction.
With all my free time, I started sitting around the house more, being more available for my family. I pulled out board games, and puzzles, and old books. In essence, I was thoughtful about how I spent my day, talked to may kids, and actually started using all the stuff I had bought and stored over the past years. I didn’t so much as plan my day in excess, but took it slower.
Gratitude Finds Parents That Are Mindful of Time With Their Kids
When I didn’t go shopping very much and started being available for my kids, honestly, I got uncomfortable at first. I felt a little silly and then just totally unproductive. Nothing to achieve. No where to go. How could I feel like I accomplished anything? How much time could I really spend with my kids? AND when I wanted to have down time for just me, where in the world would I go?
And this is where you find me now, a little lost, but more comfortable, and satisfied with more time overall.
Time has slowed down, and for that I am ultimately grateful.
By the way my daughters took ease this weekend when I spent quality time at home, I am pretty sure she is grateful too