When Our Kids Have Too Much

What happens when we realize our kids actually have too much? Too many toys, too much sugar, too many “yeses,” too many extracurriculars? We’ve heard about the danger in spoiling our kids. We’ve also read articles telling us to spoil our kids (“They’re only little once…”). And then we’ve all ended up completely confused about what we’re supposed to be doing. So, often we resort to “whatever works.” The problem I’ve noticed with this phrase in MY life is that I too often say, “Whatever works,” but actually I DON’T feel that way. I’m just too tired/lazy/involved already to make a change.

Christmas of 2016 at my house ended with a few palms to the face, a headache, and the realization that my kids don’t need two-thirds of what Santa brought them. (Yes, let’s blame it on the nice guy.) Like, REALLY don’t need it. Why? Because when asked what they got for Christmas, my five-year-old was quick to mention a water bottle from her stocking and the Hershey’s Kisses Santa left as a trail to their pile of gluttony waiting in the living room. That’s it. Happy camper. My two-year-old said he got a green bike and then walked away because he totally didn’t care. Like, at all.

I realized in that moment, it was for me. It was for a stupid picture of the toys set up so that I could feel like I was successful at providing a great Christmas for my kids, who probably definitely won’t remember it anyway. However, the truth is that the traditions that surround our Christmas season are WAY more fun and WAY more meaningful. Decorating cookies, riverboats downtown to see the lights, gingerbread house-decorating contests—you name it, the smiles were never-ending. These family traditions are and were more memorable than any princess dress I’ve purchased.

So then I’m left to decide: What’s the middle ground that I’m comfortable with for my family? Some of my friends have a four-item Christmas for their kids, which sounds simple and nice but doesn’t fit for me. However, neither does the Christmas toy store we are currently producing. For now, I just know that this Christmas will not be repeated. Then I got to thinking: what else am over-thinking, doing, and planning that just does not fit in our lives?

I will admit the list is pretty long. I realize I am a member of a fascinating generation of parents. Here’s how I break it down. I belong to a group of parents that want everything to be perfect but don’t want to be labeled as perfectionists. And we’re really concerned for our kids, but don’t call us helicopter parents, please, because that’s also offensive. We’d really like to be seen as great parents who don’t try to be great. We’re all just naturally great; we don’t judge; and we want our kids to be confident, smart, and well-liked. Also, please don’t notice that I’m trying to achieve all these things every day. As a result, I’ll post this picture of my disaster house with a coffee mug that I’m holding so that you think I’m struggling just as much as you are, but really, I retook that picture 14 times to make sure I got all the mess so that you can relate and be impressed with how much I don’t care because #thestruggleisreal. Mmmkay? It’s a hard group to hang with, honestly. We want to feel as though we can relate to one another, but it often gets translated as competition anyway. Confused yet? Me, too. I constantly hear the message of “whatever works,” but the truth is, we all hold on to the “right/wrong” judgment, and I’m just not so sure that’s a problem anymore. Not because I want us to judge each other (although some of that is natural), but more because I want us to judge ourselves a little more honestly. Bear with me and set aside the “whatever works” mentality for just a moment.

Because, what happens to the kids who have too much? We know that answer, and it’s not “they become instant brats.” It’s actually more like “they don’t have anything to want later and perhaps become entitled” (ahem, Millennials). We nonchalantly laugh (or at least I do) at the prospect of our kids perhaps having too much. But, when the dust settles and the laughter stops, what does it teach them about life if they actually do? It unintentionally teaches them that life either: (a) is always going to be that way; or (b) isn’t as happy without all the stuff.

Am I suggesting we remove all the toys, never take family trips, and drastically change the way we live? Not even a bit. But, instead, I think we should think about simplicity and how it can be applied in our parenting. How do you remove the distractions from your children’s lives to emphasize the things/activities/emotions that you feel do contribute to family joy?

My husband and I were recently trying to figure out when we could start traveling with our kiddos on some fun trips: New England, Disney, Mexico beaches, the Homes of the Stars tour in LA (J/K—that’s actually for me). I was worrying over whether to do a Disney cruise or a week in Disney World, or should we wait and do both at the same time? (Yes, that’s too much Mickey, we decided.) Also, they are both under six, and with another little one on the way, we quickly came to the conclusion that we were both completely insane and should perhaps curb the convo for a few years. The point is, I felt as though it needed to happen soon or our kids would somehow be missing out. On what? Yeah, I have no clue either. But, I was seeing all the Disney trips taken over the holidays by my friends on Facebook and it made me panic a little inside. Total FOMO moment, and I needed to settle down. Plus, we took my daughter to the Disney Store for her birthday present in December and she told her class we took her to Disney World, so I guess we’ve basically already checked off that box.

And then, within a few days of this conversation, a friend shared an article regarding the latest trends in travel that caught my eye. It mentioned the idea that over the past decade, travelers have been more geared towards simplicity and experience rather than luxury and souvenirs. This spoke to me in a way that I hadn’t processed until then. If this was the way the world was moving—and quite frankly, I’m so super great with that—then why am I (unintentionally) raising kids to think the opposite? That Christmas isn’t successful without the mounds of plastic crap and that family time isn’t as valuable if you don’t have the Mickey ears to prove it? Now, obviously I don’t believe that one bit, but I do believe it’s the message that I’m sending by constantly embellishing their little environment. It’s what I’ve decided to call the “if you give a mouse a cookie” syndrome.

Time for a daily example. Yesterday, while my son was napping, I asked my daughter if she wanted to do some art with me at the kitchen table. She said yes, and I went to get some typing paper and a box of Crayons. I sat down and she stared at me, eyebrows furrowed and utterly confused. “Mommy, what? We can’t do art without our paint and glitter and markers. Oh, and do we have more of those puffy colored cotton balls? And my crazy scissors.” I realized that because I always try to provide as many creative art materials as possible, she doesn’t see the point of paper and Crayons. Oh, come on! I thought, darling child of the ’80s that I am. My fault? Nah, just something I need to reteach, I suppose.

If you give a kid some paper, they are going to want some Crayons. When you give them the Crayons, they will realize that multi-dimensional art is better and request some crazy scissors and some colorful cotton puffs. And so it goes… So, instead of heading off to gather more art supplies, I explained how cool it was to simply color: out of the lines, in the lines, mixing colors together, and the joy of simple creations. We sat there for an hour drawing, and it was glorious.

Simplicity. For me as an individual, this concept is so appealing. Think about it: every new year, many of us feel the need to de-clutter to feel better. We give away clothing, start new diets, new intentions for ourselves. Yet, as a parent, it’s not the direction I tend to head. “The more the merrier” occurs in our lives so often, sometimes before I even realize we’re in over our heads and sinking in an ocean of plastic toys and “I wants.”

Now, let me be clear: I know I’m not raising ungrateful brats. I have great kids who most definitely hear the word “no” on a daily basis. But, if I’m honest with myself, I am raising kids that want for nothing, and that’s terrifying. Because if they grow up to live in a world that truly learns to find joy in simplicity, the material things, the many “yeses,” and the big trips won’t give them true joy. It won’t keep them content with life. Instead, it’s the quiet moments of cuddles before bed, the surprise walk in the park to feed the ducks after school, and the feeling of accomplishment they learn through hard work. I can give those things just as easily, and they’re FREE! Those are memories, and those are real joys.

For me, it boils down to this: if I raise my children to think for themselves and care for things and people with intention, hopefully they will be happier adults. My newfound parenting goal is to teach my kids how to love simplicity. But first, I have to show them what it looks like. GULP. 

Erin is a born and raised San Antonio native. She is a proud graduate of Southwestern University, St.Mary's University and Texas Tech University. After graduate school, she married the love of her life and moved back to to town to be near both sides of their families. Together, they are attempting to raise three crazy humans: Chloe- 2011, Connor- 2014, and Charlie 2017 who make life fun, happy and hard. Erin is a marriage and family therapist and a contributor and sales coordinator for ACM. She is a lover of all things involving food, music, sarcasm and wine. And love. There must be lots of love. You can find her on Instagram at Instagram Favorite Restaurant: Nonna Osteria Favorite Landmark: Majestic Theatre Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Fiesta Arts Fair