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Friday, May 16, 2014

Being Grateful For An Orange: Lessons To Teach Our Children

Two things just happened, one - right after the other. First, I came across this article (Pampered Children): In summary, London mom of two spoils the daylight out of her toddlers who in return wouldn’t be caught dead wearing Primark or M&S clothes.

I found myself feeling a bit sick after reading it. Moments later, I offered my 3 year-old an orange and she demanded an apple (quite rudely). ‘I’m sorry Cristina, we are all out of fruit except for this orange. Do you want it.’ Then she shouted replied ‘No an apple!’  She ate the orange but with a very ungrateful and disdaining gaze upon her face. The whole situation made me a little bit sad.

I wanted to impart my knowledge onto her. I wanted to explain to her how lucky she was to have an orange, even if it was not the apple she ‘for some reason’ really longed for. I wanted to tell her that there are so many children who haven’t had an orange in weeks or maybe ever. I wanted her to know how little and unimportant her plight was.

I wanted her to empathize with the families in Turkey hopeful to find survivors after this week’s mining accident. I wanted her to know that there are hundreds of scared school girls missing their families and in some unknown location in the hands of the Boko Haram. I wanted her to know of the political problems and elections in Afghanistan, Thailand and Venezuela.

Cristina – there are hospitals in Greece with no beds and schools without books. And back where mommy is from (California) people are losing their homes to fires.

I wanted her to, in some way, understand all of that and to appreciate the orange I had offered her, even if it wasn’t an apple. But she doesn’t yet understand all of that and as a parent it rests upon me to teach her how wonderful she is, to be grateful for what she has and to understand that there are so many less fortunate than her.

I don’t want my children to have everything, only what they need. I want them to be grateful for what they have and take care of the things that they do earn. I want them to live far far below their means. But, how do you do this when we live in such a privileged society?

It is really difficult and emotionally challenging. I am not quite sure whether the life lesson I am trying to share with my children is helping or harming them. Here’s the thing. I don’t buy the children many toys or clothes and when I do, I always try to get things second-hand first – avoid waste.

At some level, I do feel bad, especially since my two eldest children are at an age where they are constantly comparing. I am forever getting comments like, ‘so and so has loads and loads of toys and we don’t.’ Or their friends, who are all very lovely, will say things like, ‘are those all the toys they have?’. I worry they won’t fit in or be cool. But I do feel I owe it to them and the world around me to try and raise them in a certain manner.

Christmas and Easter came and went and my kids each walked away with 1 gift from Santa and 1 egg from the Easter Bunny. That’s it! They were thrilled. Children these days have more toys and things than they know what to do with. I’ve also found that the times they have had the most fun have involved shared simple toys, like a ball, a jumping rope, a stick or a large box – or just spending time together. How about that?

My sister shared this with me, ‘the United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children but buys 40 percent of all toys sold worldwide.’  In the US things are bountiful and chances are, if you can’t afford something, you can probably get it on credit. It’s the American way.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not completely self-sacrificing. My children are incredibly lucky. My 4 year-old will be taking her 5th trip to America this summer from London – and travelling is part of our lifestyle. But what the kids need to learn is how lucky they are to have the means and opportunity to travel and have the things that they do have. I definitely wasn’t anywhere near as lucky as they are. I recently met a 14 year-old girl who was complaining about her upcoming trip to Egypt noting: the flight would be too long, seats too uncomfortable and the food would probably be gross. I wanted to knock her on the back of the head and tell her ‘Wow. You are so lucky. You are 14 and taking your second trip to Egypt.’

I know my children are young and that the ‘orange’ incident doesn’t indicate that my 3 year-old will be selfish, ungrateful and self-absorbed. But my goodness, as a parent, I really do feel a responsibility to limit my children’s access to excess, especially since so many out there have so little.

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