My child had a meltdown in the checkout line at Target. Why? Because I was buying so many goodies for needy children, and none for her. I made sure to prepare her before our target run with a little talk about Operation Christmas Child and why I’m so thrilled to participate in it. My child seemed genuinely excited to fill a shoebox for a little girl her age, and was very thoughtful about her choices. “Ooh, I think she’ll like the pink toothbrush because most girls like pink… except for me.” But after a while, as the cart filled with sparkly wondrous things, the jealousy and the disappointment (and I’ll say it, the consumerism that plagues all of us despite my efforts to squash it) welled up in her, and she had a full on tantrum.
There are so many words I wanted to use in that moment. There was a nice little guilt trip on the tip of my tongue… “Why don’t you appreciate the abundance we have? Why do you always want to buy things you don’t need? Don’t you realized how other kids in the world are suffering? I’m so disappointed that you can’t be a joyful giver.” But thank God I didn’t say any of those things.
You may disagree with my silence, but I don’t regret it. Have I ever felt jealousy? Have I ever lusted over stuff I don’t need? Have I rejoiced in someone else’s misfortune? Absolutely. All the time. And I’m way older than 5. I do NOT need someone lecturing and guilting me about my selfishness. That is never the answer.
So what did I say? Nothing for a while. Then when I felt kinda centered, I told her, “You seem really upset and disappointed. It’s always hard when we want something we cannot have. But today we’re shopping for needy kids around the world, not for ourselves. I will not be buying anything for you today.” That’s it. She cried the whole way home, then an hour later apologized for getting so angry.
One of my parenting goals is to step aside and allow my children to pursue good things of their own free will, not out of force, guilt, or pressure to please me. I think it’s a hard route to take, and that the good pursuits will take time. Honestly, guilt trips definitely work on my sensitive child in the short run. But I’m parenting for the long run. I figure that the best I can do is be an example of love and generosity for my kids. I’m already seeing some of the fruit of this “hands off” approach, but I’m sure the best is yet to come.