A few months ago I was at the grocery store with my daughter, and I made the mistake of venturing too close to the toy aisle. She instantly began lamenting about all the things she wanted and couldn’t have. I was used to hearing her long for new Barbies or new accessories for her My Little Pony dolls. But on that day it bothered me more than others.
My daughter’s birthday had just passed, and she had received lots of wonderful, generous gifts from her family and friends. We had thrown her a party, and I had even taken her to the salon for some pampering before the big event. I was irritated, and somewhat disappointed. Why wasn’t it enough? Why didn’t she appreciate what she had?
And yet lately it’s been hitting me. Perhaps I’m not the best role model. Too often, I complain about the things I don’t have. I yearn for things “guaranteed” to make me feel more secure, more fulfilled, more complete. And too often, I forget that tiny ears are listening. Over the past few months my daughter has heard me pine away for:
A bigger home. Yes, we live in a small apartment. But sometimes I forget that we are lucky to have a roof over our heads, warmth in the cold, food upon our table each day. And, most importantly, our little home is filled with the people I love most in the world, who are never more than a shout or, quite often, a glance away. Small homes make for a lot of togetherness, especially when you all share one bathroom.
More regular income. It’s tough being a freelancer at times. Sometimes I’m up until 2 a.m. for months on end, struggling to meet multiple deadlines, and no amount of caffeine can make me feel human. Other months there’s hardly any work at all. While freelancing will never be an easy way to live, I’m fortunate to be able to work from home, and to have a flexible schedule that allows me to have some semblance of balance in my life. I’m there every time my daughter gets off that school bus. I tuck my son into bed each afternoon for his nap, and I’m there with a warm cuddle when he wakes up. Yes, the strain of unsteady income is difficult to handle at times. But there’s a reason I do it, and it’s worth it.
Nice things. With two small kids at home, I’ve generally come to accept that my home is going to be a wreck. But sometimes I get fed up with the mess, the scratched-up furniture, the constantly stained clothes. The couch is broken. Someone drew pink hearts (in marker) on the backseat of the car. Someone spilled grape juice all over the only new shirt I’ve bought myself in months. But the reality is that these are just things. One day I will have a home with flawless furniture. My car will be clean. My clothing will be spotless. And I will miss the constant, messy companionship of my two favorite people in the world.
Less stuff. Despite our modest lifestyle, our home is continually cluttered with stuff. Too many toys, too many papers, too much neglected clothing, too much leftover candy, too much of everything. While I’m never going to feel comfortable in clutter, I also recognize that it’s a luxury to be bothered by having too much in our lives. I do my best to donate our excess to those in need. And, as I do so, I’m reminded how lucky we are to have so many things we can share with others.
I understand that I’m only human, and the last thing we parents need is something else to feel guilty about. But I really want to pay more attention to the messages I’m giving my daughter. Because when I focus on the things I don’t have — or complain about having too much — I’m just setting the stage for her to have an unhealthy relationship with consumption. If I want her to feel grateful for what she has, then I need to set a better example. Because maybe the thing I’m really lacking, the one thing I truly need more of in my life, is gratitude.
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