It’s the holiday season which means families coming together to celebrate and exchange gifts. It also means messages about hyper consumerism are inundating us.
My kids and I have ongoing conversations about advertising and the way it works to create needs in us that we didn’t know we had. They’re highly skeptical of anyone trying to sell them something. At the same time, they’re also highly susceptible to advertising because of where their brains are developmentally.
I have to admit I’m pretty darn susceptible, despite understanding the advertising model. (Yikes! Are there spots on my glasses?) All those ad-created needs rear their hungry mouths when we’re holiday shopping.
I know my weakness is books. Toys I can resist because I’m trying to tame the clutter behemoth at home. But, when my kids come at me with a book, I can’t say no. They’ve gotten good at spotting the toy-disguised-as book packaging that seems rampant these days and it does cause conflict.
One of the ways we deal with this is listening empathetically to all the reasons why said toy or toy-book combo is necessary for them to go on living even one more moment. Staying present as they explain and not passing judgment before they’ve even finished is often a challenge, especially when several of my kids are lobbying at once. But, they know that I actually consider what they say and will say yes if swayed.
My kids don’t whine too much while shopping because they know that a) I will pay attention to their passion because I understand that it really is important to them in this moment and b) I’m cool with the whining if they decide to. I don’t like the whining, but I empathize how difficult it is not to bring home every shiny new object. (I’m sad that I don’t live in a house the size of Mars that’s made of books and Prana yoga pants.)
It helps me to be patient with them if I remember that kindness is catching. When I give kindness to someone else, we both feel better. When someone shows kindness to me, my worldview improves. The reverse is sadly true, too. When mama’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.)
Another shopping ritual we have is “the wish list.” My kids advocate for a toy and I say, “let’s put it on your wishlist.” With my smart phone, I can take a picture of the toy (with enamored child) and add save it or add directly to their wishlist.
They love this idea and often scroll through their online wishlist later. I think having the list satisfies their needs for control and ownership over the idea of the toy. I add the items to a private holding place wishlist on Amazon. For things I know they are truly serious about, I later move them to a wish list for family and friends to look through.
But, what I didn’t expect was for our nightly gratitude practice to have a large impact on our shopping trips.
Every night as we curl up in bed to read, we tell each other what we are grateful for that day. Many times, the kids answer things like samurai, ninjas, bald eagles, and Legos. Sometimes they’ll say things like building a fort with their brother or making cookies with dad.
On occasion, they get to talk about the things we didn’t buy. And they get to vent, with full righteous indignation, about the unfairness of not being able to buy everything. They talk about how they should give away toys to kids because kids can’t make the toys like adults can. They rail against not having money. They complain that their parents don’t give them their heart’s desire.
You know, all the things that make being a kid feel unfair. And they are heard by the grownups who love them. They receive empathy. And they get to wish fulfill in a completely safe space.
Before the worry about “entitled brats” comes up, as it’s supposed to according to the authoritarian parenting “experts.” My kids return to gratitude. They reconnect with what they have. They express contentment in the experience of family closeness.
For me, the experience of shopping with my kids changed for the better once we began practicing gratitude together. It tasks my patience muscles almost to failure point at times, but remaining in gratitude that I am a safe person for them to express frustrations with helps keep me stay sane during the holiday shopping season.
I also do a lot of shopping online.
How do you keep your cool when shopping with kids? Does gratitude play a part in how you handle consumerism and children? I’d love to hear from you.
Post for NaBloPoMo
(Since I’m writing most of these late at night, in bed, while tandem nursing twins, I’m choosing to concentrate on writing rather than formatting, proof-reading, researching or editing as much as I’d like. Please forgive the extra typos and non-nonsensical grammar. Thank you.)