Thanks to the creation of DVDs and Netflix a parent can now allow their kids the freedom to watch their favorite princess or superhero without the bombardment of commercials. For those without kids this means very little. To those of us with kids it means no more; “I want that” while watching cartoons. This is big, especially when you flashback to our own childhood when Saturday morning cartoons were simply a way for vendors to hawk their wares on little kids and stress their parents out with the latest and greatest play sets and dolls.
So you can imagine my surprise when my oldest comes running to me to ask for some random toy from some random movie that we’ve not even seen. “Mom, I have to have this. It’s so cool!” I asked what the toy was, what its purpose was and why she felt she ‘needed’ it. In the end it was simply another piece of plastic that was overpriced and required I also buy the companion video so she’d better understand the character.
“Child, you don’t even know this character. Why do you ‘have to have it’?”
There was a long pause and feet shuffling; “The man in the commercial said so.”
“The movie you’re watching also says you can walk on rainbows. Can you do that?”
“I think you have enough stuff. Perhaps at Christmas, if you’re still interested we can get it.”
“But I want it.”
“And I understand that. But you don’t need it and right now we have to focus on need.”
“Then I need it.”
I laughed at the quick response from my then 4-year old. She smiled back and thought she’d just won the argument but it was then that I realized she was old enough for me to explain the difference between wants and needs.
After a quick explanation she grasped the concept pretty well; the need to eat and sleep and how without both you’d not be able to function. But when we started talking about wants the lines blurred for her. She grasped that going to Disney Land wasn’t a need, but she made a few good points about toys and how playing was a need. I tried to fight her on that one, but she was right, playing is vital to a child’s development and imagination.
I understood then that my child was going to require more information and details I hadn’t really thought about myself. To her and many kids, their imagination stems from the object in their hands. They’ve access to thousands of cheap toys and because of it kids don’t find the same joy in them we did. If it breaks you just pull out a new one.
One Christmas my oldest received 13 Barbies… from one relative! It was too much. A few years later my son had over 50 Matchbox cars gifted to him. It was insanity. We bought him two thinking one for each hand was sufficient. But we can’t fight relatives. So I decided it was time to fight with facts.
“You say you want this toy for no other reason than it looks fun, correct?”
She hesitated but agreed.
“Your dad works 6-days a week, correct?”
She didn’t hesitate to agree.
“Do you like that your dad works so much and can’t be home with us?”
“How much was that toy?”
She told me the amount and I did a quick mental calculation.
“Okay, that’s 2-hours of work your dad has to complete to pay for that one toy. Is the toy worth having your dad away from home to earn that extra money?”
She stopped fidgeting and stood straight. “What do you mean?”
“I mean your dad will have to work two extra hours to earn the money and pay for the tax to purchase that toy. Add that to his 6-day a week job and tell me if it’s worth it to you?”
I thought it was a simple question of choice. Decide between these two things and find what’s more important to you. What I hadn’t expected was the tears. Full on, bawling began.
“I want daddy.”
I felt terrible for making her cry and pulled her into my arms. “I know baby. And I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad. I just wanted you to understand the value of the thing and the value of the person. Your dad works hard so I can stay home and take care of you (and now her siblings). We have all that we need and much of what we want. But your dad is willing to work even harder to make us happy. And if a thing will make you happier than his being here, let me know and I’ll ask him for you. Or better yet you can.”
More tears, more hugs and a call to daddy telling him she loved him.
That might have been the best lesson I ever taught my daughter. Six years later she still looks at a ‘thing’ and mentally calculates time away from her dad and whether or not she’ll enjoy the thing more. Only once has she asked for something that was expensive and she figured out a way to earn her own money so her dad didn’t have to spend more time away from us.
I pray she always remember that needs and wants are vastly different and that people should always hold more value.