We all know that there is more than one way to approach parenting. We know that some mothers are warm and cuddly. Some are cold and stern. And there are some of every other kind in between.
We can choose the rules that our kids must follow in our home. We can decide what kind of food to feed them. What kind of diapers to buy for them. What kind of shoes to get them for their first PE class when they start school. We also decide whether or not to enroll them in any extracurricular activities.
We can choose to give or deny permission when they ask us for it. We choose to require a bedtime or not. And we decide what brand of toothpaste and toilet paper they will use in our home. Or whether we allow them to watch TV at all.
Life is full of choices. And every choice we make has consequences, good or bad.
How about the choices we have of what material things we buy our kids? How do we determine those choices? And what do those choices teach our kids?
Beginning with the way we decorate the nursery, we begin buying things for our kids that we want to have for them. Color coordinated things and wooden initials painted to match on the wall. Soon we begin to buy toys to entertain them. Maybe a battery operated swing. Or one those exersaucer things they can bounce and play in while you cook dinner.
At this age, kids don’t ask for much. They want food. A clean, dry diaper. And some snuggles. They don’t much care whether or not the crib sheets match the wall decor. Let’s face it ladies, we do all of this for us.
When does this shift? Somewhere shortly after this, our kids begin to pick favorite things. Shows they watch, games they play, books we read to them. As soon as we see that baby likes Elmo, we start buying baby Elmo things.
Eventually, our babies get old enough to ask for things. And we buy them. They may want toys from a favorite movie. They might like to have pretend tools and a workbench. Or race cars and dump trucks. Or baby dolls with a pretend stroller.
They’re going to want a bicycle or a baseball bat. Maybe some roller skates or a scooter. It could be that they want you to buy them art supplies or books to read. They will want a video game system. And games that might require a membership subscription.
Now that they’re older, they have probably asked to pick out the clothes that we buy them too. They start noticing what other kids are wearing. They develop their own sense of style. And opinion. And they might argue with us when we want to buy them jeans from Target instead of from American Eagle.
So what do we do? What kind of clothes and shoes do we buy for our kids? And why?
We buy clothes for our kids because, well, we have to. It’s our job to keep them clothed and fed and provide them shelter. But why do we have to buy them the latest style of jeans? Or the popular brand of shoes? I don’t think anything says that we have to buy our kids the things that everyone else is wearing.
But we buy it. We buy the name brand things even when it means that we might need to get them secondhand. Most of us moms want our kids to fit in. We all know from our own childhood how important social cliques are. We know what it feels like to compare ourselves to others. We still do it today.
Growing up, I was taught the value of money. I always knew that hard work is needed to have the material possessions that we both need and want. I begged my parents for Jordache Jeans. And those Nike sneakers with the pale purple swoosh and the matching stripe on the laces. And I got them. The shoes were my most special Christmas gift that year. And I bought the jeans with my own money that I earned by babysitting.
I didn’t have all of the name brand things, but I felt pretty balanced out. Some things were bought for me and some things were earned. I learned not to spend frivolously and also how to look for sales.
Once we become adults, it doesn’t take long to realize that we all have a budget. Some of our budgets are small. Some are medium. And some are large. From what I have observed from many years of working in a school in an affluent community, most moms find a way to get the clothes for their kids. THE clothes. And THE shoes. Smaller budget? No problem. They wait for bigger sales. Or hand me downs. Or use a credit card. They find a way. Larger budget? Well those kids might have more than one pair of expensive shoes.
We do what we can to help our kids fit in socially. We know that confidence encourages healthy relationships with peers. We know that wearing clothes they feel like they look good in improves their confidence. We know they are less likely to be teased when they are wearing the current fashion.
Then there is a difference between regular clothes and special clothes. By special clothes, I mean, a new outfit for school picture day. Or a school dance. Or awards ceremony. Prom. Homecoming. I’ve been thinking about this more and more since my daughter has been in high school. The special clothes can really make the differences in family budgets stand out.
My Facebook and Instagram feeds were filled with prom pictures a few months ago. And now the chatter about homecoming dress shopping really has me thinking about this. I love seeing the beautiful pictures of kids cleaned up and dressed so fancy. The sparkly dresses and fancy shoes. The salon perfected hair and nails. The makeup fit for a runway model. Then there are the limousines. It’s not just a limo for a couple of rich kids anymore. It’s a whole party bus filled with paired off couples with guys wearing color coordinated tuxes. The limo glimmers with colored lights and a bar stocked with soft drinks and snacks. It’s a like a magical fairytale!
And then I pause. I remember my own proms and homecoming dances too. They seemed to be much simpler then, but maybe it was because my parents made sure it stayed simple. I think about my daughter. And what she will wear when it’s her turn to go to prom. I know that on a single mom income, I can’t afford a professional photographer. Or a party bus. But I will find a way to save for a dress. We will find one on sale or maybe secondhand, but like any other mom, I want her prom to be magical too.
So I’ve had conversations with my daughter about this already. What if we had lots of money? What if the cost was not something that we needed to consider when making prom choices at all? I wondered if I would indulge my child in this kind of scene. Is it that I am slightly envious of those other families? Families whose children never go without.
I often wonder how these girls who get the fairytale prom now will do when they are planning their weddings. What will they expect? And what if they never learn to live under their means? What happens if they end up divorced? And have to live on a smaller income like I had to do? How is overindulging them in high school going to affect them when they are adults?
How do we know what is enough?
There isn’t really a right or wrong answer to this question. But moms, you need to do YOU. Do what YOU think is appropriate. Do what YOU can afford. This isn’t a contest. So think about why you buy them what you buy. Is it for them? Or for you?
So whatever you decide, own it. Because our daughters are watching us. Know why you do what you do. And like anything else we get to decide as mothers, don’t let anyone shame you for it.