As I walked down the street listening to my young daughter, I found myself also having an internal conversation. The conversation had started innocently enough. Excitement about Christmas. Entirely natural for a child. Not quite so exciting for a jaded adult but still. “Did your parents buy you a car for Christmas when you were old enough to drive?” she asked.
This is where a conversation started in my mind as well as with my daughter. “A Car? Where are we if she thinks you get a car for Christmas?” I said internally.
“Hmmm. No, we had one car in my family. A used car,” I said.
“Oh, I thought you know, kids at 17 got a car for Christmas or birthday…” she said her voice trailing away a bit. “So, what did you get for Christmas?”
“Oh an apple, an orange, a package of chocolate bars….” I said, not deliberately starting with those items. I watched her face. The nose turned up in puzzlement and disgust.
“Probably some clothes – one or two items, a record perhaps and a main gift.” I watched her face with a sideways glance…..and stepped in before she could say anything about a car. “Something like a single cassette recorder one year, a guitar another year or perhaps a radio/alarm.”
There was some silence.
“That’s all?” she asked.
“All? All! Hell, that was amazing. Later, we would visit different family members in turn for dinner or lunch and play cards or watch the movie on TV and we would get small gifts there too.”
My mind was now engaged in a blame game. “Have we totally ruined this girl?”
“Perhaps some socks, pens, book that sort of thing.” I added.
There was a longer silence.
“So why did I think you might get a car?” she asked.
“Too many American movies maybe,” I suggested.
This was followed by questions about how I felt about such poor fare for Christmas and so on. I think I did a pretty good job of setting the scene letting her know that I was born only 15-years after WW2 and that there was still food rationing in that era so some fruit was a luxury and chocolates too. I told her that I was lucky and that we had always more than we asked for and very happy. “Our expectations were much less back then,” I finished.
She accepted this it seemed. I even fancied she understood that she was lucky, very lucky to be getting many gifts even if a lot were ‘just clothes‘. She now knew there would be no car in 5-years time. She wasn’t disappointed. Least not so far as I could tell.
For me, it reinforced a growing feeling of distaste for consumerism. That we take so much for granted and still want more. And this is not getting better is it? We want to give our kids the best but we need to be careful how we approach that. We are giving them an impression that, well, you can have it all and more besides. It reminded me of arriving here in 2006 with a single half-filled suitcase containing a few undies, socks, a pair of jeans and a few T-shirts. I had left behind a 4 bedroom house, three cars, swimming pool and a home stuffed full of everything you could ever want or need.
I didn’t miss any of it. The only thing I missed were my boys and my friends…..my books and photos.
How can I teach that to my daughter? How do you teach gratitude and lower expectations?
Over the next few days, she said a few bits and pieces though that suggested to me she had figured out a few things already. She had also pondered that conversation and her expectations and I can see she modified her expectations. I have done similar and know I need to talk a bit more about the bigger picture. We will have plenty of time in the next week or so.