“You Really Are A Spoiled Generation”

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Dec 9, 2016

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It was my daughter’s birthday last month. As she leaned over her birthday cake, she could barely contain her excitement. She knew exactly what was in the wrapped box on the table. She had waited (and pleaded) for it.

She blew out the candles, ripped open the packaging, and pulled out her new phone.

As she danced around the table, shrieking in excitement, I was pleased to see her so happy about her gift. And yet, there was that ever-present voice in my head that made me anxious – a voice whispering that we are giving our children too much, too easily. Unfortunately, it did not remain an inner voice.

“You really are a spoiled generation to have so much, so early,” I blurted out.

It was a mere passing remark, but my little girl was terribly upset by it.

“You always do this,” she sobbed.

Much as I would like to dismiss her reaction as tween drama, it wasn’t. She had really wanted that phone and had waited patiently for it for a whole year, even as every other child in her class gotten one. I’d put many conditions on the use of the device – chores to do around the house, early bedtimes – and she had gracefully accepted them all. She had jumped through many hoops and delayed gratification by many months to have what she wanted.

But in the aftermath of my comment, she cried to her grandmother that I always made her feel guilty for being able to have things, and that she frequently didn’t ask for things because she feared my reaction. She hadn’t signed on for a school activity, she said, because she didn’t want to hear me rant about the stuff it required us to buy.

I was stunned. I am usually loudly indignant when described as a strict mum, but hearing this — that my daughter felt constrained to voice her dreams to me – shocked me into silence. On most mornings, as parents, my husband and I are making it up as we go along. And there are some days – like this one – when I know I’ve failed. In my anxiety to drill home an important lesson, I was actually using tactics that were undermining my child’s ambition.

  “You really are a spoiled generation to have so much, so early,” I blurted out.

Every generation believes that the next has too much. My grandparents would tell us about how their childhood in the village was so much harder than the comforts of our electricity-powered city homes. They, too, fretted that my brother and I would grow up apathetic and careless for it.

Yet, in the context of our own times and milieu, we perceived our lifestyles as restrained. Our parents inculcated in us the value of hard work and sensible choices even as they let us have more than they had ever had themselves as children. As I reflect upon it, their commitment to give us a better life than their own fueled us to want more from ourselves.

So why can’t I trust I’m doing the same?

I am firmly bought into the idea that deprivation is the mother of drive. I remind my kids often that the life they live is not of their making and they should not get conceited about it. I worry that, if they do, comfort and privilege taken for granted will dull their ability to aspire.

But, by the same logic, they should not be made to apologise for their life either. The birthday incident made it painfully inescapable: It’s not physical comfort but concern about my words that is inhibiting my daughter.

This is all coming to a head now, during the holidays, as children in my family are writing their letters to Santa with reminders of how good they have been and plaintive requests for toys and puppies. My kids, like most, have a ready list of demands, and it feels like too many recent conversations with them are about how they “need” some shiny new object, device or endless cricket paraphernalia.

The adults in our family can be categorized cleanly by their responses to such requests as the ‘Endless Indulgers’ and the ‘Perpetual Fretters.’ In the first group are typically grandparents and, more frequently than I would like, my husband, who jokes that I respond with an “Oh-my-God-do-they-not-see-how-little-those-around-them-have-they-are-being-utterly-spoilt” face (and sometimes voice) indiscriminately to all requests from expensive shoes to sleepovers to extra cheese on their toast.

My defense is that as the single Perpetual Fretter in our home, I feel compelled to counter-balance the endless indulgence. I stoutly hold that I do not deny for denial’s sake. But I’m beginning to see his point. And, perhaps, the unintended consequences of my perpetual fretting.

So, this Holiday season, I am learning not to define the state of my children’s values by the physical things they have (or ask for) but by the behaviours they exhibit. I am celebrating when they agree to delayed gratification, take responsibility, care about others and buckle down for some hard work to earn the things they want.

My daughter, in the meantime, is reveling in her new phone. I am biting my tongue more than usual. And my husband, while grateful we can now get through breakfast without comments on how lucky we are to eat cheese every day, is now worrying that my new outlook means the kids will have to bake their own bread to be applauded.

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Written By Swati Apte

Swati Apte lives in Mumbai and is passionate about initiatives at the intersection of arts, social enterprise, and leadership development. She reads paper books and watches youtube videos with equal alacrity, and gently coaxes her friends, husband, and her two children into adventures to tops of mountains or into deep forests.

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