Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How Much is Too Much?

A a couple of weekends ago, my sister and I decided to head out for a nighttime drive on the Wildlife Loop Road, hoping to see elk.  Unfortunately, we saw one fox and a few buffalo, which is kind of unimpressive for somebody who gets to see buffalo on an almost-daily basis.

As Liam dozed off in the back seat, we started talking about teaching (Michaela is majoring in Special Education at a small liberal arts school near Lincoln, NE), which inevitably led to a discussion of parenting. "I just want Liam to be down-to-earth," I said. I want him to know that he needs to work hard, that he has to earn things rather than just having them handed to him.

Since that night, I've been thinking about that a lot. First, I read this article on Slate, followed by this article in the New York Times and a discussion in another online professional development course I'm taking. 

Sometimes I think it's so hard to draw that line between helping and pushing just a little too hard (although, I think one should know that she's gone a little too far when she's stating, 'We're applying to Columbia'), between exposing our kids to new experiences and overstimulating them, between ensuring that we're raising happy kids and overpraising them. Even I find myself clapping and saying, "Good job, Liam" for small feats, and this isn't the first time I've read about Dr. Dweck's puzzle-solving study.

That night, as Michaela and I were discussing parenting, she shared two stories with me. The first was about a college professor of her's who gave her own children chores around the house. She paid them an allowance for completing those chores. Pretty simple. Nothing earth shattering. The thing was, when one of her sons quit doing his chores, she quit paying him the allowance. When he saw his siblings were able to buy popcorn at basketball games and he wasn't, he begged for his allowance back. She didn't just give it back to him, though. She made him apply and interview for the job.

The second story was about a family friend of our's who only gives her children one Christmas present in addition to the stocking they get from Santa Claus. That was pretty shocking for both Michaela and me. There wasn't much on our Christmas lists that we didn't get.

I think it takes us back to the old parenting axiom-- half the money twice the time. While I still sometimes feel inclined to buy Liam things because they're cute or he "needs them to learn ... skill," what he really needs is to spend time with me and play independently, learning with simple things we already have.

Liam doesn't need a bunch of fancy toys. Look at all of these toys he can play with for free at the local library.


  1. Couldn't agree more. Simple things! Great post my friend!

  2. You're a great mum! Kids just love to explore their surroundings, trust me, after 3 kids and a million dollars worth of toys that don't get used as much as the tupperware does, I have learnt to not buy for Liam the way I used to for the other two. He is happy having fun around the house and yard, visiting the park, going for walks or reading books. And...it saves cleaning up all that stuff!! Which I still have to do for all the things we already own :)
    Great post!!