Every now and then, the newspaper delivery comes with a toy catalog. I get rid of it before my kids get the chance to start pointing, asking and begging for the toys.
The thing is, getting rid of that catalog reminds me of those multi-headed monsters in Greek mythology. Once you chop off one head, two more grow in its place.
In this case, once you toss one out, four more magically appear in your children’s hands.
Even without the catalog, there is a never-ending stream of TV commercials on the children’s channels, informing them of the latest toys they simply have to get, right now!
Is it just me, or is the culture of instant gratification and consumerism at an all-time high nowadays? Sadly, its target audience has broadened to include the most vulnerable and impressionable—the children.
I look around, and I am both shocked and amazed at how accessible everything is to kids. I hate to sound like a grumpy old grandma who compares the present time with the past that we grew up in; but please humor me as I take a trip down memory lane.
If you were a child of the 1980s, you probably still remember how special it was to receive a new toy. There was not much to choose from, since there were very few places selling them.
We were perfectly content with whatever stock the stores had because we didn’t know what else was out there since there were no ads on TV or store catalogues. There weren’t even real toy stores that I can remember!
The place to go for one’s birthday was Gift Gate on the second floor of Shoppesville, Greenhills. It was stocked with Hello Kitty, My Little Twin Stars and Kero Kero Keroppi items to make any little girl’s heart sing with joy.
Hope and pray
Nearby was a small store that was probably owned by a viajera. It had Barbie and Ken dolls, Barbie’s pink Porsche and dreamhouse, arts and crafts toys and several other brands.
There were only one or two pieces of each item, so if you saw something nice today, chances were, by the time your birthday or Christmas came, it was gone. The most you could do was hope and pray that somehow, your mom had bought it in advance for you or requested a tita to bring one home for you from abroad.
There weren’t many opportunities or choices for toy shopping because in general, although Rustan’s, SM and Cinderella always had beautiful dresses all year round, they had only a few shelves of toys and didn’t usually stock up unless it was Christmas. (At least that’s how I remember it, but I could be wrong.)
When my parents would travel abroad, I would eagerly look forward to their return, and of course, the “imported” pasalubong. “Imported” was like a magic word spoken in awe and reverence. To a child, it meant that one had to take extra care of the toy because there was none available locally, and you could never replace it if you lost or broke it.
Despite the lack of access to more toys, everyone I knew grew up happy and content with the toy scene back then. We all learned to wait for a store to replenish its stock, choose another item instead or wait for the balikbayan box.
Today things are so different, I don’t even know where to begin!
Department stores have not just a section but a whole floor and even separate stores just for toys and gadgets. There are specialty shops and registries (which, I have to admit, makes life so much easier when I am shopping for godchildren and nephews); and for those impossible-to-find hot items, there’s always amazon.com.
Also, nothing is irreplaceable or truly special because there’s so much; I don’t think kids even know what they really want.
I know it’s useless to insist on going back to how things were in the past. How can I expect to prepare my children for the demands of the present and future if I close my eyes to the realities they are growing up with?
However, I do believe in preserving the lessons of yesterday and applying them today.
Heaven forbid we end up with a future full of adults feeling entitled to having everything they want, right now.
The truth is, this culture of instant gratification and consumerism would not prevail without us abetting it. We ourselves are the enablers of our children, wittingly or not.
With hearts full of good intentions, such as ensuring that our children have a happy childhood, we want to make sure that everything about their time with us screams “Best. Day. Ever!” Naturally that means no tears or unfulfilled requests.
But in the long run, it is a disservice to our children to allow them to grow up thinking that everything revolves around them, and that they are entitled to have everything they want instantly, simply because, well, they want it.
Don’t get me wrong; just like any parent, I want to give my kids the best of everything, and whatever their little hearts desire.
But more than giving my children the best and latest toys and trends, I want to give my kids lessons on patience, gratitude and contentment. I worry that if they don’t learn it from me today, they will have a problem when the day comes that they want something I cannot give them or that they simply cannot have.
Unfortunately, among the lessons I want to impart, I find that this is one of the most difficult.
Many times, I feel like the whole universe is conspiring against me by constantly bombarding my children with messages that are contrary to what I am trying to teach them, or providing them so many opportunities to get what they want that I appear like the Wicked Witch of the West every time I say “No.”
Add to that the fact that sometimes, it is just so much easier to say “Yes” than to stand your ground and insist on “No.”
It is so tempting to give in to a child’s pleas, especially when I see that it is just a small, cheap item. But I remind myself that it is the principle of the thing, and not just the value or cost of an item, that matters.
Then there are days it becomes a battle of who can last longer, the one crying or the one who has to endure listening to it. What is it to give in just this one time, for some peace and quiet? But then I think and ask myself, “Why should I reward unacceptable behavior?”
I may be doing myself a favor now, but by reinforcing negative behavior today, I know I am just setting myself up for more trouble tomorrow.
Just like with everything in parenthood, I have good days and bad days. Sometimes, everything goes according to plan and sometimes nothing does.
It’s a work in progress, but I think that for as long as we are aware of what kind of world our children are growing up in, we can prepare and teach them the right values and principles.
This way, our children won’t be eaten up by the culture of consumerism and instant gratification, and not turn into adults we won’t recognize.