Wanting It All
One of the great benefits of motherhood is that on the other side of birthing a tiny human, I am able to better discern what will actually make me happy, as opposed to what I think will make me happy. I’m not entirely sure why that’s been a gift from motherhood—perhaps because decisiveness and self-knowledge are paramount to being a good mom. Regardless, this understanding of my own happiness has made me a better decision-maker, a more mellow partner, and frankly, a much more demanding shopper. That latter piece is something I reflect on often: I’m far less materialistic than I was even a few years ago. If I’m going to spend money on something for myself, I better be certain that it’s going to bring me (and I’m paraphrasing Marie Kondo here) a lot of effing joy. I know that new clothes don’t make me happy for long—really, I just need a pair of functional jeans and good quality yoga pants. Jewelry doesn’t need to be expensive to make me feel fancy. And most of the time, I couldn’t care less that I drive a very well-loved, older car—I’m not spending my money on a newer one. Even living in an affluent area of the country, I don’t get pulled into the siren song of “I want, I want, I want” as easily as I used to. I spend less money on “stuff,” and there’s not much of it that I deeply desire. That’s an achievement I feel proud of. I’m not keeping up with the Kardashians or the Joneses. I’m rocking my ancient iPhone and my seen-better-days sneakers, knowing full well that a newer iPhone wouldn’t bring me any greater happiness than I already possess—so why bother?
But. (Sigh. There’s always a but, isn’t there?)
I’m not so great at negating the “I want” attitude steadily growing in my daughter.
It starts with babyhood: as mamas, don’t we intuitively give our little ones everything? From the moment of birth, every moment, every bit of energy, the very lifeforce in our bodies flows without ebbing toward our sweet babes. And that’s as it should be, at least initially. Our job is to keep these little beings alive, thriving, and that takes every bit of us. Giving all that is asked for is essentially the job description of motherhood. And it’s very freeing: to love completely and fulfill another person’s needs without question is such a beautiful, easy love. There’s no holding back, no restraint. Whatever my baby needed, I gave her.
But she’s not a baby anymore. She’s a preschooler. She still needs me and my love without any holding back. And my love still flows to her steadily, with that same force of caregiving and completeness. But what I’m able to give her now involves not just the intangibility of love, but the very real items that money can buy.
It’s a great joy of privilege and motherhood to be able to use money to buy my kiddo something she wants, whether that’s a material gift or an amazing experience. It’s gloriously fun to see her face light up! Watching her open special gifts makes me teary with joy and happiness. But the giving of gifts and stuff does require restraint—and I’m not used to restraining my love for my kiddo in any way.
This isn’t a confessional of spoiling, though: I regularly say no to the things my daughter asks for. But I find this process of limiting indulgences to be more fraught than I expected. Even as I’ve grown wiser about what will bring me joy, thwarting the steady drumbeat of our society’s materialism, I’m finding it more challenging to limit my daughter’s desires for excess. For the holidays last year, she requested “fancy dresses.” How many were too many? Which ones would she love? How much was too much to spend on a dress for a preschooler? Did she even need these dresses at all? When it comes to my own desires, the lines are cleaner, the choices more obvious. When it comes to hers, what feels natural is to give her the moon and stars. But what feels natural is not always best.
Yogic philosophy offers an answer in Aparigraha, the virtue of non-greediness. Aparigraha reminds us that we should avoid grasping for things we don’t need, and we should keep our desires rooted in what is necessary and important, rather than frivolous and vacuous. But it pretty much feels like all the desires of a preschooler are frivolous and vacuous. Her very existence is wanting things she doesn’t actually need: the snazzy lunchboxes and sneakers of schoolmates, check-out lane snacks at the grocery store, an abandoned toy car she finds at the playground. Which of these things is the obvious no? All of them? Some of them? Depends on the day of the week?
But Aparigraha at least gives me a starting place. Does my daughter want something in the moment because of boredom? Because of a deeper desire? While I can’t always discern this correctly, I can start there. I can begin to teach her to question her innate want-instinct. Just today, flipping through a book, she saw an advertisement on the back page for a plush toy of a character she loves. “Oh look!,” she pointed. “What’s that? Can I have one of those?” Kindly, I pointed out that she doesn’t really play with the stuffed animals she has. “Would you really enjoy that?,” I asked her. She moved on quickly, realizing that I was right. I’ll take these small victories in the “I want” wars.
Our children want it all—they have an insatiable desire to experience all that life can offer. And it’s a natural desire to want to give our children everything, anything they ask for. But because we want them to grow into balanced, patient adults and not terrible, entitled brats, we curtail and limit, of course. Still, it’s interesting to see how much easier it is to limit myself. It’s much easier to say no to my desire for ice cream than for me to say no to her desire for ice cream, for instance. And although I like to dress up, too, I own far, far fewer fancy dresses than my kid. But I’m pretty sure that’s not going to change any time soon.