Saturday, November 04, 2006


As the season of materialism approaches and the ads for ridiculously expensive Christmas gifts for kids increase, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to "spoil" a child. As my favorite hippie-pediatrician Dr. Sears says, the term "spoiled" implies a gallon of milk that has been left to rot in the fridge. The more attention you give a child, the less likely they are to be spoiled.

I did the whole "attachment parenting" thing, which was met with great approval from my mother in law (extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, knowing what the kid wants before they say it, lots of holding and comforting). However, I have been criticized by people of both American and Bangladeshi cultures for spoiling Isaac. I'm told that I buy too many toys for Isaac, I overindulge him, and that I'm "creating a monster". This might be true - I'm definitely not a perfect parent. But here is my attempt at defending myself.

1. Most of the things that I buy for Isaac are very small ticket items - less than $5. Big ticket items are planned way in advance, and many times, Isaac has to save up his own money to help buy them. So, yes, if you are looking at the sheer volume of toys that he has, it's a lot, especially when it's crammed into a small apartment. But the dollar amount that I spend on him is way less than what it looks like.

2. I would argue that from what I've observed at Isaac's friend's houses, he does not have nearly as many toys as other kids his age. Other people have entire huge ROOMS for their kids' toys, and the kids have their own bedrooms! Isaac has half a closet and he sleeps with me.

3. I DO NOT buy EVERYTHING that Isaac asks for, and I RARELY buy things immediately when he asks for them.

4. Isaac understands that the things he gets are because he has earned them, either by behavior, school performance, or some other measurement.

5. Isaac does not have tantrums when I say "no". Aren't tantrums are a defining characteristic of so-called "spoiled" children? In fact, I deliberately say no and make him wait for certain things because I want him to learn restraint. Also, he understands the value of money. If I decide to get something for him, I tell him that it has to be under a certain dollar amount, and he gets it.

6. Isaac is an only child, therefore we can afford to buy him more than if he had siblings. Conversely, he does not have siblings (or friends living nearby) to play with in order to pass time, so the toys give him something to do.

7. MOST of his toys are things that we play with together. We build Bionicles, have dragon wars, battle our Pokemon decks, and we play Gameboy games together.

8. I admit that sometimes I buy things for Isaac to assuage my guilt. For example, a few weeks ago when I spent the night in Madison, I saw some Dragonball Z DVD's for only 5 bucks apiece in a storefront. I bought them specifically to give to Isaac because I knew he'd be happy and it made me feel less bad about spending the night away from him. But is that so horrible? HE didn't know that I was giving it to him to make myself feel better, he was just happy to get a new DVD.

So, what do you think? What does it mean to spoil a kid?


Wendell77 said...


Right now in my limited experience I would say spoiled is a kid who doesn't say please or thank you. I just met a 2/3 y.o. who didn't do that, and her parents jumped at her beck and call, cleaned up her toys, etc. I was thinking "HELL to the no!" The kid was the boss.

I'll revisit this when I actually have a child!

gina said...

I'm an only child and I'm definately spoiled...spoiled with LOVE maybe...that's the only kind of spoiling you're doing. I wonder if I had a lot of toys? I think I did not. I had a barbie and some stuffed animals. My dad and I used to have this big box of pennies we would count and make trails with!

Big W said...

You're good. You don't have a spoiled kid. You have a lucky kid. As I find myself unexpectedly turning into an attachment parenting hippie to Phookie, I am already facing accusations of spoiling as she turns 6 weeks old. I'm sorry peoples, but it just feels right to give such a wee little nugget what she asks for (boobage, sleeping in my armpit) without making her scream and suffer. I can't think of what denying a hungry baby food or a lonely baby snuggles is going to do to make them a better person. So I'm not doin' it. So there. Stand your ground and don't feel bad about what others say.(Easier said than done, of course.)