A few years ago, my children and I were struggling financially. Actually, we were flat broke. We lived in a tiny apartment barely fit for human habitation. We didn’t have a car. We were constantly behind on rent and utilities. We ate what we could buy with our meager allotment of food stamps — that is, we did, when the state decided to send them on time. We once went two months between payments. I had nothing left to sell and we relied on charity.
It was a terrible experience. But, in hindsight, there was a bright side I never noticed. My children valued their precious few toys. They cleaned up without being asked, even my young toddler. My daughter walked to the store with me every day to buy food (We could only buy what we could carry, and I had to hold the baby). We walked through 18-inches of snow. We walked in the rain. When I told my daughter I couldn’t afford a toy or a piece of candy, she understood. My son ate whatever food I put before him without a fuss. An empty belly is a pretty damn good motivator.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my daughter had behavioral problems even then. She has a disorder that causes disruptive outbursts. So I’m not going to lie to you and say my kids were angels. But they were pretty darn great, and I sure didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. Bedtime consisted of four little feet marching right off to their beds for a song, a story, and straight to sleep.
And then one day our situation changed for the better. We moved in with a wonderful man and his daughter. He expressed amazement when my children walked through the toy aisle at Walmart without asking for a single thing. He asked how I made bedtime so peaceful. My daughter still had her outbursts, but she balanced them with wonderful qualities.
We weren’t “well off” by any means, although my husband worked his ass off for our new blended family. So the change in my children was unexpected. We wanted them to be comfortable, of course. We wanted them to have full bellies and fun toys and proper beds. But as time went on, they didn’t have to work for those things anymore. Their toys no longer fit tidily into organized bins. We could drive to the grocery store or the playground. The kitchen was stocked with food, and suddenly “I don’t like it” entered their vocabulary. They watched TV. They had cable for the first time in their lives.
And it changed them.
Little by little, day by day, over the last five years, it changed them. Suddenly every advertisement on television brought cries of “can I get that?!” Entire food groups were boycotted. Cleaning up became such a huge chore, because of the sheer amount of stuff we owned, that they refused to do it. Their belongings weren’t precious to them anymore. Favorite outfits no longer had to be hand-washed in the bathtub and ended up crumpled on the floor. Or shoved behind the dresser.
And where our new, comfortable life should have been a beautiful blessing, it became ugly. My children are ungrateful, entitled, and spoiled. Thank God they’ve retained good manners in public, or I might give up on this mothering thing entirely. And worse, they’re angry. They are constantly angry and they don’t even know why. They perceive everything as an injustice and meet it with righteous rage. They don’t appreciate anything in their lives, including each other.
I’ve been utterly dismayed watching them morph into little people I don’t know or understand. I mean, come on, we’re a paycheck to paycheck family, surely my children are not entitled? But they are, and it didn’t take expensive trips, designer clothes, or electronics to do it. It took just a little bit “more” than what they used to have, for a little bit “less” work. It took the dawning realization that they simply didn’t “have to” in order to survive. It took seeing other children saying “no” to make them believe that everything asked of them was optional.
But I certainly can’t keep them locked away from society to avoid bad influences, can I? Is that an option? Well, maybe not. As much as I’d love to live deep in the woods, far away from modern society, it wouldn’t be fair to them. But something has to give. My family needs an entire lifestyle change. They need less material junk in their lives, and a good measure more hard work. I thought a comfortable life would make them happy, but it’s only made them miserable. I feel like I’ve lost my children, the appreciative, helpful little people they used to be. And I want them back.
I never, in a million years, would have guessed that something as simple as having a ride to the grocery store would profoundly affect my children. Now, I can understand why. My children were used to hard work, they were used to being accountable and responsible for themselves at a very young age, and I took that from them. I didn’t give them an easier life, I gave them a less important one. I took away the things that gave them worth.
It doesn’t make them feel good to care for their things, when those things are meaningless and replaceable. One toy is precious, a hundred toys are a burden. My son tries to organize and care for his toy cars, but he has so many that it’s overwhelming. My daughter’s shelf is overflowing with art supplies. She doesn’t have to be as creative with old scraps. She doesn’t need to keep track of every marker and colored pencil when they’re only a dollar at the store. And it’s not a big deal to spend a dollar, right? It should be. It used to be a big deal, for us. But I’ve taken that away. I’ve inundated them with so much, that they no longer have the capacity to care for it all. It is entirely and completely my fault. I thought I was improving their lives, but I was only removing value from it.
If I have learned anything from my life, it’s that a little struggle is good for a person. My children needed a better situation, but they didn’t need it handed to them. It’s time to fix that. It’s probably going to be a rude awakening for them. They’re probably going to be mad at me. I think it will be OK. We’re going to work toward becoming a self-sustaining household. They’re going to have to put in their fair share. One day, demands for toys and junk will be a distant memory. It can’t be a dream anymore, to give them a back-to-basics life. It has to start right now.
If we have to live in the city, we’re going to urban homestead. We’re going to own less, waste less, and do more. They need it. I need it. We’re going to become better people, even if that means becoming less modern.
This story was republished from Medium. You can read Sasha Fleischer’s original post here.