Am I spoiling my children?




It’s possible that every store in America sells something that Giovanna wants. Slap a Disney Princess across the front and she’s sold. Which means I’m saying no a lot. No to the princess balloons (unless it’s Valentine’s Day!). No to the sugar-loaded treats displayed so prettily in the cafes. No to the candy-flavored lipsmackers at the checkout stand. I don’t even dare venture into the toy aisle.

It’s not your birthday, I say. Maybe for Christmas. Finish your bedtime chart, and I’ll buy it for you.

But then we celebrate Easter and she gets the Mermaid Barbie. Then, I find a dress on clearance at Old Navy or on the racks at Value Village, and why not? Kids need clothes often–they won’t stop growing and/or wrecking their clothes. I feel like I’m always buying her something.

And then there’s Emile, who could care less about the clothes we buy or don’t buy him, but sees an average of three Christmases (his mom’s house, our house, my parents’ house), three birthdays (his mom’s house, our house, his party with friends) and weekly gifts from his mother when he behaves well in school. It works though, he hasn’t gotten a red mark in a long while. As for Gigi, I’m not sure how I would have potty trained her without the potty chart. Bribery works absolute wonders for both of them.

I worry because I want my children to be intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically. I want them to do good and be good because it feels good, not because they want a new lego toy or princess dress. I don’t want them to have the “I wants.” I don’t want them obsessed with material possessions and amassing more. 

I want them to understand the value in giving and receiving a gift. I want to foster their imaginations with lego toys and princess dresses. I want them to cherish what they have. I want it be as simple as reminding them over and over again that everything costs money (I had an interesting conversation with Emile about this the other week. I’m still not sure he believes that the only thing truly free in life is nature), that we must spend it discreetly rather than frivolously. But I’m nervous that every time I say yes, every time I bribe, every time I try to buy their love with little gifts, I’m messing them up.

The other day at the grocery store, Gigi flipped out when I said no to a bag of Pirate’s Booty. With my three year old on the ground, tired and hungry, and my own stomach rumbling, I gave in. I said, “get up right now and I’ll buy you Pirate’s Booty.” Less than $3 for a peaceful shopping trip. I felt bad about buying more processed food, but I felt even worse about giving in. I’d been through too many of those public episodes in the previous week, and in the moment, I cared more about preserving my sanity than getting my way, asserting my power, saying no. 

Is it okay to choose our battles and occasionally say yes? Or should I ask our birthday party guests not to bring gifts? Could I even convince Santa Claus to take it easy? Is it okay to spoil our children, here and there? Or will we end up with lazy sons and shoplifting daughters? I don’t think so, but I also think that anything is possible, and how we raise our children matters immensely in the end. We have such limited control over our little ones, and we lose it exponentially with every inch they grow. While I still have the chance, I want to give them the best possible start at life. I’ve never heard an adult say, geez, I really wish my parents had spoiled me a bit more.

Do you worry about spoiling your children? Do they expect you to buy them stuff all the time? Even if you say no often, do they continue to ask? How did you teach them the value of a dollar?


  1. Hi Lucy, I just wanted to say that the fact your even asking these questions makes you way ahead of a lot of parents. It’s so tricky, though, I agree! You want kids to know how lucky they are that their parents are even able to buy them things, and (I imagine) you genuinely want to give them everything they want. It’s the same reason we want to protect kids from feeling uncomfortable ever, even though research (and experience) shows us that that’s when they grow the most. I constantly marvel at how hard parenting must be! I commend you for asking the question! Keep asking and analyzing…being even a little uncomfortable with the way things are and working to make it better is the way we grownups grow too…:)


    1. Thank you, Louise! Someone else said something similar–the fact that I’m even thinking about it means that I’m doing okay. We went to the grocery store this morning and it was another exercise in saying no and keeping her in control. Meanwhile, I’m holding a “strawberry shortcake dress” over her head to get her to go to bed easier and quicker at night. Yes, parenting is crazy. In a good way.


      1. Hi again! I was thinking about this question as though it was one I might get from a parent in my class (thank you for the professional development!)and something we always tell parents, and do at school, (and you might already be doing this, so if so, sorry!) is front load before entering a new or tricky situation so that kids know exactly what’s expected. She’s probably old enough to start having conversations in the car on the way to the store about how you expect her to behave and how much you believe in her ability to succeed because she is so big! You could also let her know upfront that you will only be buying what’s on your list, so there is really no reason to ask. Not saying this is magic or anything, but its amazing how kids respond when you tell them they are going to be awesome and then you expect it and celebrate it with them when they are. Also, have you read Mindset by Carol Dweck? It’s a cool way to think intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. Ok, now off my soap box. 🙂


      2. Yes, you’re right. I need to prep her more. It’s worth a try! Thank you for the advice, I do enjoy your soapbox 🙂 That book sounds like something I will devour–already requested it from the library.


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