Today one of the most shared items on BBC News is an article titled, Are Children Given Too Many Toys? Without any hesitation I would have to say… YES! That’s my answer anyway. This is a re-post of an article I wrote for Aura’s House (my grassroots charitable website that helps needy children in developing countries) about two years ago called Too Much is Enough -An Open Letter to a Future Grandmother:
Dear Me in 35 Years (Give or Take),
I am writing to you at 3:09 in the morning in my chilly home office in Rome, Italy the day after my son’s second birthday on October 11, 2011. Can you remember now why you’d be up so early when you have three classes to teach tomorrow and the daily grind to attend to? Remember you are also 29 weeks pregnant and in dire need of some proper rest.
You can’t sleep because you feel overwhelmed. Not by student loan debt which used to keep you awake at night several years ago. (Thank goodness you finally paid those off!) You are fortunate not to worry about the stack of bills in the tray by the door that need to be paid, clothing your family, or where the next meal will come from. You have a decent job and your husband an even better one. You have saved some money to hopefully buy a house in the next few years and even started a savings account for your son Lukas to someday go to college and you plan to do the same when “Baby Biscuit” makes his debut in December. No, you don’t have the same worries that the vast majority of people on the planet do who don’t have enough.
You are awake because you can’t get the flood of material things out of your mind. You don’t worry about yourself or your husband (who eat off of chipped plates and own just one ancient television set), but rather what an excess of too much stuff might do to your sons. At the moment your son is fortunate enough to have all four grandparents. I’m sure when you finally read this letter 35 or so years from now you will miss them all desperately and wish that you could spend just a few minutes more with each.
At the moment though your son’s four grandparents all live thousands of miles away and are constantly longing for their grandson, buy clothing and toys out of love on an almost weekly basis so that it piles up. They wait to eventually dispose of the hoard at those rare times of the year when it is finally possible to meet in person or via boxes in the mail before starting the ritual all over again.
Petty as it seems now, back then you were concerned that your son had too much. You saw his room exploding with toys, which have now spilled over into the living room and threaten to take over the rest of the limited living space of the family apartment as well. His closet bursts with clothes, and all the outgrown clothes are stored under tables, in closets, under beds, and now are taking over space in the bedroom.
You feel grateful yet queasy when he received seven toys in the span of ten minutes yesterday from his German grandparents. Just as he was about to enjoy one of them, another was quickly put in his hand with the former being temporarily discarded on the floor. When your son visits his grandparents in the US, they set up a virtual toy store in their home with every room holding twenty toys or more for your visits. Can you blame these well-meaning relatives who resist your protests that they are giving too much? Surely not! They themselves grew up in poverty and lived through the worst war the world has ever known. Your son’s grandparents knew hunger, poverty, lack of opportunities, limited access to education, and deprivation in their younger years. So how can you deprive them of sharing their good fortune in their later years?
So what am I trying to say, Me 35 years from now? Who knows what the world is like then. You hopefully now have grandchildren of your own. I can only imagine you are showering them with material objects as well to make sure they have everything they need in life. I can tell you now (hypocrite that I am) that I hope your grandchildren don’t live thousands of miles away from you as I already know you’d like to see them on a daily or weekly basis and give them your love in person.
I am just asking you to remember to first see what they need and respect (or at least politely listen to) their parents’ wishes if they ask you for anything in particular or to limit your giving all together. You can also give your grandchildren experiences instead of toys like a nice lunch out or a special trip to a museum or theme park. College funds are great. No one will ever complain that your money was wasted on education. As for giving material things… just think that if you buy them a few special toys or clothing items on only special occasions, they are more likely to be treasured and less likely to get stuffed in an attic or box in a frantic attempt to make room for more stuff. I know you have always had a thing for meaningful gifts rather than trying to overwhelm with sheer quantity. Are you still like that?
Shower the ones you love with love as they say. But remember the ones who don’t have love or resources in their lives as well. There’s enough for your own grandchildren, but you can also help other little ones not so lucky to have so many resources. Remember the little boy you saw in rural Tanzania back in 2005 who was about the same age as your son was the day I write this? You will always remember that he had one yellow boot and a “toy” made out of wood scraps and junk that crudely resembled a car. Of all the poverty you saw during your travels in the world, will this one image ever get out of your mind? Will it continue to help fuel your fire to help other people’s children and grandchildren as well as your own?
Phew. Well thanks for reading, future self. I think I can finally go back to sleep now. I hope your life is safe and happy and free from deprivation and suffering and that you still are able to help others.
With my deepest love and warm wishes,
Article originally published on October 11, 2011 on Aura’s House