That Is the everlasting question parents and those watching your parenting have.
As you already know, I am the youngest of seven. I had a great childhood and can honestly say my parents provided not only a quality of life but also some comfort. Now, if you ask my oldest siblings, they will say that I was spoiled from day one, and they had it harder than I did.
When I was younger I didn’t really put much thought to it other than thinking that maybe it was true because I was actually a very happy kid. Yes, I did hear the word “no” and had plenty of rules and expectations both at home and at school. But I also got treated with some comforts here and there.
According to my siblings though I never did anything and got whatever I wanted so to them I was a spoiled brat! Now, if you ask my parents, they will vehemently deny any favoritism for any of us. And you know what? I believe them! But wait, hear me out! Here is the why.
As a parent of three, like most of us at one point or another, I have wondered if I spoil my kids too much. I know for a fact if you ask other parents, some probably think so! While others would say, I have not.
But to truly dive into this subject, let’s see what the word “spoiled” means:
1. (of a person, especially a child) harmed in character by being treated too leniently or indulgently.
“he acts like a spoiled brat”
This definition, of course, merits more clarification so let’s see what “leniently” and “indulgently” means.
US /ˈliː.ni.ənt.li/ UK /ˈliː.ni.ənt.li/
in a way that punishes or judges someone less strongly or severely than would be expected:
US /ɪnˈdʌl.dʒənt.li/ UK /ɪnˈdʌl.dʒənt.li/
in a way that allows someone to have or do what they want, especially when this is not good for them:
Ok, so do you now have clarity? If not, no worries! Let’s dive in together and figure out what “spoiling” truly means.
So far, we have learned that spoiling someone is to teach, discipline, or treat them less strongly than we normally would. Even if it is not good for them.
Some people would argue that the practice of spoiling comes at an early age. For me, it started when they were babies. The comments about me picking them up when they cried or giving them a snack when they were fussy (outside of schedule) were for sure going to ruin them for life.
“You have to teach them from day one!” To be honest, I could get myself the latest iPhone if I had a penny for each time I heard it! I am sure you have, too, for these or for different reasons in all of your parenting life.
Everyone has different parenting styles. But above all, we all have different kids. Each child has their own personality, and the “one size for all” isn’t going to work. I believe that as a parent, sometimes we jump too quickly to judge those who parent differently than we do or different than we were.
I personally have no issue with another parent giving me feedback or advice. I take it all in good faith because I know that at the end of the day, as parents, all we want is for children to be happy and loved.
Things to take into consideration, though, are that families come from a series of different backgrounds. Things and experiences we have in our life, like the ones below, will have an impact on how we parent our child:
- Experience in parenting
- Child’s unique needs
- Financial status
- Family size
- Community support or lack of
- Family history
- The times we are living
- Living close to family
- Having no family close by
The list could go on and on, but at the end of the day, the only way to truly know if a child is spoiled it truly is impossible because, most of the time, we do not have all the facts.
For example, I have three kids. My two oldest were the children of divorce. My marital status had an impact on how I valued the time we spent together. While a parent who has their child full time was comfortable going out for girl’s night, I was not. I had involuntarily lost time with them, so my time was focused and planned around them. That meant that I wanted to take advantage of every second we had. We did not have the usual amount of time to do things that families do, so sometimes we would be watching a movie at school or staying up late, unlike other children in the neighborhood.
The fact is that between my work responsibilities and their time at home, it was most likely the only night we could do this was a school night! To a lot of parents around me, this was a major no-no. I was spoiling them by letting them stay past their bedtime.
Another example was them getting a cell phone. As children of divorce, my children got a cell phone earlier than most kids their age. Again I heard plenty of opinions about them having a phone. “How can you?” “That is insane!” Well, as a divorced parent, having a direct line of communication with my child was a priority. Not all homes have a landline anymore, so access to connect with your child when with the other parent sometimes.
Having their own phone was a “luxury” to their peers and a major spoiling alert to adults, but to us, it was a way to keep a continuum of communication when we were apart.
It is my experience that we often mistake spoiling a kid for meeting the child’s or family’s needs. The fact is that each family has its own story and needs. Nowadays, my youngest has a phone, not because she isn’t home with me full time, but because of safety concerns I have. Between school shootings and her siblings being young adults living outside the home, yes, I want my 10-year-old to have a phone to call me if she is in an unsafe situation or be able to call her siblings, who she adores and grow their sibling their relationship as much as they want.
Now, this brings me to the “What is too much?” I have heard about the “crying out” method for decades now. What is that, you may ask? Well, if the baby is crying, let him cry himself to sleep. If the baby is crying for no reason, let her cry it out, so she realizes she is not going to get her way.” “You have to start them young!”. Like seriously? Yes, yes, I am! I have never been a fan of that method or anything that teaches children that emotions aren’t allowed.
Now, no judgment about the crying-out method, but I would like to believe that in the year 2023, we have learned better ways than letting a day-old cry her/himself to sleep. I am all for empowering children to learn how to soothe themselves, but I am a firm believer that a baby doesn’t cry just because. My mom told me years ago a baby cries if she is sleepy, hungry, or has a wet diaper. So picking up a crying baby might be like spoiling to most but is it? Or is it just doing our job as parents?
Let’s move on to the next one. Spoiling during special occasions or holidays! Raise your hand if you are one of those! We are all aware that those times when piles and piles of presents adorned the bottom of a home are gone for most. Most of us families live on a budget. Some budgets are larger than others. Again as the youngest of my siblings, I heard plenty of times how lucky I was to get presents every year. The most vivid one is when I got a walkman at the age of ten while my older siblings had to wait until they could buy it themselves. Yes, that made me a spoiled brat!
Having kids in two different age groups, I can tell you why I got a walkman, and my siblings did not. By the time I was ten, the first half of my siblings had already moved out of the house. My parents had paid off their house, and my dad had a successful business. So yes, I got “spoiled” more by getting things my siblings didn’t. But, let’s stop for a minute. Was I spoiled, or were my parents finally able to provide a toy they couldn’t provide to my older siblings? Is it my fault that my parents had more residual income than when they were growing up?
Now to add more to this layer of the conversation. Should children of parents who enjoy treating their kids be called “spoiled brats”? The fact is that a kid who has a toy or electronic device these days is often labeled as spoiled but are they?
Some people love to make others smile. That type of personality is the kind that will bring all kinds of treats and toys for their kids. Does that mean that the kid is spoiled? I do not think so. What do you think? Where do you stand on that?
If a 10-year-old has an iPad or PS5, that doesn’t mean that that child is a brat. Remember, the definition of spoiled is giving the kid or person more latitude or giving them everything they want, even is not good for them. So what is it? Are they or not?
Well, I believe that most of these decisions are not about value or toys or not. If you have an artistic child, should you withhold high-quality supplies and stick to the Walmart crayon family pack? Should you keep design software off their list because they are too young and aren’t worthy of them? I think not!
If my child shows the potential to be a dancer, painter, graphic designer, etc. I hope I can provide them with the best tools/classes there are so they can reach their potential. Does this mean the kid is spoiled? Probably not.
I often hear people say, “He is too young to have that!” Yeah, sometimes, as parents, we overindulge. But most of the time let’s be clear here we know our kid and we know if a class or device will support their learning better, we go for the tools even if the price tags are a bit high.
I do not believe that just because a kid is 12, he/she does not deserve the same device a 22-year-old got. Providing the appropriate tools isn’t spoiling but supporting that kid. And believe me when I say this. A lot of adults have no clue how to maximize the use of some of the devices we own, but we frown upon a child knowing how to use it to its max. Now there, of course, has to be a balance! But withholding technology tools or things alike isn’t fair to children who are growing up in a world where a lot of those things are the norm for learning and development alike,
But yes, there has to be balance. Years ago, my father told me two things about parenting. “You will never know how much I love you until you have your own kids.” – He was right! I had no idea what the level of sacrifice and love parenting is about.
The second one was, “As parents, we want to give our children the things we went without but it’s a tricky thing not to overdo it because remember they also need to experience the things you went without so they can learn to balance and appreciate everything they have.”
So how do we find that balance?
This topic is very complex, so I am going to highlight some of the things the American Pediatrics have shared with those of us parenting. First of all, it is important to note many pediatricians are uncomfortable with the term “spoiled” “pediatricians, however, are uncomfortable with this term because it is a poorly defined and derogatory expression. Some would even deny that infants and children can be spoiled. Avoiding the use of the expression spoiled can create difficulties in communicating with parents concerned about their children’s behavior.”
I believe that we all know labels aren’t helpful. Generalizing certain behaviors or ways of life can be harmful to the development of a child. A child who is continuously looked at, treated as, spoken of as “spoiled” through no fault of her/his own is going to develop some insecurities, doubts, pain, and why not even a feeling of unacceptance.
As adults, we must be aware of not underestimating the power of words. Words matter, and they will hurt parents and their children alike.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, spoiled child syndrome is characterized by excessive self-centered and immature behavior, resulting from the failure of parents to enforce consistent, age-appropriate limits.
It is common sense that providing, showing support, and love cannot be overdone. It is my opinion that we should not let others’ judgment direct the way we parent or treat our kids.
There is nothing wrong with treating your child with something. The problem is to treat your child with something and not teach them how it came about.
Here is where the balance comes in! As parents, children must be taught that we work hard to provide them with everything they need and even harder for things they would like to have. Having a basic knowledge of our income will help them evaluate their wants and see if they are worth parental sacrifice in the workplace or going without something to make it happen for them.
Understanding that the ability to take a vacation to Hawaii or getting an iPad for Christmas must be presented as a privilege not all have. We cannot normalize privilege. We should also not pass on bitterness for lacking certain things in life.
When we teach children that everything has a cost and requires effort, we will be teaching kids that hard work, money management, and spending discipline pays off.
If we are lucky, we will inspire them to be more appreciative of everything they have and respectful of what, as parents, we sacrifice for them to enjoy the comforts of life.
Remember that what we teach them now will greatly affect their future. If they learn now that as adults, they will have to work and keep a budget, just like we do now, it will help them understand the value of saving, earning, and deserving something if they work hard.
Children aren’t born entitled; they learn it from the people they are around the most. The way we treat others and exercise our privilege is the way our children will be themselves. In order to avoid a kind positive gesture turning into a sense of entitlement, we must teach our kids about:
- The power of earning
- Understanding life’s ups and downs
- How to help others
- Sharing and sometimes even giving up things we like
Children should be able to feel a sense of comfort and security in their upbringing but not so disconnected from reality that they do not understand that a lot of people go without basics, let alone privileges. It is natural to want to treat your child. But just like everything else, treating should not be utilized as a way to replace or make up for other things children lack.
It is easy as a parent to feel we haven’t done a good job here or there, so too often, we resort to buying things to make up for the fact. Children learn patterns very quickly, and it is important to not send the message that we will give in at any time or with anything out of guilt.
On the other hand, there is that concept of not having the energy or making the time to teach our children the values of life. Yes, parents, sometimes we give in because it is hard work to teach and remain consistent. Nothing wrong with randomly giving in, but it is unhealthy to always do what a child says or give them all they want.
So next time you are wondering if you are spoiling your child, ask yourself the following simple things:
- Do they need it?
- Will they benefit from it?
- Have I talked to them about the cost and sacrifice that comes with it?
- Am I doing this to support their development or interests or to get them off my back?
Conclusion there is no such thing as providing too much or loving too much. Some of us are privileged enough to give our kids things we lacked. As long as we have a balance, we do not owe anyone an explanation of why.
The goal in life isn’t to show kids how hard life can be but to work hard and teach them that we are willing to do our part. It’s ok to treat or be treated to something we like or want.
Miriam is a mother of three. She considers herself a bi-decade mom having a sophomore in college and a second grader in grade school she has experienced how the parenting experience evolves as you “grow” as a parent and as the times we live in change. Having been raised by two hands on and loving parents she understands the impact parenting has upon an individual, communities and the world as a whole. She does not know all the ins and outs of parenting, but she does know one thing: Whatever you do, if you do it with love, you are on the right track!