Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Kid Conundrum

I was a very imaginative little kid. Growing up with only a half-sister who lived far away was lonely at times so, instead of imaginary friends, I had imaginary siblings; I became the 6th Cosby kid.

My imaginary siblings and I all got along very well and played games and laughed with each other for hours at a time. It was so much fun that I decided I would make sure to have lots of kids someday so that they would always have real siblings to play with.

When I was in 6th grade, I remember telling my mom that I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: “Mom, when I grow up I want to have 12 kids and live on welfare and be a jolly, fat housewife who bakes cakes all day!”

I’m not sure where I got the idea, seeing as how my real mom was a teacher and my pretend mom, Claire Huxtable, was a lawyer, but I thought it was a fabulous plan for adulthood.

My mother, on the other hand, was appalled.

Lucky for her, I gave up that dream pretty quickly.

As I got older and began to revise my plans for the future, the number of kids that I wanted dropped to 6, and then 4, and then 3. When planning out my life, I thought that 24 sounded like the perfect age to become a mom. In reality, at 24 I was living in a termite-infested apartment, eating giant bowls of chocolate chip trail mix for dinner every night, and spraying Formula 409 on my moldy dishes rather than washing them. I was definitely not ready for children.

Now that I’m 29 and thinking seriously about starting a family, I've begun to wonder how my minimalist, decluttered lifestyle will fit with children - more specifically, their toys.

After we moved into our current apartment, my sister-in-law came over and pointed out a nice, empty spot in my living room where I could put her hand-me-down play kitchen once I had my own kids. I was panicked! Would I have to keep a kitchen in the living room?!? Aren't toys stored in the bedroom? Will my kids have so many toys that they spill out of their room and into other rooms in the house? Surely there is a law against kids owning too many toys?

I recently read a book called Simplicity Parenting where the author referred to a frightening statistic: The average American child receives 70 new toys per year! Multiply that by the 3 children I was hoping for, and that number goes up to 210! If we assume that children receive toys as gifts up until 6th grade, or age 11, that equals 2,310 toys that I will have to assemble, find batteries for, trip over, sit on, glue back together, wash off, and put away - multiple times a day!

Does that number seem obscenely high to anyone else?

I understand that people love to give presents to their kids. I spoil my nieces rotten at birthdays and Christmas! It is completely hypocritical of me, but I do it because I want to show them how much I love them. But is it fair to teach kids to measure how much someone cares by the amount of presents they give them? Shouldn’t we instead show them love with hugs and kisses, and attention?

What values are we teaching our kids by giving them so much stuff? I can't think of anything positive.

On the other hand, there are some great values that we can teach kids by not giving them so much:

Appreciate and take care of what you have. If kids have fewer toys, they are more likely to spend a longer time playing with them, and will take better care of them knowing that there aren't 15 more toys just like it in the toy box that they can play with if one gets broken.

Using your imagination can be just as fun. Kids love to explore and dig in the dirt when given a chance! My friends and I grew up playing outside. We built forts, played restaurant, spies, hide and seek, tag, trapped salamanders and rolly pollies for pets...There was no limit to the games we could come up with.

How to share. With less toys, kids are more willing to share them with others. Apparently when there is not enough to go around, humans are more willing to share. Whereas when there is an overabundance of something, we all become greedy little hoarders.

Not everything in life is just handed to us; Sometimes you have to work for what you want. I remember wanting a Magic Nursery doll when I was little. My mom made me work hard for that doll! I scrubbed bathrooms, cleaned the kitchen, and dusted all weekend, but finally I earned enough to buy it and all the anticipation and hard work made the doll that much more special.

Whether I end up having 1 kid or 12, I am definitely going to try to do things differently. Of course I’m not saying that my kids won't be allowed to have toys - but you can bet they'll be getting far less than 70 per year.

Besides, don't most kids end up ditching their toys for a stick and an empty cardboard box anyway?