I’ve been thinking a lot lately about want and need and the differences between the two.
Growing up I remember my mother saying over and over again “You don’t
need that, you want it.” In my young, deprived-of-the-latest-Barbie
mind, she was being unnecessarily cruel. But of course she was right.
And still this is a struggle with me. I feel like in the times we live
in there is so much pressure to have the things that “everyone else”
has, to dress in the latest styles, to buy the latest electronics just
because there are a thousand commercials telling you there’s something
wrong with you if you don’t. And unfortunately, sometimes I buy into it.
When I was planning my son’s fourth birthday party last month, I
started online researching different ideas and activities for a camping
theme. There were so many ideas out there that seemed unrealistic. The
food tables were things of beauty and the activities and crafts were out
of this world in terms of what I expected. And so I started to feel
inadequate as a mother because that just wasn’t in me to do. My food
table for parties usually consists of some chips in the red bowls I use
for every celebration and boxes of pizza. But at least they’re organized
by type. I guess? I do not have custom-made napkin rings made out of
driftwood with initials of each guest burned into them. Nor do I have a
$200 cake. Or a $200 anything party related, for that matter.
I shut off the computer in protest when I found a family who had bought
$40 backpacks for each of the 15 kids at their child’s camping party.
The whole thing just seems a little ridiculous and over-the-top. I want
to raise my kids to appreciate what they have and birthdays, to me,
should be about seeing family and friends and eating good food. Not so
much about the amount of money spent on the party or even the amount and
extent of presents received. At this point it seems like parents are
trying to outdo each other, to the detriment of their children.
With the information we have access to about what everyone else is
doing, it is guaranteed that we will feel like we aren’t living up to
some arbitrary standard. I mean, sometimes I get embarrassed about our
TV. It’s not a flat panel and it’s pretty small by today’s standards.
Plus we only have one. And then I think, this is ridiculous. My
self-worth is not tied up in electronics. Nor is it tied up in my other
home furnishings or my car or even my whole house.
My self-worth is controlled by me. And while others may look down on my
computer that is at least five years old and is kind of slow, by
today’s standards, I don’t care. It works.
So much importance is placed on how we look, on how we present
ourselves to the world. I want my kids to know that yes, it’s OK to take
pride in yourselves and your appearance. But that comes from being a
good person. It comes from treating people with respect and kindness. It
comes from expanding your mind and learning about the world around you.
It does not come from buying that X-Box because everyone else has one.
Or buying those $150 shoes because they’re the coolest thing this month.
And we don’t need the latest offering from Apple, even though it looks
really cool and Mama kind of wants one.
We don’t need it. We want it. And there’s a difference.
*This column originally published in The News-Enterprise on August 22, 2012.