Family

As A First-World Parent, I Worry I'm Setting My Child Up To Never Be Content

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little boy and girl running and playing outside

I was brought up by Nepali parents in Japan in the 1980s. I witnessed both cultures firsthand.

In Tokyo, we had an abundant array of colorful TV channels. Back in Kathmandu, my cousins had a choice between two black and white channels.

Restless and bored — that’s what I remember sitting cross-legged in front of a TV with my Nepali cousins, their eyes glued to the screen as if they were watching Spiderman.

As I raise a 3-year-old son with my German husband in Germany, a first-world country, I think about those vacations in Nepal playing hopscotch and throwing a small ball at a makeshift rock house built from scratch.

I wonder, in a country that has everything a child could want, am I raising my son to never be content?

Choices

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My dad walked 10 kilometers to and fro school as a child in Kathmandu. His shoes wore out quickly, but the family had no money to buy a replacement.

He sewed them up but they fell apart in no time. Forced to walk barefoot, he was covered in sores and blisters.

Instilled in him at a young age to bear suffering, he didn’t complain. He went on to secure an academic scholarship to pursue a Master’s degree in civil engineering at an Ivy League in New York. Then, he landed a lucrative job in Tokyo.

My son, on the other hand, has a choice between two pairs of sandals: the light blue Crocs or the Paw Patrol blue/red ones. I ask him to choose. He scrunches his eyebrows and points to his Nike sneakers, “No, I want that one.”

Parenting articles tell you choice is good. It makes children feel as if “they have some power and control over what they do.”

To an extent, this may be true. I wonder, though, are we teaching our children that there are ALWAYS choices in life? If we are, it’s a lie. The world is filled will unjust people doing unjust things. Most of the time, we have no choice but to swallow this fact and go on with our lives.

We can't always get what we want — a valuable lesson and a foreign concept for most first-world children. I’m aware as parents it’s our duty to instill this, but is it truly possible in a society of overabundant alternatives?

Abundance

An educator named Mary-Elaine Tynan returned after living for a few years in Tanzania. She observed that having been among “smiling, uncomplaining youngsters” for a few years, it felt like Australian kids were “constantly whining and asking for things, never satisfied for long, even when given what they wanted.”

Of course, we cannot ignore the poverty endured by these kids. Despite that, they seem happier. I saw this on the streets of Kathmandu as homeless boys laughed and skipped rope with a bark of a tree or balanced a coke bottle on their heads.

Last year for Christmas my son got a bicycle from his grandpa. The year before that, a kitchen and a Bosch tool kit. On his birthday, he was inundated with cakes, balloons, and more toys to satiate his appetite.

We thought to suggest the family not buy him toys but instead, donate to a children’s charity.

My husband and I debated, as first-world parents often do, whether our son would feel left out. Is that fair to him? No, it’s not, we concluded and succumbed to the parenting phenomenon known as peer pressure.

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The toys hardly keep him happy for long either. Like adults, he wants the next big gadget. Toy companies play into it by inserting a marketing brochure in the package small enough for my boy to flip through. And flip he does as he scours for the next novelty.

Kids naturally have the ability to create something out of nothing. I ask myself, did I stifle my kid's innate capacity for invention and shorten his attention span by surrounding him with plenitude and endless choices?

Entitlement

Rihanna wasn’t born rich. By the time she was 16, she stayed at home to care for her brother while her single mother worked to make ends meet. After making it big, she bought a lavish house for her mom in Barbados.

Poor families don’t have resources like time and money, but they try to give as much as they can. Still, there’s not a lot there though so kids learn the value of things and appreciate the sacrifices made by their parents.

Kids of first-world parents don’t understand what they don’t have because most of the time, they have it all. Entitlement seeps in like a bad odor.

My son is an only child, adding to the pickle. We instilled chivalry in him and he helps out around the house like a champ. We hardly yell at him nor put him on time-outs. We have discussions with him and we listen with open ears.

Yet, he is entitled. Mostly a result of not knowing hardship. He’s not to blame. Children are a reflection of their upbringing — both parental and societal.

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Traditional vs. Modern

My Nigerian friend told her son, who is four, to pee before leaving the house for the supermarket. He adamantly refused and ended up drenching his pants in pee at the supermarket. That evening, she took away his TV privileges.

Third-world countries are mostly based on traditional parenting, like the example above, where the focus is on responsibility and functional adults.

Parents in developing countries rule the kingdom. As a kid, I was keenly aware I was on my parent’s turf and knew better than to disobey them or else slap! When they said no, they excreted a stench of power and I scurried away like an animal in the wild.

I’m raising my kid the modern way by taking heed of child development gurus. Validate your kids, they say, listen to their complaints. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a rebel. It’s a prevention method that may never bear fruit, but it’s the right way, per woke parenting.

I try to accommodate my 3-year-old by reasoning with him. Yes, I know you want a chocolate muffin and I totally understand, but you can’t have one today because you had one yesterday.

You want to play but mama said you can’t and now you’re angry. I understand.

My focus is on nurturing my boy’s feelings and encouraging him to express his individuality freely. With that comes a handful of issues: I might end up being too flexible that my child doesn’t see me as an authoritative figure.

Third-world parents don’t read parenting advice nor do they take it. They puff up their chests and flair their noses and the kids know it’s business. Fear is good to a degree — they know this and use it well.

Middleway

At least as modern parents, we are aware of our flaws. We embrace them and look for alternative ways to be so we can support our children emotionally. That’s a big plus in itself. It teaches a child that parents aren’t perfect.

Perhaps the way is to seek a balance between the two types of parenting styles and take away from it our own blend of parenting — not too bitter, not too sweet.

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June Kirri is a writer on culture, parenting, and mental health. Follow her on Twitter.

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.