I don’t want to spoil my child, but…

Hayley DeRoche has a theory about only children, setting an example, and choosing the right indulgences.

Photo by: Stuck in Customs

My child is likely going to be an only child. I don’t know for certain, of course. But it’s a pretty distinct possibility, given the necessary hurdle of IVF we’d have to leap to have a second. I feel eternally grateful to have the one I have. But over the the time she’s been in our little family, I’ve repeatedly found myself butting up against the “spoiled only child” problem. That is, if I get my child nice things–which I very much want to do because have you BEEN in World of Mirth recently?–am I ruining her? If I give in to indulgences, am I fostering a sense of entitlement? I only have the one, so I don’t want to mess this up! What do I doooooooo?

So here’s the thing. I don’t think caving to some indulgences equals spoiling a kid. Spoiled is an attitude, a sense of being entitled to good things. Sure, there are kids out there who are spoiled rotten…but those kids may not be the richest, most indulged kids. All sorts of people harbor all sorts of feelings of entitlement. And sometimes the indulgence you see from the outside might not be the needless spoilage it appears to be.

Example: I decided to sit down recently and think about things I want to instill in my daughter. There are enough of those things to fill a much longer list than I’m going to share here. But one of the big things I kept thinking about was this:

The importance of taking time, as a woman, for yourself

At first glance this might seem like it has little to do with spoiling a child, but bear with me. Yes, some people might say putting oneself over others is a selfish act, but this is something that women are particularly bad at, since we’re always, as a sex, back-burnering our wants and needs. I recently finished reading the book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte, and in it she explained, “Leisure researchers have found, that daughters learn about leisure from their mothers. And since most mothers put themselves last and reach for the to-do list first, their example teaches their daughters to do the same.” In effect, spoiling oneself is actually setting a good example by showing your daughter that both she and you matter.

The day I finished the book, I made a commitment to myself to prioritize my own leisure instead of putting it dead last. I decided to sign up for horseback riding lessons, something I did as a teenager and enjoyed immensely. I’d also like to give my daughter the gift of horsemanship experience. The benefit here is that this gives me an opportunity to share something I enjoy with my daughter and, as she gets older, something in which she can then participate. And I’m modeling the way I’m prioritizing my own need for play. Denying the self every indulgence is just as unbalanced as acquiescing to the self’s every whim.

The downside here is that from the casual vantage point, a mother and daughter in riding boots and jodhpurs will undountedly come across as rich elitists–the equestrian look is nothing if not the ultimate symbol of preppy. And that kid on the horse, you might think, is probably so spoiled. Probably an only child, amirite? Sponges to parental whims and desires to buy them the sibling they never had, or something like that.

Riding lessons can be seen as one such indulgence, something elite that’s the privilege of the rich WASP to enjoy. If a kid who gets a birthday party that has pony rides is spoiled, how much more spoiled is the little girl who rides a pony weekly?

Never mind that riding might be the one leisure activity this mother and daughter do together. This indulgence will probably take up the entire indulgence budget.

Never mind that, if my child had siblings, this might not be seen as an only-child indulgence. Somehow if an only child is doing an indulgent activity, it seems worse than if the child had siblings.

Never mind that horseback riding teaches patience, responsibility, and caring for other creatures, how to do the dirty un-fun work of mucking stalls before the fun stuff like jumping and trail rides.  

Never mind that it might be this indulged child’s only after-school activity. I might turn into a riding lesson Tiger Mom, I don’t know!

And yes, even now, I’m making excuses for something I don’t need to make excuses for. That’s the key. I don’t need to make excuses for the indulgences I decide to allow in our family’s life together. You don’t need to, either. Whether it’s one indulgence, or several, can we trust that most of us are trying our best to raise kids who aren’t hellions?

Like so many other parenting choices, you just have to own your choices and know that there will always be those eye-rolling people who view your reasoned choice as silly, or frivolous, or stupid. You will always be ruining your child in the eyes of one person or another.

If riding lessons do turn my child into a foot-stomping Veruca Salt, then the riding lessons will stop1.

But I don’t think it’s the riding lessons–or the iPad, or the princess pony party–that make a kid spoiled. The kid who’s melting down over not getting what they want isn’t melting down because of one indulgence. It seems far more likely to me that kids who lack the humble attitude of the unentitled lack other traits as well. Traits like the ones pointed out by Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money. Most of this book seems to deal with people who have more money to play with than I do, but the traits Lieber points out are universally good to acquire–traits like patience and generosity.

So if I use the riding time I have with my daughter to cultivate those traits–riding requires patience and perseverance, as does saving up your own money for equipment–it may look like a spoiled kid activity from the outside, but at least I’ll know on the inside that we’re working diligently to turn it into an activity that achieves quite the opposite.

  1. For her, not for me; you can sit there and watch, Veruca. 
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Hayley DeRoche

Hayley DeRoche is a librarian with a penchant for cardigans and corduroys. Luckily, her professional life revolves more around technology & information than fashion.

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