Having Kids in the 21st Century

Hello and welcome! It’s time for another discussion, we haven’t had any of these in a while, so I really need to get moving if I want to complete my Discussion Challenge (I’m participating again and if you want some really great discussions, head on over and click around a bit).

I normally only discuss bookish things around here – and while this discussion will touch on books, it’s of a more personal nature. Not that books aren’t personal to me, it’s just that my kids are more personal if you get me. If you’re new here, I have two kids, aged 2.5 years and 6 months (they share a birthday).

I was scrolling through the absolutely beautiful photos in this post the other day when it struck me how spoiled (or maybe just protected?) my kid was. It’s a sobering moment for any parent to realize their child isn’t the perfect little angel they thought s/he was, but I’m trying to go a bit deeper here.

Now, Kiddo is a great little person. He’s compassionate, kind, and very smart, and his temper tantrums can be chalked up to the fact that he’s 2.5 years old and it’s normal for kids that age to have temper tantrums.

But as I was looking through the photos of this Pakistani mining community, something jumped out at me. Now, I don’t know whether the kids in these photos are happy or not (I’m going to assume they are because my hormones are currently preventing me from imagining anything bad happening to kids), but they’re clearly not enjoying the same benefits of being middle-class citizens as my kid.

My kid, however, dissolved into tears last week because he wanted the orange jam on his toast, not the red one. We have daily battles on which t-shirt he’ll wear to kindergarten (because the stripy one from H&M is clearly inferior, Mom) and last night, he cried for a full five minutes because I wouldn’t let him eat double his usual dinner because I was afraid his tummy would hurt during the night.

What I’m getting at here is this: my kid’s troubles are superficial (aka First World Problems) because he’s never experienced what it’s like to really not have something. And thank whatever power there is out there for that. I’m grateful for our life every day.

But now I’m wondering how to instill some sense of worth in the (material and emotional) goods he has access to on a daily basis. How do you explain to a very young child that he should value his clean, dry, warm clothes because there are kids who don’t have the same privilege? How do I make him understand that turning up his nose at a perfectly good dinner is bad? How do I tell him that while my cuddles, love, and support are unconditional, not all children grow up in such an environment? And most of all (and this is the over-protective mother speaking), how do I do this while still protecting him?

Bookish person that I am, my first thought was to turn to books. I’m in search of picture books that feature diversity of this specific kind (we’ll tackle race and gender issues another day) without being over-the-top didactic. I know our local libraries and the Slovenian section of IBBY are preparing a list of children’s books that deal with the topic of immigrants, so I’ll definitely be making use of those, but I’d love more general suggestions.

I know that not many of my followers have children but in this day and age, social sensitivity is something we should all work towards, and where better to start than with our kids, right?

What’s your take on this? Do you have kids? How do you face similar problems?

Do you have any bookish recs for me?

I’l love to hear from you! :)

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  • My husband and I sometimes have similar discussions about our kids. Mine are now almost 5 and 2. Personally, I think I am raising them the same way my mom did me and my brother, without even realizing it, lol. I wouldn’t say my parents were THAT strict with us growing up, but they definitely put their foot down when it came to certain things. Meals and meal times were especially big for them, because at the time our family were expatriates living in a place where it wasn’t exactly easy to get whatever food we wanted. My parents made us eat whatever was given to us. If we turned up our noses at something in particular, we weren’t forced to eat it, but we were given no other choices and had to go to bed hungry. My brother and I learned pretty damn quick not to complain, and it was one of the earliest lessons I can remember. While I didn’t really understand when I was really young, as I grew older I began to appreciate why my parents did that and their reasoning.

    Anyway, I think 2.5 years old is still a little too young to understand concepts like sense of worth, but you can definitely start putting a stop to the tantrums now and just keep on explaining each time and sooner or later it will click. My oldest started throwing some really bad ones when she was around 2 years old, but at that point I just calmly explained to her she was no longer a baby and I wasn’t going to give in to these childish outbursts anymore. After about ten minutes of her screeching and me not giving them any attention, she realized I wasn’t bluffing and just quieted down and did what I told her (ate her food, cleaned up her mess, or whatever) Never really had a problem with her and tantrums again, though she’s still very picky at meal times which her dad and I are still trying to work on (I admit I’m too soft and can’t bring myself to apply the same kind of discipline my own parents did :P). My youngest just turned 2 and we’re going through that stage again with her now, teaching her that mommy and daddy will always be there for her if she needs us, but throwing tantrums just because she doesn’t get her way will get her nowhere :)

  • I agree with Mogsy. I am not sure that 2.5 is an age where kids can understand relative worth. My kiddo is six and now only superficially understands it; its not that he is not grateful but that he really doesn’t understand what he gets compared to others (or vice versa except in very specific cases of ‘Aiden has THIS.’

    He knows that I work for money, and money is how one buys things. But he still lives in the now. We are past tantrums now(thank god) but pouting still happens; and it can come from a favorite shirt not being allowed the second day in a row or being told no at a store to the toy ‘he always wanted.’

    I saw an interesting study a few years back about when children lose their selfishness. they laid candy out for two people and many kids took less for themselves it it meant they got more than the other person. So while reminders of how lucky our children are continue to be important, don’t feel bad if your kid doesn’t really start to get it until age 10 or so.

  • I don’t have kids so I definitely wouldn’t presume to give any advice. I’d just like to say this is a lovely post and the fact that this is something you are thinking about and taking to heart is probably the most important part of raising someone who has gratitude and empathy. So good job, you and thank you for raising kind little humans!

  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    This is such a great post, Kaja. I think it’s so important to truly realize the privileges we have, and I admire you for wanting to teach your kids too. I don’t personally have any recommendations for you, but I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for some great (picture) books.

    What I can remember from my childhood, is mealtimes being incredibly important to my family, and learning to take care of our toys. I used to be a very picky eater, so I imagine I must have thrown some tantrums too. Although my parents say that at the table, both me and my brother were calm. I think when we didn’t like something, we had to eat like 5 bites at least. 5 isn’t THAT much, so a kid can still manage it. But it’s not as bad as having to eat the whole plate either. And with our toys… I don’t really know how they did it, but they always said to take care of our toys. That if we broke them on purpose or just because we weren’t taking care, we could no longer play with them.

    I don’t know whether that made sense? I don’t have kids, so I’m trying to go on what I remember from my childhood :D

  • Great post, you’re making me feel slightly over privileged just reading this post. I do think it’s a really hard thing to make children, especially young children, realise how grateful they should be for the small things they take for granted each day and I know I can offer no book suggestions, I spend so little time around young children that I can’t really offer any suggestions but to be honest the fact you realise it and want to help your kids realise they’re fortunate is a step in the right direction. I think as long as you don’t give into children’s whims and raise them to learn they can’t always get what they want then you’re doing something right. They won’t always like you for it at the time but in the long run it’s the smart thing to do.

  • This is so incredibly hard because no matter how often you talk to your kids about these things or show them pictures, they’re never going to REALLY get it. Heck, we don’t even really get it. Nothing can compare to living that kind of reality. Of course, that isn’t to say that we shouldn’t try to teach them. One of my kids was born in poverty in Haiti and almost died in an orphanage, but they still don’t really grasp that concept (even my son who was born there). I hope someday they will, but that sort of empathy takes maturity they simply don’t have yet.

  • I agree with Stephanie! I loved your post, and I’m enjoying the comments.

    I wonder about this when I hang out with my friend’s daughters. The 3-year-old is very emotionally needy, but I think a lot of it comes down to her being used to getting what she wants and not being able to cope when she doesn’t.

  • Michelle

    Mine is quite old enough for this to be a problem yet — She’s only 9 months, so her worldly problems revolve around figuring out whether she wants the bottle or solid food, and wailing when she doesn’t get to eat what Mom and Dad are eating. But this is something I still find myself thinking about fairly regularly, regardless.

    I don’t want to take the approach of just saying “There a child in that is starving and would love that dinner.” My husband and I BOTH as kids decided to subsequently put dinner in an envelope and address it to “Starving kid in ” and while the sentiment isn’t AWFUL, it ends up sending the wrong message.

    Even now, though, I’m trying to send a signal with how I respond to her screaming fits. I KNOW she’s too young to really appreciate the significance of what I’m saying, but I have to believe that sending a consistent message throughout all of her development years will do SOMETHING. And if nothing else, it’s good practice for me. I regularly tell her to calm down and use her words (No, she doesn’t have any yet, but she’s perfectly capable of communicating in other ways at this point).

    Putting a stop or mitigation to temper tantrums doesn’t necessarily do much for her eventually respecting the significance of privilege and the impact of not having those basic “needs,” but I think it is a decent first step in instilling the kind of open-minded attitude that might one day facilitate that understanding. At least, that’s what I’m going to continue telling myself.

    I think my parents did a great job of raising two kids who have a healthy respect to diversity and ADversity, and even if we can’t fully comprehend what it is to live WITHOUT, my brother and I are still both pretty mindful of that sense of worth, and are grateful for what we have. I don’t think my parents really exposed us much to the horrors of the world or anything like that — I don’t remember talking about the “third world” or any concepts like first world privilege as a kid growing up. But I DO remember talking about being open-minded, about valuing the idea of understanding other perspectives, about making the most out of what we have, and things like that. A 2 year old might be a bit young to really appreciate the magnitude of class differences and whatnot, but I have to believe that it’s never too early to lay the foundation of open-mindedness and thoughtfulness. And maybe even trying to broach the idea that the world doesn’t revolve around their miniature self. ;)

  • I love non book posts too so I hope you do more of these. My kids are 10 and 7, two girls and we’re trying to teach them the value of money right now. They ask and ask and ask for stuff and when my little said ‘big deal just use a credit card or check I got worried, mostly cause I don’t even have checks) but we decided it was time for them to do chores for an allowance.

    This is their first time getting an allowance and it’s not a crazy amount, $5 for inside chores, and extra $5 for outside chores like feeding the dogs, cleaning the yard. But they also have to do a good job and not complain.

    My kids have so many spoiled and bratty friends who just get everything they want without doing anything so it’s hard for them to understand why they have to do chores right now but I hope they understand soon,

    Nereyda│ Nick & Nereyda’s Infinite Booklist

  • I don’t have any kids of my own–just did a serious amount of babysitting my neighbor’s kids over 8 years. To a certain extent, I think kids are only going to understand so much (and only be so willing to think abstractly about kids with less) because they’re at an age where they don’t naturally think beyond personal, selfish desires. I guess the things that come to mind are engaging the kids in activities serving others when possible (e.g., volunteering at soup kitchens, toy drives, etc.) and instilling strong values of gratitude for and contentment with what they have? Books are definitely a great stepping stone. Sorry I can’t think of any good titles right now. ^^;

  • As many other people have said, this is a really interesting post, Kaja! The comments are all very eye-opening too, since I don’t have kids. I can’t really presume to know anything about parenting (especially something so high concept as teaching your kids about the value of a dollar and their own privilege).

    But I did grow up poor – most of my friends were lower middle class – and I can tell you that personality traits like kindness, curiosity, and intelligence (all of which Kiddo has, woohoo you and A.!) will go a long way towards your kids figuring out how lucky they are, appreciating it, and sharing that with others. Once we all got to a point where we were old enough to understand the differences in our lives, my friends were really open and compassionate and we had lots of good talks about how different things are when you just don’t have enough of anything. And not just enough orange jam. ;) What I’m saying is, I think Kiddo and Baby will be just fine. :)

    As for books, I recommend the picture book Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena. It’s a story about a boy and his grandma riding the bus through their city and it’s just…really beautiful. It *is* a little on the didactic side, but it definitely provides a good opportunity to have these kinds of conversations.

  • This is a beautiful post, Kaja. I also looked at those photos, and they are beyond stunning, and brought tears to my eyes. The question you ask is one I ask all the time. Because I know my kids are spoiled. Just by where they were born, they get to live a more comfortable life, and no, that doesn’t seem fair. My kids are a little older than yours (5.5 and 3) and even the 5 year old still doesn’t quite get it. We read a book about homelessness recently (I can’t think of the name, but when I get a chance, I can look, I got it from ALAMW) and I sobbed through the whole book, but she just looked at me. It’s hard because I don’t think kids can grasp these concepts, but I think just by being aware of it, you’re doing a good thing. And as they get older, teaching opportunities will pop up, and you will be able to guide them. For now, I just don’t think he will be able to understand much beyond his own toddler wants- I think that is probably par for the parenting course no matter what the situation. Good luck, I think you are doing a lovely job. ♥