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The Moment I Realized My Tween Values Experiences Over Things

Why is this value important to me?

Who amongst us, contemplating parenting, hasn’t read an article or book (or 20) about raising kids with the right mindset?  For each parent, what “right” means is individualized, to be sure.  One thing I do find common amongst parents is the hope to raise a child who values experiences over material things.  All experiences – the easy ones, the hard ones (heard of the book Grit?), the yummy ones, the yucky ones, and the ones whose lessons are not clear yet.

This aspiration is also intimately connected to my loves of travel to new places, of people-watching, of trying every recipe that even mildly piques my interest, and of having had several “rock bottom” moments in life (including losing a whole slew of valuable possessions 3 times in life).  All of these experiences have taught me profound and simple lessons.

I want my kids to have the same sense of buoyancy in response to challenge and success.

Kid #1 Tested Me

It was with great hope, but not necessarily a good sense of the “how”, that I began my parenting journey 12 years ago.  Right from the start, she was neither a constantly asking “can I have this?” type of child, nor was she was particularly focused on achieving ideas and aspirations.  I was worried about where desire and stick-to-itiveness would meet.  Money nor things motivated her.  As her elementary school years transpired, she did not seem to be motived to pursue goals with grit and follow-through.  How could this combination serve her well in life???

I lectured (you know how you can read your child’s face when they stop listening?).  I explained – sometimes to warm reception – about pursuing goals and Growth Mindset.  And I emphasized consistently the importance of financial independence vs. being a wage slave – especially for someone clearly not interested in being told what to do (what did her pediatrician call it…”strong willed”?).

I also discussed with her the importance of relationships.  Relationships were what got me out of those rock bottom times.  Relationships are what make travel fun – the ability to connect with other peoples and places.  I remember showing and telling her about Brene Brown’s “marble jar of trust” metaphor – that each interaction is a marble that goes into the jar, or comes out of it.



My metaphors and allegories ran far and wide.

The Moment of Truth

Then her 12th birthday came along.  As we have been doing for several years with our children, we made her aware of her budget.  (In our family, each person gets a budget for his/her birthday, which is all-in…i.e. it covers the cake, the decorations, the dinner, presents, etc.  The birthday person gets to choose how to allocate those funds.)  She made her choices, and I helped her execute: a sleepover with her friends the weekend before, an ice cream outing with the four members of her nuclear family, and a dim sum dinner the weekend after with us.)

As we were all putting on our shoes to leave for dim sum, it hit me.  My child, of her own accord, had chosen experiences over things for her entire birthday.  My heart soared with pride of who she is.  I beamed all the way through dinner.  On the way home, I let her know that there was still a bit of money in her budget.  Finally, she asked if she could get a thing: new Converse.  Why not, I said.

The Unexpected Surprise

We came home and I offered to go online with her to purchase these shoes right then.  She deserved that reward of my presence and time.  And then, came my moment to cry.

Earlier that day, I had lost my precious white gigantic water bottle. I drink 2 full ones of these every day.  It’s like my Linus blanket – always with me wherever I am.

White 40 oz ThermoFlask water bottle

In shepherding our younger child around the city that day, I had misplaced it.  I hurt not only because it was a favorite item, but also because I generally don’t lose things, especially not something so critical to my health and daily life.

With a bit still left in her budget after the Converse purchase, she said to me “Amma, there’s still $26 left over – why don’t you replace the water bottle you lost today?”  Yea…the tears flowed.

Here was my first baby…not someone ostentatiously generous nor religiously helpful.  Yet so quietly observant and thoughtful.  She had picked Experiences over Things.  She had used her funds wisely.  And she prioritized me over getting another thing with those $26.  I could not feel less worried, or more proud, of her.

The Observations Continue

She demonstrated her deep understanding of the value of experiences and relationships in my mind when we went on our summer vacations this year.  In both of them, she did not bring her wallet (my kids are clear our wallet is not theirs either).

Her favorite thing about a Club Med family reunion?  “It felt like I was hanging out in a family neighborhood – I was just in the common area and spent time with whoever came along.”

Her favorite part of a Trinidad family trip?  “The people were just so nice.”

I think valuing relationships and experiences helps you choose the healthy friends, mates, business associates and so on.  I’ve suffered consequences when I’ve chosen poorly in terms of relationships and experiences, sometimes focusing on material outcomes or short term gains.

This girl?  She’s well on her way, it seems.

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