Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Abundance vs. Self-Denial

Written by Esme's mommy – thanks, readers, for allowing this deviation of format from time to time . . .

My cousin Mike recently started a blog of his thoughts on being daddy to his three girls (ages 3 & 4). Here's an excerpt of a post that stuck in my mind:

I really enjoy telling my children "no" when they ask for things. It's just that I think they need to learn to deal with negative responses to their requests, to grow out of their egocentric sense of entitlement. But something in the way I relish the denial of their petition seems wrong in light of "Ask, and you will receive....If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Help me to learn a spirit of abundance rather than scarcity, even if it is best not to indulge my kids' every cry of "I want..."

Now, my first thought on why this stuck in my mind was the use of the word "no." I wonder if Esme will learn any other words, since it seems that this is the only one I say from sunup to sundown, as she travels from toilet brush to computer cords to trash can to dog food to steep stairs to knife drawer to carpet lint to cookie crumbs and back again. Out of context from Mike's point, but it seems that I too enjoy the use of the word "no" and need to allow for more discovery on Esme's part!

Today's experience highlighted a different aspect of what he wrote. Today's Mommy's Group meeting was at a beautiful house I hadn't been to before – at least 4 stories overlooking the ocean. We met in the lower level, which was completely set up for babies like mine – mats and low couches and pillows on the ground, and every toy imaginable neatly organized to keep a baby entertained for months.

I watched Esme giggle as she wrapped a pink feather boa around herself. She softly sang as she picked out her unique melody on the xylophone and made marks on the MagnaDoodle. And the list of new adventures could have gone on forever with that fascinating array of toys.

As I watched her face light up during her toy exploration, my mother heart got a little green. Some of you have heard me complaining recently about my boredom with Esme's "traditional" toys – which incidentally fit into a Medium UHaul box. And of those, only one was purchased with money from my pocket.

Caveat: Please don't think her deprived in the way of toys. As Esme's Daddy accurately pointed out, it isn't every baby who has her own scooter, boogie board, skateboard, kayak, surf board, table tennis gear, and rock climbing harness.

I was all ready to stop and shop for toys (lots of toys) at the nearest store on the way home, but fortunately Esme decided it was naptime, and from experience I know shopping with a sleepy baby is not pleasant. So we postponed the shopping trip.

And as I was putting her to sleep at home for her nap, ( I have a couple of books that I try to read a chapter a day during the baby down time when I can't do anything else) the chapter that just happened to be up for reading had to do with teaching your children self-denial. It even suggested a self-denial jar where you collect the money you would have spent on yourself and then do something meaningful with it. So the shopping trip got totally cancelled.

Now I have two questions for myself:

1) Am I passing on my martyrdom issues to my daughter?

Looking at my past, I have a great history of self-denial interspersed with splurges. I'll go for more than a year without buying any clothes (I'm not worth it) and then say, "What the heck?" and buy myself a $200 dress I wear once. Or I'll forego buying any kind of beverages for months because they are "too expensive" to include in my grocery bill, only to start a $5-$10/day Starbucks habit that I have to kick after several weeks.

It's that way with time as well as money. I will cram every moment of my busy days with work and activity and exercise and classes and stay on top everything for weeks, and then just cut back and do nothing until my dirty laundry pile overflows the bathroom and I'm getting past-due notices in the mail.

Do I want to put my daughter through the same cycle? Am I doing this already?

2) How do I balance an abundance mentality with a spirit of self-denial?

How do I convey to my daughter that God wants to give her the desires of her heart, and then deny her the time she is demanding while I am trying to get my work done so other people can have churches?

How do I say "No" and still portray a Father who has already said "Yes" to all?
Are we even talking about balance, or are these two separate realms?

Any advice from the experienced parents out there?