How to counter consumer culture with your kids

Written by: Keisha Mathew

shopping bags

Another holiday season is over, leaving many with sweet memories of “joy to the world,” while for others there is a bitterness of “bah humbug.” Some of those feelings derive from the surplus of things and loved ones we were surrounded by—or not. Our materialistic culture gives us both the illusion of abundance and the pressure to replace our possessions with the latest and newest version. Our motivation to consume is to make us happier. But is that what it’s actually doing?

As a child, I grew up learning hard lessons about the value of money because my family had a tumultuous relationship with financial stability. The inconsistency in having things—both that I needed and wanted—taught me how to be disciplined in saving and savoring. My partner, on the other hand, grew up in material privilege. Despite those differences, we agree on shaping our children’s thinking about store-bought items as complementary and not essential to a meaningful life. 

People of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and genders highly value what our society has placed on a pedestal—smartphones, designer clothes and shoes, or other status symbols. When it comes to feeding the soul, these things mean very little. Instead, the false and temporary sense of importance they give us disappears as soon as hot new items hit the shelves. 

The holidays are often a hard time for parents. Once the parties are over and the gifts have been opened, all of our possessions, old and new, can make us feel both overwhelmed and empty. Given this bottomless pit of consumer (un)satisfaction, what is a parent or a shopaholic to do? A lot, if you’re striving for unshakable inner peace. It is definitely a long journey to change certain habits, but here are some steps we can all  take while we and our families are on that road:

  • Let go of old stuff. Donate smartphones, toys, and clothing to local organizations serving those in need; a school STEM program could utilize your old phone to build an app. A domestic violence shelter could benefit from the use of your unused phone.
  • Don’t just wait until the holidays to volunteer; people are in need all year round.
  • Share your creativities with those who value you—it could feed your soul and others.
  • Playdates rule! The more positive human interaction, the better.
  • Play board games together as a family. It’s a favorite routine for our family after a stressful workday.
  • Listen to music. Name all of the instruments you hear, or play along with your own.

As a mother who is aware that my personal growth benefits my entire family, I stay motivated by their watchful eyes. I am hoping that what I am planting will grow into something that will reflect our core family values. So, when my partner and I hear our oldest say that she wants to be rich so she can give money to end homelessness, my partner and I see this as a small achievement. Surrounded by our relentless consumer culture, we do our best to feed our children unconditional love, a sense of community, and the importance of justice as the things truly worth “consuming” every day.

Keisha Mathew has been a youth advocate for over 15 years. She holds a masters in social work, with a concentration in community schools from the University of Chicago. When she’s not exploring the city with her two magical children and partner/husband, she’s planning their next fantastic voyage.

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The NPN blog gives voice to our members' thoughts about parenting in the city, and the views expressed don't necessarily reflect our own. Want to write for us? Email laura@npnparents.org with your topic ideas.

 

Posted on January 08, 2019 at 12:33 PM