Anger, Guilt and Spending on Kids: 8 Questions to Ask Before Buying Anything
With the holidays rapidly approaching, I find myself wondering how many
parents are saying to themselves things like:
"We spent big money just last year on a new PlayStation and now my son says he
wants an Xbox! Why can't he be happy with what he has?"
?My daughter wants an iPhone 6 Plus. I can't afford it, but she tells me her
friends say her iPhone 5 is "lame."I feel like a bad parent because of an iPhone!"
To reduce feelings of anger and guilt, it's
necessary to develop more of a solid ?self? in relationship to your child. The
more clear you can be with your own values and beliefs (and live by them) the
less likely you will be to do what others want at the expense of what you want.
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. Whether it's a holiday or an ordinary
day, spending money on our kids can bring up feelings of guilt for us as we
wrestle with how much is "enough." As parents, we want to give our children what
makes them happy; we don't want them to feel left out or get teased because
their boots, phone, or brand name hoodie is last year's model. And when we're
unable (or even when we're unwilling) to buy the "latest and greatest," we often
feel terribly guilty.
We can also find ourselves feeling angry, even flip-flopping between feelings of
guilt and anger. We might feel angry that our kids are triggering these guilty
feelings; or that they're not grateful for what they do have; or that all their
?wants? are making life downright difficult. Then the guilt pops up again: guilt
for being angry at our own child, or for feeling a bit resentful toward them.
Why Do I Feel Anger and Guilt About My Child?
Guilt and anger are both uncomfortable emotions; and as different as they might
seem, they are really just different sides of the same parenting coin. Let's
take a moment to understand these two emotions that parents so often experience.
Guilt is often felt when we do not give others what they want. Anger, in
contrast, is often felt when others don't give us what we want, or when we do
what others want at the cost of what we want.
To understand the way guilt and anger work, it helps to know that inside each of
us there is a battle between the biological forces that push for togetherness
and those that push for individuality. The togetherness force is the urge to
think and act for others, or to think and act the same as others wants us to;
it's about the need to feel a part of the group. Individuality is about the need
to think and act for the self, even if that's different from what others want us
Anxiety creates a push for togetherness. We feel a sense of comfort and calmness
when we act as others want us to. We don't like displeasing others, so when we
don't behave how others want us to, feelings of guilt can occur. This is why you
might feel guilty about your daughter being unhappy that you didn't buy her the
$200 boots she wanted. When we don't act as others wish, we don't like the
disapproval that follows-whether it's from our 18 year-old or our 2-year-old.
On the other hand, when others don't do what we want, we can become angry at
them for not being how we want them to be. It's why we get upset and frustrated,
for example, when our children keep asking for new and expensive things instead
of valuing what they already have. We want them to be grateful, not focused on
having more possessions.
We can also feel angry when we give in to what others want. We get angry at
ourselves when we abandon what we want and angry at others for pressuring us to
do so. This means that when you do buy your teen the latest pair of Ugg boots,
you may feel angry at yourself when you think about how much those boots cost
and that you gave in and actually bought them. Then you feel angry at your
daughter for nagging you so much in the first place!
As you can see, guilt and anger are similar in that they both focus on the other
person: keeping them happy, doing as they wish, avoiding their disapproval. It
can turn into a vicious cycle if we're not careful:
We feel guilty for not getting Johnny the exact smartphone that all his friends
have, even though we know that he has not shown the kind of responsibility that
merits his being ready to own one. Guilt is a powerful emotion, one that often
causes us to ignore our own wisdom, so we give in and buy the phone.
Then anger usually follows. Anger at ourselves for not acting from our own best
thinking. Anger at others for pressuring us to go along with them. (This
pressure might be overt, for instance, when family members keep telling you all
the reasons why they think you should buy Johnny that phone. Or it might be an
internal feeling, that togetherness force subconsciously acting on you.)
To reduce feelings of anger and guilt, it's necessary to develop more of a solid
?self? in relationship to your child. The more clear you can be with your own
values and beliefs (and live by them) the less likely you will be to do what
others want at the expense of what you want. This in turn helps reduce our
feelings of guilt and anger, whether it's around gift-giving or other issues.
Before You Buy for Your Child, Ask Yourself These Questions
If you're concerned about how much you're spending on your child, decide what
you think is best for your child, not what you feel pressured to buy. Ask
What can we afford this year for gifts, without stressing our budget?
Is the requested technology age-appropriate?
What behaviors has my child exhibited that tell me he is ready for the
responsibility that comes with owning that technology?
Am I ready and able to monitor her use of the requested technology?
What can I expect will be the repercussions of his playing with this technology?
Am I in favor of those things?
How will she benefit-and not benefit-from owning this? How will I benefit? Not
Am I buying this for him because I don't want him to be upset with me? Is this a
Am I buying this for her because I don't want her friends to alienate her if she
doesn't have it? Is this a good reason?
When you've made your decisions, communicate your reasons to your child.
Although she may not be pleased that she didn't get that iPhone 6 Plus, in the
long run she will appreciate having parents who are mature and solid enough to
think for themselves.
Once you begin living less in reaction to others, and more in line with your own
best thinking, the emotions of guilt and anger will gradually fade into the
background. Feelings of confidence and well-being will increase. And your
relationship with your children will be stronger and sturdier because they will
know where you stand and what you stand for.(Anger, Guilt and Spending on Kids: 8 Questions to Ask Before Buying Anything reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents)
Pincus, MS LMHC
For more than 25 years, Debbie Pincus MS LMHC has offered compassionate and
effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal
themselves and their relationships. Debbie also facilitates parenting groups and
is the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.
Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM program
and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal