As a parent, I often try to take stock of how I am doing. Are my children happy, content, and well-balanced? What am I doing wrong, or what must I improve on to better the life of my children? I hope these are questions most parents ask of themselves from time to time.
Recently, I’ve become concerned that we, the community as a whole, is failing to impart in our children the values we should like them to have. I can’t do anything about this problem by myself, either; this is a communal issue, in my opinion.
My cause for concern is the undeniable increase in materialism in our community. I think the past week or so has shined a glaring light on that fact. How many people have gone off to Florida for vacation from Lakewood? Not just a handful, that I can tell you. I brought my youngest son to his babysitter this morning and there was just one other child there today. Why? Because everyone else was in Florida, Cancun, or the Caribbean. How many people are, by taking these types of vacations, teaching their children that materialism should be a high priority in their lives?
Don’t get me wrong, I go on vacation as well. But when I was a bit younger, midwinter vacation for myself and almost every other Lakewood family I knew meant going to the Catskills. The really lucky ones went to Virginia or something. Who went to Florida? Who went to exotic islands? Nobody. Not because we couldn’t afford it, but because the message being imparted to our children is a negative one and one that imbues them with ideas that can be extremely harmful to them as adults.
I am not even talking about the Jewish concept of living simply. I’ll let your rav tell you the virtues of simplicity from a Jewish perspective. I’m talking about the parenting perspective. Children model after their parents; they see how their parents behave and copy them. And I worry about what we’re teaching them.
Even more concerning is the fact that these concepts are taught to children even if they do not learn it at home. My family went on vacation over midwinter break as well. My children finally got to see their grandparents in another state for the first time in nearly a year and we went on wonderful family activities that everyone enjoyed. But when my children returned to school, they found out that a large number of their friends had gone on some exotic getaway. And it wasn’t just the rich kids, it was the kids whose parents can’t afford to pay full tuition too. And so my children were upset that they didn’t get to go on some trip like that too.
This is what makes me worry. I fear that we are teaching our children to pursue happiness rather than be content with the amazing things they already have. As we should all know, the pursuit of happiness doesn’t lead to happiness, it leads to depression and discontent. And so, I wonder, are we failing our children? Are we failing as parents?