Parents Strive To Instill A Spirit Of Giving

Three out of 4 moms consider their kids spoiled, according to a recent survey on Parenting.com. But the survey also found that most parents use the holidays as an opportunity to teach volunteerism and charity. Host Michel Martin discusses the challenges of instilling a spirit of giving with a diverse panel of moms.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. And we know that many of us will be lighting the menorah tonight for the first night of Hanukkah or making sure everything is ready for Christmas this weekend.

And, yes, we've been talking a lot about the presents. But at the same time, most parents agree that it can be a challenge to keep the I-wants in check and prevent your own children from sounding like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY")

JULIE DAWN COLE: (as Veruca Salt) Hey, Daddy, I want a golden goose.

ROY KINNEAR: (as Mr. Salt) All right, sweetheart. All right. Daddy will get you a golden goose as soon as we get home.

COLE: (as Veruca Salt) No. I want one of those.

GENE WILDER: (as Willy Wonka) She can't have one.

COLE: (as Veruca Salt) Who says I can't? I want one. I want a golden goose.

MARTIN: That, of course, was Veruca Salt pleading her case in the 1971 movie, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The movie's title is "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory."] But Miss Salt is not the only demanding child out there, we dare to say.

In a recent survey on Parenting.com, three out of four moms called their own children spoiled, and most moms thought their kids were more spoiled than they were when they were kids.

We wanted to talk more about how parents can teach their children an attitude of gratitude, so we're joined by Rachel Fishman Feddersen. She is the editor-in-chief of Parenting.com and the mom of toddler sons. Also with us, Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner, two of our regular contributors. Dani's a mom of two and Leslie a mom of three. Welcome, moms.

RACHEL FISHMAN FEDDERSEN: Great to be here.

DANI TUCKER: Thank you.

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Hi.

MARTIN: Rachel, your family celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas. So, first of all, Happy Hanukkah.

FEDDERSEN: That's right. Thank you.

MARTIN: So does your house get overloaded with gifts at this time of year?

FEDDERSEN: You know, we have to work really hard to have that not happen, and we're still kind of working on it year by year.

MARTIN: You know, I found it fascinating. The survey, even though - I think we have to say that this is not a scientific survey, obviously. This is something that people can choose to participate in or not. But the survey pointed out that, as we said, that most moms feel that their kids are spoiled. But at the same time, more than three-quarters of moms admitted to feeling guilty for saying no to gifts on their children's wish lists. What's up with that, Rachel?

FEDDERSEN: Well, you know, it's tough because we, you know, as moms, you want to give to your children. It's sort of a basic of being a mom. But you recognize that there's a limit to what's wise and what goes over the line. And, also, you want to be appreciated when you do all this work.

And we have a lot of moms of young kids who are having their first few years as the ones who are the givers rather than the recipients, and a lot of them are just realizing how much work goes into it that, as a kid, they never were aware of. So they're really becoming very conscious of the whole spoiled thing.

MARTIN: Dani, what about you? Do you ever feel either worried that your kids are spoiled, or do you ever feel guilty for denying them something that they really want?

TUCKER: Honestly, no. I mean, I'm going to be honest. No. Because I didn't do them that way. You know how I did them. When they were younger and we had Christmas, you know, they were in a couple of programs where we made sure we went to the shelters and fed the homeless. And, you know, one good way to show kids how fortunate they are is show them other kids that aren't as fortunate, you know. So I don't think so.

I mean, you know, we grew up in a family where my grandfather used to say: Jesus got three gifts and it's his birthday. So why should you get more? So we were kind of raised with that type of look at it. You know, and also - we were also raised, and that's the way I raise mine, as it's not just a receiving thing. It's a giving thing. Christmas is not just about what can you get, but also, what did you do for someone else?

MARTIN: Leslie, what about you? Do you ever feel guilty about - do you ever think your kids are spoiled or feel guilty about what you are not going to give them at the same time?

STEINER: I don't feel too much guilt, but my kids are definitely spoiled, and I would say that just about every kid that they know is spoiled. We live in a pretty spoiled world, and I was spoiled growing up, too. And I don't worry about it at Christmas necessarily, because I think it's much bigger than just how many gifts they get or their friends get.

You know, you can't see me because we're on the radio, but I'm white and I grew up in a very privileged environment - privileged educationally, in terms of living in a safe neighborhood and having economic security. My kids live in that world, and they go to a private school. And all of the parents who I know are college educated and have graduate degrees, and it's pretty guaranteed our kids will, too.

So we grow up - we live in a world of great privilege and abundance, and I think that, sometimes, that environment teaches kids to be really sensitive and to be really aware of the fact that it's just - it's completely accidental. They didn't earn it.

But I also see kids that - they go in the other direction, and they're just - you just can't believe how bratty and spoiled they are. And I think it's a really tricky parenting challenge, not just, you know, in the last week of December, but in the entire course of their lives, how to teach kids to be grateful and to have real charity in their hearts.

MARTIN: Let's talk about how you can teach that. But before we move on to that, I am fascinated by this whole question of whether it's the environment or whether it's the specific teachings of the parents. Because, you know, we - and I don't think I'm telling a family secret here - we at NPR sponsor a coat drive every year for a nearby school. And one of the things that always just overwhelms us is that often you have children who walk in with just basically like a thin windbreaker. And the first question they ask is: Can I have a coat for my sister? Can I have a coat for my mother?

And they are not thinking about themselves. And you'd think that when kids don't have a lot, that the first thing they would think of is what can I get for myself. But often it is not. So you just cannot predict. So let's - you know, that always breaks me down. But let's talk about how you go about teaching an attitude of gratitude.

I know Rachel, you say that you can start as early as what, three or four.

FEDDERSEN: Yeah. About age three is when kids start being aware that there's a world that isn't just entirely them. I mean they still think it mostly revolves around them, but they are aware of other people and you can start teaching them. They have the language to understand what you're saying to them. They can understand maybe, I think like, like Leslie said, this is a season where you can talk about getting; you can talk about giving at the same time.

So you can start with young kids about, all right, here's what you're going to get. What are we going to give this season? What do you think would be a nice thing to give, you know, whoever you choose the recipient to be?

MARTIN: Do you choose a recipient, somebody direct or somebody personal, somebody that actually know or do you try to make it abstract to say, oh, here is our charity box, or you know how a lot of times you have those UNICEF boxes at Halloween and they gather coins for the kids overseas.

FEDDERSEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: So Rachel, do you make it specific? Or do you leave it abstract or for kids who don't have as much as you have?

FEDDERSEN: Well, you have to speak in concrete terms so your child understands you with really young children. But, you know, why not choose people you know and people you don't know? There's no reason to limit it. So you can say, grandma is going to get us something. What should we get for grandma? And, you know, there are children out there who might not have enough for breakfast everyday. Or there are children out there who might not be getting toys for Christmas. What do you think we should give those kids? What would be a nice thing for us to give?

MARTIN: We're talking about how to teach children to be grateful this holiday season. I'm joined by Leslie Morgan Steiner and Dani Tucker, two of our regular contributors to our Parenting roundtable. Also with us today, Rachel Fishman Feddersen, editor-in-chief of Parenting.com.

Dani, what about you? You are sharing some of your ideas earlier. You make it a point to, what? Work in the holiday schedule a visit to a, what? A...

TUCKER: Oh, you got to serve somebody.

MARTIN: You got to serve somebody.

TUCKER: You got to serve somebody.

MARTIN: Do you let them pick?

TUCKER: Now, I mean, you know, back in the day when they was small then, we were with the different, you know, mentoring programs that we were in. We already had a schedule. We'd go to Second and D shelter. We'd go to out to PG, you know, wherever they had to go. But now that they're older, yeah, let them pick. And then, of course, we have a church base, so a lot of times the church already has things ready to go and all they have to do is just OK, well, I'll do it here. But, you know, DeVaughn has learned to, you know, he's got him a couple of people he knows that he says, hey, this is who I'm helping so, you know, I'm proud of them on that aspect, you know, that, you know, somebody needs something, you know, type thing that they're just doing it naturally. Imani's the same way now.

MARTIN: Do you feel a need to clamp down hard on behavior when it happens? For example, I think many people will see this if they unfortunately are in a position where they have to take kids with them to a toy store or something at this time of year. And, you know, I think we've all heard it, that high-pitched squeal, you know, from, you know, two aisles over - I want it. You know, and you just you're like, what is going on here? Do you feel a need to clamp down right then and there, or do you feel that lessons can be imparted later on?

TUCKER: No, clamp down right then and there. Like my grandmother used to say: wherever you show off, that's where you get showed out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TUCKER: You got to do it right then and there because that's where it happened and that's where the lesson is.

MARTIN: What do you say? What would you say? I can't envision your - I'd be too scared to do that with you. But what would you...

TUCKER: And I sit on my hands and not, you know, not go into my other area...

MARTIN: We're not endorsing the...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...the use of hands in this situation. But what do you say? What exactly do you say?

TUCKER: You tell them, I don't - don't do the spoil thing. Do the reward thing. You have not earned this. You do not need this. You just want this. But you make the lesson right then and there. No. I said no. Well, why? Because I said no. Let's go. And a lot of parents don't do that. You know, they have this conversation with this child...

MARTIN: Well, how is that explaining it?

TUCKER: I don't have to explain to you. You're a child. I said no. You learn. Let's go. Why can't I have that? Because you haven't earned it. You want it. What have you done? What have you done for some - why should I give it to you? What have you done to earn this? We spoil - we just give them things. We keep giving them things and they don't do anything to earn it. I reward my kids. They both had a good year. It was a tough year and they made it through and they grew. OK. Reward time.

MARTIN: OK.

TUCKER: You see. But you got to reward them. Stop spoiling them.

MARTIN: All right. Leslie, what about you?

STEINER: It makes me really mad when my own children act spoiled. And what happens to me is I instantly get furious and my jaw clenches and I will take them aside - or if we're at home, just yell at them...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEINER: ...and say something along the lines of, you are so spoiled and I hate to see this in you.

MARTIN: But do you take something away or do you set an incentive? What do you do?

STEINER: Oh yeah. I punish them. I punish them. I take things away. But mostly it's just very strong disapproval from mom and they have gotten the message. There's no doubt about it. But I still think it's a really tricky thing to teach because I think you cannot mandate generosity of spirit in kids. I think you have to model it and you have to nag them about it and you have to try 100 different ways to teach them. And I think there's a real risk, especially if you live in a world of a lot of privilege, of teaching kids to mix joy in generosity with pity.

And I don't want my kids to think that, you know, doing good involves a drive across town to give something to kids who have so much less than them, who look different than them and live in a different place. I think there's a place for that kind of charity. But what I really want to see in my kids is spontaneous generosity of spirit.

MARTIN: Do you - let me just ask you this question. Do you insist that they give of their own abundance or do you give them the money with which to be generous?

STEINER: Both. I actually - in some ways I don't insist at all. Their school has a turkey drive every year that we give to. There's a toy drive that they give to. Sometimes it's their own money, sometimes it's my money. It really depends. But I have to say my kids are old enough now; they are 14, 13 and nine, that they are starting to show that spontaneous attitude of helping other people. And it fills me with hope for the future.

MARTIN: Rachel, what about you, though? Do you insist that your kids - well, your kids are little. I mean they're too little to really have their own bank. But when they become big enough...

FEDDERSEN: They are too - yeah. Well, they're too little to have their own bank but they have their own things. Well, look, the 19-month-old, he's out of the picture.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yeah, he's out of the picture. Well, do you insist that that they give of their own abundance, or do you give them the means to be generous?

FEDDERSEN: The four-year-old has toys - well, you know, they don't have their own income yet, so it's all got to be from me. But the four-year-old has his own toys and he has ones he doesn't play with anymore and, you know, he can go through with me and pick out ones that he thinks he's ready to give away. You know, what should we be giving to, you know, it's another family with younger kids that we know, what would be a nice thing to share with the new baby? And that's a good way to get a younger child involved and feel like they're giving something of themselves.

Money is still sort of an abstract concept for him.

MARTIN: I have to ask the question though. Does any of you ever feel pressure to keep up with the Joneses? And is that in part what...

FEDDERSEN: I think you have three confident moms on here.

MARTIN: Rachel? Yeah?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FEDDERSEN: Sorry.

TUCKER: Not at all. I don't live with the Joneses, so I don't need to keep up.

FEDDERSEN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Leslie, what about you?

STEINER: I do sometimes. You know, I think people have such different attitudes about gift giving. One of my daughter's friends, I took the mom aside a couple of days ago and said I just, I want to warn you, you know, my daughter has gotten your daughter a really expensive gift for Christmas. And the mom just laughed and she said, oh god, thank you so much. And I should tell you that we have gotten your daughter something that costs - and she named a figure that was three times as much as what we were spending on our expensive gift.

MARTIN: Oh dear.

STEINER: I know, I was so embarrassed. Thank God I know this mom really well and we had a good laugh about it. But everybody has a different attitude. And so I try not to pay too much attention and I try to really focus on the spirit of giving and not worry too much about keeping up with other people. But yeah, but, you know, it's always there's always somebody who has much more than you and much less than you.

MARTIN: Before we let you all go, we have a couple of minutes left. We have time enough to hear from each of you. How will you know that you have succeeded instilling the attitude that you want?

Leslie, did you want to start?

STEINER: That is a great question. I had something happen just a couple of days ago that made me feel like oh, OK, we're on the right track here - had nothing to do with Christmas. Ten o'clock at night, cold out, the older kids were in their pajamas ready to get into bed and our neighbor called and his cat had gotten out and had gotten hit by a car and he couldn't find the injured cat. And my kids, without a second, grabbed flashlights and ran out to help him. And they did find the cat, fortunately.

And I thought OK, there was not a single complaint from them. They got it, that they needed to help their neighbor right then. And that made me feel like I don't know if I did anything right, but they're on the right track here.

MARTIN: I love that story because it isn't just about a thing, it's about what you do. It's not just about what you give.

Dani, what about you? How will you know if you have succeeded in instilling the right attitude in your kids?

TUCKER: When I hear them say, oh good, Sunday we get to go to church actually on Christmas. Thank you. That's what it's about, you know, because most, because somebody asked us, oh, is your church closed for Christmas? Hello?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Hello? Excuse me?

TUCKER: Hello. Christ-mas. OK. But when the kids are like oh, you know, because it doesn't happen that often. And I'm like, thank you, Jesus.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK.

TUCKER: So that's it for me right there.

MARTIN: All right.

TUCKER: The true meaning of it.

MARTIN: Rachel, what about you? How will you know when you have - if you have succeeded with yours?

FEDDERSEN: Well...

MARTIN: And they're still very little people.

FEDDERSEN: They're still very little. But like the other moms you're always looking for the signposts that you're heading in the right direction because, you know, you want to raise a good person. That's what we want to do. So you just got to model that good behavior and just watch for signs that you're heading in the right direction.

MARTIN: OK. We have a minute left. What do you want Santa to bring you? Rachel, what do you...

FEDDERSEN: Oh, me?

MARTIN: Yeah.

FEDDERSEN: Yeah, a grateful child.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FEDDERSEN: And no snow so we can get out of where we're going.

MARTIN: OK. Dani, what do you want Santa to bring you?

TUCKER: Well, my son is about to leave for the Navy, so just peace. You know, in my heart as I release my son to the military.

MARTIN: Mmm. OK. Leslie...

STEINER: Me too, inner peace. It's priceless.

MARTIN: Inner peace and outer peace.

STEINER: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: All right. Well, thank you all and Happy holidays.

TUCKER: Happy holidays.

STEINER: Thank you.

TUCKER: Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner are two of our regular contributors to our Parenting roundtable. They were here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. With us from NPR New York, Rachel Fishman Feddersen, the editor-in-chief of Parenting.com.

Thank you all. Happy Holidays.

TUCKER: Yes, thank you.

STEINER: Thank you.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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