Needs vs. Wants

When we moved to our first house in Bloomington, IN a few years back, one of our neighbors, a very nice young couple who had a 9/10 year old daughter, knocked our door a week or so after we moved in, holding a home-made cake.

They came to pay us a visit, to say welcome to the neighborhood.

That was the nicest gesture that made our first experience in an almost all-white American neighborhood, with its first Muslim family, very pleasant. I do not know if they knew it then, but it is such a refreshing feeling to have people walk up to you with an open-mind and say welcome, we would like to get to know you and who knows, we might become good friends…

Another reason why we thought this family was special was their daughter Kate. She was an only child. One of the nicest, most-caring, intelligent, confident, talented, well-mannered young people I have seen in a long time. Her mother and I used to get together time to time for tea. I was caring for an infant, juggling motherhood and graduate school, and she was a talented breastfeeding consultant with a big heart. I remember asking her, as I do unceasingly with parents whose kids strike my attention as being exceptional, what they did that worked so well! I was hungry for any advice, especially from a mother whose parenting skills was proven to have worked so well.

She shared an important parenting tip, which I found genious (though it might seem common-sense once you hear it, most parents never come up with it on their own): teach her the distinction between needs and wants.

We must and will meet all her needs, to the best of our abilities.

But we do not have to and will not fulfill all her wants.

So when she asks for something, a new toy or a candy, we ask her: do you need this or do you just want this? Teach her this is a want as opposed to a need. Then, depending on your family rules on toys/how much candy and when…etc. you can either get that or not.

When she asks for things that she actually needs, say she is thirsty and she asks for a bottle of water in the supermarket, or she does not have slippers for the summer, you point out that she needs these and you are meeting her needs. Of course, we should not do this as if sticking to her eyes, see how good parents we are, we are doing all this for you… That’s not the right attitude or even the reality of the matter. We are only teaching her the difference between needs and wants, AND that she has parents who will try their best to meet her needs, hence she can feel secure, loved, and taken-care-of.

Why do this? What is the point of differentiating between needs vs. wants?

Well, first of all, in today’s world, children AND adults are conditioned (by society, media, marketing techniques…) that they NEED that toy, they simply NEED that larger, more efficient food processor…etc. This is an economy that is driven by consumerism. They more we consume, the richer some guys get. The more we have to work (hence less time for family) to earn money, so we can buy more things.

Ironically, the more we work and become workholics who spend 5/6 out of 7 days at work, decieving ourself that we are working for our kids’ benefit (to give them better things, to pay for private school….), the less time we spend with our kids. The less time and energy we have for our family. Ultimately, we have more, and we are less happy. Nothing satisfies us. The more we acquire the more disappointed we are that it does not make us happier.

Kids who have everything, can never be satisfied with anything. Hence, they start notching it up more and more. The latest playstation did not work, let’s try a new mustang daddy. Opps, that is not enough either. How about these recreational drugs. I hear they make you really happy! How about risky relationships…. and the climb up continues until the final steep fall…

The only way to break the cycle is to put an halt to this cycle of consumerism (work-to buy-work more-to buy more…and so on). We really really do NOT need all this stuff.

We want to be happy. We need to be happy.

But ‘things’ are not going to make us happy.

When we build up their expectations for a new toy, we teach them ‘things’ make us happy, that’s what they should look forward to: If you behave well, I will buy you a lolipop or a new doll. Wait for your birthday and I will get you a big, new firetruck…

Instead, we can build their expectations for experiences: We are going to make a special camping trip for your birthday! If you finish your meal, I will teach you how to climb a tree! If you complete your homework, we will go out for a bike race! You can have a play-date with your friend Aisha, if you clean up your room…etc.

We can teach our kids the distinction between needs vs. wants only if we adhere to this life-view! If we buy whatever our whim desires, whenever it desires, then we have no shot at instilling these values in our children (nor should we be hypocritical and try). When we buy a new shirt because we truly need it, we must convey this to our kid, frame our purpose in needs vs. wants paradigm.

When we are at a store and she is interested in something, we pick it up and she plays with it while we are in there, and puts it back as we leave. This is working almost without any fuss because we have been doing this since she was a baby. Thank God that in the US, no one says anything when your kid plays with a toy in the store (elsewhere this would be inconceivable). Plus I know it for sure that if we were to purchase that toy, her fancy will fade away at most in two days. And we will left with more clutter in our home.

We constantly select toys that she is either too old for or she is bored with and she gives them as gifts to other kids or donates them. This way there is room for new things that she might need.

I love the motto of SIMPLICITY. A simple life – few chores to do, leaves so much time to do the great things that are important like spending quality time with family. A simple life – few things to buy, leaves so much room for a peaceful mind and serenity.