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Materialism: Stealing Our Children?

by Kristina Wenger

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal (Mt. 6:19)

In this age in the United States of America (and, indeed, throughout the world), the acquisition of "stuff" is what society embraces as the goal for life. With the forthcoming holiday season, in particular, the fight-to-convince-everyone-to-acquire-more-stuff will be intensifying all around us. But is more stuff really what we or our children need?

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos) said, "I have realized that the destruction of man lies in the abundance of material goods, because it prevents him from experiencing the presence of God and appreciating His benevolence. If you want to take someone away from God, give him plenty of material goods. He will instantly forget Him forever."

As Orthodox Christian parents, we do not want to see our children forget God forever. Nor do we want them to miss out on experiencing God's presence and appreciating His benevolence. Therefore it is imperative that we be aware of the amount of material goods we are amassing as well as how much stuff our children have been/are being given.

There are many articles available to parents to help them combat materialism in their home and with their families. Here are suggestions gleaned from a few:

Begin by focusing any comparisons on those less fortunate than you. Because, as Theodore Roosevelt so aptly put it, "comparison is the thief of joy," let us be careful not to compare ourselves and our stuff to others. If we must compare, then let us compare ourselves to those who have less than we do. Then we will be amazed at all that we have, and hopefully find it in ourselves to do what we can to share from our abundance with those who have less. (Idea found www.becomingminimalist.com/consumer-isnt/.)

Give time, money, and/or things away to someone else in need together with your child. "The real opposite of materialism is spirituality... Try to do something with your child that's focused on giving to others in a way that she can see," says Paul Coleman, a family therapist and author of How to Say It to Your Kids. The article is at www.babycenter.com/0_materialism-how-to-discourage-it_67142.bc goes on to  encourage parents to include their children in a project like making a meal together and taking it to an elderly neighbor.

Foster your children's creativity. Rather than buying them all the latest gadgets and toy sets, provide materials and allow them to make or build their own. Once they've built them, encourage them to play with these toys. Better yet, play along with them! The memories you will make together are far better than any purchased gift, even if you are "just" cooking in a cardboard "kitchen" or driving toy cars all over a butcher paper neighborhood. (Ideas found at www.kristensguide.com/Family/Parenting/kids_arent_materialistic.asp.)

Use the plethora of advertisements appealing to our greed as an opportunity to talk with your children about how the companies paying for the advertisements are trying to make you feel discontent with what you have, and convince you that you need to buy their product. Talk with your children about the product being advertised. Do your children really think it's as amazing as it is advertised to be? What makes you think so/not? (Idea at www.parenthood.com/article/10_simple_ways_to_combat_greed.html.)

Consider challenging another family to join you in the Minimalism Game (see www.theminimalists.com/game/ for details). On day 1 of the game, each participant (or participating family) gets rid of (gives away, recycles, or otherwise shares) one item before midnight. On day 2, two items; day 3, three; etc. The participant who keeps at it the longest is the winner! (Actually, everyone who participates wins because of eliminating excess in their home while helping others!)

'Tis the season... Let us prepare to face materialism head on, and find ways to combat its influence in our lives and in the lives of our children. As we successfully turn away from our greed and toward Christ and His people, we will, indeed, be storing up "treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matt. 6:20-21)