The latest edition of the wonderful and always fascinating InCulture Parent is now out and includes my column "The Dangers of Consumerism and the Muslim Child" There is an excerpt below. Please do go and visit and leave a comment, I would be very happy to hear your thoughts.
I suspect those who celebrate Christmas will be familiar with the way I felt a day or so after last Eid. Having received numerous toys, the kids took a cursory look at each and then left them to one side, forgotten. A few days after, I got a lecture from both my mother and my mother-in-law who had tag-teamed to advise me that I was spoiling my children, in particular my daughter, by buying them too many toys and gifts.
While I am good at ignoring parenting advice, when it comes from both my mum and mother-in-law, I knew there had to be something to it.
I questioned whether I was buying them off with material possessions because of some kind of working mother guilt–toys instead of time and attention. I decided this isn’t the case, because I am quite good at saying no when they ask for things. The usual working mother discourse/guilt trip doesn’t quite fit for me because I work almost the same hours that my kids are at school.
Most of the things I buy them are what I think are appropriate and not what they want—educational toys, sports equipment, arts and crafts materials (although I do have a weakness for pretty, girly things for my daughter). I have always tried to provide an enriched environment for my children through their toys and possessions and then allow them to get on with their play and learning rather than tutor or steer them too strongly (I’m probably too lazy to do this as well).
Despite this, I was left wondering whether buying them lots of toys and clothes was spoiling my children. To find some answers, I had to dig deeper. People often shop when they are anxious. People my age have been raised on a diet of advertising and marketing. We are told that if we buy one more product we will be beautiful, happy, and young and that all of our problems will be solved. Shopping has become a kind of therapy for us–the right shoes will make our work problems go away, the right cream will make us young and we won’t have to think about our self-image or confidence issues. This kind of thinking has become almost second nature for us. As Dave Ramsey (The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness) said, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”