We've all felt that pressure before. The urge to buy something new, or to move into the bigger house, the nicer car, or even the new purse in order to make ourselves feel as if we belong is a common one. And we often don't look too deeply into those purchases, instead saying to ourselves (and others) that we just needed a bigger house. Or a car with more horsepower. Or shoes that match our new outfit. Is this really true, or is this a rationalization?
This extends to what we do and buy for our children, too. We want our children to have the best SAT tutor, the nicest clothes, and everything that we believe they need to succeed in the world.
There is also a sense of societal pressure, real or imagined, in our wanting to have and give the best to our children. We might want to give them all that we didn't have in our childhoods, or merely want to ensure that they never lack, because, frankly, why shouldn't they have all that they want and need? If we have not worked through our childhood issues around what we did not get, we are more likely to play out the Keeping up with the Joneses phenomenon.
But at its heart, this phenomenon of spending only in order to keep up with members of our socio-economic group, may mean that we have lost track of what is truly most important to us. Instead we may be medicating or avoiding emotional pain with buying "stuff" and are trying to fill an internal void with external sources.
Does this bring me joy?
There is one simple question that we can ask ourselves before any purchase. It's a barometer for whether the item- whether it's a house, a car, or a specialized soccer coach- is truly something that we want. Asking whether an item brings you joy (and if you hesitate, it may be a "no") can help to give you some clarity. At a minimum, this question deserves more processing.
When we're talking about things that we buy for our children, the matter is slightly more complicated. As mentioned, most of us have deep-seated conceptualizations around what our children need. And it can be hard to separate out what is a true need versus that which we have defined as a need by the discussions of others. For instance, do our children truly need a tutor for multiple subjects, plus piano lessons, specialized sports coaching, and multiple STEM summer camps? Research actually shows that children need unstructured play time more than any of these more formal trainings, however when we hear from others about what their children are doing, we often feel that we need these things, too, in order to have Johnny get accepted into the best schools.
Examining your true values:
But what is truly most important to us? Do we want our children to be world-class athletes and Harvard grads, or do we most want them to be happy? Do we want to have more family time, or to work longer hours in order to afford more material things?