Family Health

Tanya Sweeney: 'Khloé Kardashian isn't the first parent to spoil her child with gifts'

I’m not sure how or why anyone in the world would expect a Kardashian to do anything by halves. Yet even by the family’s wildly excessive standards, Khloé Kardashian has been accused of spoiling her one-year-old daughter, True, with a toy Bentley.

Some have deemed it ‘excessive spending’ and ‘worthless materialism’; Khloé clapped back against her haters by calling it ‘a child riding in a toy car’. By Khloé’s reckoning, it’s her money, she works hard for it, she’s teaching her baby about morals and discipline – why wouldn’t she treat her daughter?

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She’s certainly not alone in that regard. It’s not quite Baby Bentley territory, but Irish parents are said to spend €900 on their children’s communions, and €254 on each Christmas present. Every three-year-old I’ve met is familiar with an iPad. No fewer than three family-first festivals were launched this year in Ireland, where the littlies’ fun and experience comes first.

It’s certainly a few towns over from how most of us were raised. A generation or two ago, spoiling one’s child was among the worst things a parent could do. We grew up with Veruca Salt (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory) and Nellie Oleson (Little House on the Prairie); both hateful, ruined brats who were coddled beyond reason. Their parents duly paid the price. Whether young or old, we knew that a spoiled brat was an outcome to be avoided at all costs.

So how did we get from there to here? I’ll wager that the profligate spending on little ones starts early, and entirely with a child’s best interests at its heart.

The baby paraphernalia consumerism is built on the vulnerabilities of anxious new parents. Buy this, and things will be easier; your baby will be happier. All told, the ‘giving children the best start in life’ industry has been amped to the point of near-fetishisation. Wanting to be the best parent one can be is an age-old conceit, but now, a gazillion gadgets and ‘aids’ profess to smooth the psychological pathway for parent and baby alike. And so the precedent is set.

My own mother-in-law takes a look around our small kitchen. She sees a bottle prep machine, a baby food machine, a new-fangled high chair, sterilisers, toys, white noise machines. There are brightly coloured plastic and pastel fabrics encroaching every space in the house. “We never had any of this years ago,” she says, shaking her head slightly. Her oldest child had one glass bottle for feeding. The end.

It’s been said that today’s children are spoiled by way of compensating for something. In Khloé Kardashian’s case, for instance, ‘friends’ reckon that she is going above and beyond for her child, because she is a single parent who is pretty much doing it alone.

Others have noted that the average parent’s long working hours can create a sort of guilt that can lead to a permissive parenting style. We readily give in because we don’t want what little time we spend with our children to be fraught or upsetting.

It’s certainly got me thinking. In today’s current climate, my partner and I have not yet been able to provide our child with the sort of spacious, three-bedroom home in Dublin that I grew up in. We rent, in an unstable market. I’m still trying to unpack how much guilt I feel about this. Does it affect my esteem as a good parent? We’re a long way off showering my five-month-old with presents and toys on a whim, but still. In the absence of a stable, bricks-and-mortar house, do I buy this excess of baby gadgets to convince myself that I’m a good parent, and one that can provide?

Parenting experts will note that if parents work from a position of guilt and if they are motivated by the desire not to upset their child, they are doing them a disservice in the long-run. The truth is that children need, nay crave, boundaries, and to hear the word ‘no’. If a child’s every whim is indulged, you end up with a rather emotionally stunted person on your hands in years to come.

We were the generation that didn’t just hear ‘no’: we also heard ‘we can’t afford braces’, ‘sure who’ll be looking at you?’ and ‘get out and play, and don’t let me see you until dinnertime’. Somewhere in between this and the toy Bentleys and the bottle prep machines, there surely lies the happy medium. It’s probably on all of us to find it.

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