Generally, it's not a good thing when things are spoiled. It means the meat has gone rancid, the milk sour, the laughter harsh or brittle. So also with children. Spoiled children are ill-behaved, demanding little buggers. They shriek and throw tantrums. They leave broken dishware and angry adults in their wake. They grow up badly.
We know this, but the desire to spoil children seems to be pretty universal. It's probably something biological, an automatic indulgence, like the softness women feel when they see infants. There is something really delightful in giving small gifts and treats to a kiddo, in giving them experiences and things. Maybe it's their enthusiasm. That ice cream scoop (toy, amusement park trip, car . . .) is the best thing ever . . . and, by association, you are the best Mommy (aunt, grandma, uncle, brother, etc.) in the world.
There are plenty of messages against it. Spoiled children in movies turn out badly. I'm thinking of characters like Marylee Hadley in Written on the Wind, Connie Corleone from The Godfather, Veda Pierce from Mildred Pierce. Fabulous dissolutes. Drunken wastrels with Daddy issues. They drink too much, smoke too much, drive too fast, and screw up fabulously. They act like they don't care, but really they care a great deal. The message seems to be that, because everything was handed to them, because they didn't have to earn a place in the world, they don't really have a place in the world.
In the movies of my teen years, they become an object of scorn, the bully character that you are happy to see the underdog come up and defeat. The Socs vs. The Greasers. And we're cheering for the Greasers. At least I am. I'm still definitely a Greaser.
With Mitt Romney in the headlines lately, that rich kid bully character comes into my radar again, this time in real life. As an adult, I run across spoiled, nasty people all the time. Mostly, they seem to drive white SUVs as if they came with entitlement instead of just a title. They are the moms sitting near me at a coffee shop dissing their nannies, the people cutting me off in traffic only to end up sitting right beside me at the same red light.
I know I have a chip on my shoulder about these people that goes back to playing against tennis club babies in high school and resenting their fancier equipment and years of expensive lessons. A rich person who would like to befriend me will find it a hard row to hoe . . .and they probably have never held a hoe in their lives.
But chip or not, I disapprove of living your life like you are owed something. It's the assumption that stings. The idea that somehow your needs are more important than those of the guy next to you.
I'm a mom now and it softens my view a little. I know that desire to give my children whatever I didn't have and felt the lack of. And, honestly, I had it pretty good. My parents "spoiled" me plenty. They did also refuse me things, though. There were limits that had nothing to do with our finances, but about our values. I worry about spoiling my children, about raising them to be superior assholes when I'm just trying to instill healthy self-confidence.
I hope I can balance this for my children, indulging them appropriately, but still holding them to a standard of behavior and attitude about others that means they are good people. There are limits. I'm not Mildred Pierce, working my fingers to the bone to feed the endless appetite of a spoiled Veda. I'm not a socialite, leaving the raising of my progeny to the hired help and shrugging when they behave badly.
People can't really be spoiled. They are not pieces of meat that we discard when they turn. There is always time to turn around and make a change. Life is a process, and, at some point, we all take over the reins of our own lives. Our parents influence where we start, but we determine where we finish. Spoiling a child can give him or her different struggles than depriving a child will do, but in the end, it's the way we overcome our obstacles that shows our mettle.
At least that's what I tell myself, as I purchase yet another toy, another book, another ticket to another event. Indulging isn't spoiling. It's all about balance.
I hope I'm right.