Can I have a new car, Daddy?

My very own sports car and I didn't even do any work to get it...

My very own sports car and I didn’t even do any work!

The bloke who masterminded the Live Aid concert in 1985, Bob Geldof, was once a working-class lad from a seaside town near Dublin. His first jobs included digging roads, canning peas and working in a slaughterhouse. In other words, getting his hands nice and dirty. So years later, when his teenage daughter asked him for money to buy clothes and shoes he told her to get a job and earn her own money. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?

Now, here’s the thing: was that fair or was that mean? By that time Geldof was a very successful entrepreneur who could easily afford to spoil his children. Don’t we get pleasure from giving our kids all those things we never had? Here in Brazil children are worshipped like demi-gods and middle-class parents are often more than generous with them. It’s quite normal to buy your son or daughter a new car, an apartment and arrange for them to receive a monthly allowance. Why not if you can afford it?

A free trip around the world at somebody else's expense. So nice!

A free trip around the world at somebody else’s expense…so nice!

I met a young Brazilian woman recently who was keen to practise her English with me, having just returned from an 18-month trip around Europe. “What were you doing in Europe?” I asked. “Oh, nothing, just travelling around and enjoying myself”, she said. “But wasn’t it really expensive?” I naively asked. “No, not for me”, she giggled, “my Dad was paying”. On another occasion, in Rio, I had a teenage student in my class who told me – with a big grin on his face – about how his grandfather had taken him to a sports car showroom on his 18th birthday and said, “Pick one – you can have whatever you want”. It may be no coincidence that the student in question was the most obnoxious young man I have ever had the misfortune to teach.

For well-off parents there is clearly an issue: how do I say no when my children know I can afford it? Or more importantly, why should I say no? Don’t we work hard so that our children can have an easier life than we had? All their peers have the latest gadgets and designer gear, so why should we deny them the same?

Perhaps we should begin by asking some other questions. Like, what exactly do I want my children to learn from me? And is there anything I can give them that is more important than material goods and wealth? Let’s go through a list of things that we may be tempted to lavish on our cuddly little darlings.

"We talk posh, we are privileged, watch us get the best jobs!"

“We talk posh, we are privileged, watch us get the best jobs!”

A private education: Brazilian parents tell me they have to invest in expensive schools because the public ones are so bad. Maybe so. But a kid who is given lots of support and encouragement at home can do well in any school. And by paying, you are just perpetuating the divisive system.

A new car: Will buying a new car make your son or daughter happy? Maybe in the short term, but it will do little for their self-respect. So, how about helping them buy an old banger, once they have saved some money themselves? And insisting that they learn how it works so they can fix it up and maintain it. Wouldn’t it make them prouder?

An apartment: Some people work for 20 years or more to buy their first property; what an enormous sense of achievement and well-being they must feel when they finally get those keys. Giving a young person an apartment as a present, like it’s a box of chocolates, is not helping them: it’s denying them those feelings of joy in their accomplishment.

"Mummy and Daddy love me so much that they gave me this fabulous pad. Hooray!"

“Mummy and Daddy love me so much they gave me this fabulous pad. Hooray!”

A year abroad: Travelling and living abroad is priceless, an invaluable opportunity to experience other cultures and, at the same time, learn about yourself and your own country. But to have it all paid for by mummy and daddy? Wouldn’t it be better for parents to give some money towards travel costs and encourage the intrepid youngsters to find a job and support themselves throughout the trip?

Does loving your kids mean giving them everything they want?

Does loving your kids mean giving them everything they want?

So perhaps the crucial question to ask ourselves as parents is: what is the most important thing we can give, pass on, bequeath to our children? Is it love? Many people would say yes. A loving family is the nurturing cell which allows children to grow into well-balanced and self-fulfilled adults. But love isn’t really enough – and doting, self-indulgent love can turn kids into brats.

I have come across quite a few oddball characters in Brazil who are obviously the children of rich, thoughtless parents: overgrown babies, wastrels who have never done a day’s work in their lives. They have little self-respect, poor manners and are hell-bent on spoiling their own kids in exactly the same way. Obviously, this doesn’t only happen in Brazil, but these are my own observations.

I'm free at last! I can do it all by myself, and it feels great!

“I’m free at last! I can do it all by myself, and it feels great!”

No, in my humble opinion, the most important thing your children can learn from you is how to be independent and self-reliant. That is the greatest gift you can give them. The ability to survive and grow without you, to make lives for themselves by their own means, in their own way. It’s not easy. We love them and want to be with them. But we have to let them go. And if they are well-prepared and resourceful, they will make it.

Besides, being a poor, mean Yorkshireman, I can’t spoil my kids, even if I wanted to!

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Categories: Brazil, Musings, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “Can I have a new car, Daddy?

  1. regenio mahfuz herbstrith segundo

    great post, man! enjoy it a lot! cheers!

    ________________________________

  2. Ernestina B. O. Mack Filgueiras

    Should be translated and published in all Latin American papers!
    Great article! Congrats once more!

  3. Dave Brew

    I adore this topic and share your ideas. One thing I have noticed here in Brazil is how common it is for people’s children to continue living with their parents even after finishing their education and getting a job. Now obviously one aspect of this is related to cost whilst another is a change in what is acceptable, in our day most youngsters couldn’t wait to leave home to be able to sleep with their boy or girl friends. Today it has become so acceptable to have a partner stay over that that particular motive has vanished. What concerns me is that IMHO staying with one’s parents can be very detrimental to one’s professional progress. A young worker who is informed one friday that he will be obliged to work on the saturday and sunday may well feel like telling his boss to take a running jump. However bills must be paid, food bought and so forth so someone living on their own will likely accept the imposition. The same youngster who is living with his parents has less fear of unemployment and could well quit or refuse. As many firms promote their employees who are more willing to make an occasional sacrifice, I see it as a possibility that allowing one’s kids to live indefinitely at home may end up being prejudicial to their professional future…. meaning that they may “need” to stay there even longer as, for some reason, they are always getting passed over for promotion!!

    • An interesting perception, David – something I hadn’t really thought about. What you say seems to chime with my idea that there is no real desire on the part of young people to be truly independent; to do things their way, off their own bat. Maybe parents these days are just too accommodating; too nice.

  4. Mari

    Sadly we agree with you, Martin. However,do you really think that puting a kid in bad public schools as we have here in Brazil is the best option? Why do you think mostly rich people pay for their kids to go to school but they struggle for them to pass the university entrance exam for the public university? By giving them some material things you wouldn’t necessarily spoil them if you give love and teach them to value important things in life.

    • Mari – thanks for your comments.
      I understand that many public schools struggle with lack of funding, but are the private schools so much better? Some of them seem to resemble cram schools where the emphasis is on exam-passing, not bringing out creativity or teaching life-skills or emotional intelligence. Putting your child in a good school – public or private – is not enough. If it was, every child would pass into the public university. Education begins at home and teachers can only do so much. If the child is not motivated, the parents are wasting their hard-earned money.

  5. Lucas

    We agree with most of your thoughts, because we think that it is important to know how to achieve your own things and that parents should raise their kids to be independent. However, we have a different reality in Brazil in terms of education. Unfortunately, our public schools have a bad quality of education as has been proven by international tests. Therefore, most parents from the middle class send their children to private schools, so they can garantee them a truly independent future with a decent job. Students from public schools who succeed in their professional life are an exception.

    • Lucas – thanks for your comments.
      I think it’s a bit unfair to say that “public schools have a bad quality of education” when all schools are different and not all private schools are good either. And I disagree with you when you say that private schools “guarantee them a truly independent future with a decent job”. There is no guarantee at all, neither of professional success, nor independence. Many children from private schools will learn to take many things – luxuries included – for granted and will leave school with no idea how poorer people live. This creates a very divided society. School is not the only contributing factor in a child’s success in life and parents who use private schools as a “guarantee” of professional achievement are deluding themselves.

  6. Marcio Silveira

    Hi Martin,
    Thank you for sharing your ideas with us. If you allow me to add my two cents, I think parents can be both supportive and demanding at the same time. For example, instead of simply buying your child an apartment, what about helping them with the downpayment and letting them pay for the rest? Wouldn’t it encourage them to leave their parents’ house sooner and attain greater independence? Regarding paying for education, I would expect you to take into account that the quality of public schools in Brazil is far below the standard of that of more developed nation. Independently of how determined your child is, would you allow your child to go to schools where strikes and lack of educational resources is the norm?
    In summary, I think the challenge for parents is to find the right balance between giving their children some level of support without spoiling them to the point where they take everything for granted.

    Regards,
    Marcio

  7. Hi Marcio
    I agree with much of what you say – thanks for sharing.
    I think the down-payment idea is spot on when helping your kids get on the property ladder. I also think your summary captures in essence what I was trying to say.
    On the subject of private schools, well, it’s probably best to read some of my previous responses regarding that old chestnut!
    Cheers!

  8. Carlos

    This is a very timely subject to discuss nowadays, but there’s no right answer, nor perfect opinion. Also, this is not a cultural problem, but it is inherent to parents who believe that everything is possible to buy, including their own kids’ love.
    In my opinion, one of the key points is: parents have to interact with their kids, and let them know what the family’s characteristics are, what is worth spending money on, and if the family can afford to buy unnecessary items. The issue “how do I say no when my children know I can afford it”, reflects the inability to communicate with kids and let them understand which family they belong to, and that the thing they are asking for doesn´t match the family´s values.

    One could say that it is the fault of a capitalist system and massive media, which expose attractive things to children. However, would this all be an influence if they have a pre-established concept, built at home, of what is really possible (and necessary) to buy?
    I think that young people are distant from reality due to adult convinience to opt for the easy way to deal with what is, probably, the most difficult and tiring situation: saying no, and why.

    Answering the question “can I have a new car, Daddy”, I would probably say: “sure, but wait for Christmas… which one do you prefer? Matchbox or Hot Wheels?”

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