The spoiling curve

Among the many, many things you swore to yourself while waiting to become parents — including but not limited to no screen time, no Dora, no yelling, no sweets — top on the list of good intentions was “no spoiling.” 

You would raise a well-mannered and thoughtful child. One who says “please” and “thank you,” holds doors open for little old ladies and even throws in the occasional curtsey for good measure. 

Your child, by 2, would treasure a worn and dusty library book above anything else. He would play with the wooden toys carved by your great-grandfather. He would scour the backyard for sticks and stones and imaginary dragons. 

There would be no obsession with Lightning McQueen. There would be no reckoning in the Target toy aisle, EVER, and the holidays would be about family — home and hearth and chestnuts roasting. 


Merriment and bad habits

One of the many reasons the toddler years can seem daunting is that they bring the parent to a crossroads in terms of privileges and indulgences: What happens when we start getting cocoa every time Dad goes to Starbucks? Was that birthday party too over the top? What about those junky toys at the grocery store check out? Is “just this once” ever just that? What about the holidays? Oh, the holidays! 

They do funny things to my brain! Stick a candy cane in my coffee and suddenly I’m going off wish list and picking up matching bunny slippers for the whole family. Most of us find it easy to get caught up in the splurge-and-spend, eat-and-drink merriment of the holidays. 

We overdo it; we delight in delighting others — and we swear that things will return to normal in January. Resolutions and all that. 

Toddler Parent, if this feels like that pivotal year between spoiled rotten and healthy family tradition — you’re right. And you also need to lighten up. 

As you raise your child, you’ll constantly wonder how many toys is too many, how often staying up late is appropriate and how to break habits you’ve created (and put them properly back in the category of “sometimes treat”). 


Finding your way

In this, you’ll make mistakes. You’ll bend when you should’ve just continued pushing your already-overfilled red cart past toys and straight on to cat food. You’ll go overboard during the holidays and will — at least momentarily — wallow in remorse and self-doubt. 

Even if you bought only art supplies, unplugged toys and classic children’s books — things you’ve deemed, in your sugar-cookie addled brain, good and worthy and practical — you’ll wonder How much, how many and how young? 

Yearning for a more concrete approach? While there’s no exact treat-to-spoiled ratio, many parents come up with a series of systems and guidelines so that they can at least try to stay within reasonable parameters. 

Some establish early on that they’ll spend $75 on each child for Christmas or that Hanukah will be seven small presents and one larger one.  

You can save trips to Izzy’s Ice Cream for after baseball games, science fairs, gymnastics meets and the like. The dollar section? Only if your child has a dollar. 


You’re always in charge 

But let’s back up. With a toddler, you’re dealing with a relatively blank slate. Ice cream and toy aisles and holidays are new experiences. 

You’ll spoil them sometimes, because it’s fun! And if you accidentally start cookie-grocery store associations or actually find yourself treading into that dreaded “spoiled brat” territory — take heart — you can always take a step back, restructure, rethink and break the habit. You’re the parent, after all. You rule. 

In the meantime, as you wrap one too many presents and then one or two more, soothe your weary consumer’s heart by establishing those meaningful traditions — the things they’ll count on before they ever count how many presents are under the tree. 

Snow tubing on the first night of winter break, singing along with Heat Miser on TV, sparklers on New Year’s Eve. These are expectations you won’t mind meeting year after year. 

You can’t spoil your child with happy memories, and you can’t be so hard on yourself. We’ve all been there and overdone that.