Balancing Wants and Needs

With Christmas approaching,  my relatives have asked what my children want for a gift. I have dutifully passed this request on to each of them, only to get the response, “I don’t really need anything.” Well isn’t that great news? I suppose that means I am doing my job so well that they have no outstanding basic needs. Except I look at them and notice that they are each growing out of their favorite clothes, t-shirts or soffee shorts. When I suggest adding those to their list, they only shrug and say they will think of something.

I wait for a few days and then get handed lists with extravagant wants on it- a pet rabbit, a pair of pistols, a giant furry beanbag and a livescript pen. Now I suppose those could be categorized as wants, but are they realistic? Why do I ask them to come up with their wildest wishes and then crush their hopes by saying these are too expensive or not acceptable?

Balancing our wants and needs is always a delicate act. My son needed snow pants and a ski jacket. He would have liked one from The North Face. We settled for a non-brand name that would serve the purpose without breaking the bank when he outgrows it in a few months and needs a replacement. My daughter wanted some beautiful, dressy tops but she never wears them to school and she needed shirts for cold weather. We compromised on some classic  tops that look nice and match her conservative style.

In todays’ economic climate, it is important to be able to distinguish the difference between want and need and to work out acceptable solutions. If we want to eat out once a week, we need to cook sensible meals at home the rest of the time. If we want to replace furniture in the house, we have to evaluate how badly we want it and if it is really necessary. As much as we would love to buy presents for everyone on our list, we need to assess how practical that really is and what we could get that is worthwhile on a budget.

So while I don’t mean to put the Scrooge in gift-giving and am not suggesting handing out socks and underwear, this holiday season is going to require a lot of creative thinking on my part. I would not tell my relatives not to buy my children’s wish list items (well-except for the rabbit), but now I must try to come up with some clever ideas which they may not have thought of themselves or even recognized that they would want- something with a measure of practicality as well as pleasure. This gets more challenging by the year since they are no longer into kid toys and don’t read books. I prefer not to buy gift cards, they seem so impersonal. Maybe some family board games would get them excited…what would they wish for?

Doesn’t a wish imply something out of the ordinary? Oh no, I think that brings me back to square one.


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. wil
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:19:58

    a tough issue….The way you pose a problem always gets me thinking.
    Maybe we should start wish lists not for ourselves – but for others – Maybe we should take seriously the children’s responses – i dont need anything — and so ask them to think of someone someplace else in the world and what they might need and then donate to a charity…. Maybe the really outlandish thing is not furry chairs or pistols but that we pressure them to come up with things for themselves when indeed most of their material needs are met… What might some other 15 or 13 year old need….How might we make that happen



  2. James W Hall
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 10:26:51

    Very thoughtful. You illuminate the problem (issue?) very well. Of course in my day there was also the threatening possibility of coal.



  3. Carol
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 11:12:03

    We had a tradition of always giving son a “care” package containing sock, briefs, t-shirts for many years. I stopped for awhile, feeling bad about the practicality of the gift, then found out he missed getting them. They’re back on the list again now, along with some inexpensive not-so-practical things. I try to always give something I’ve made and we always keep the spending down. But they are adults now, out in the world, able to purchase their wants for themselves. Our biggest holiday joy is having them home.



  4. Susan
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 00:13:06

    I like Carol’s thought about adding some “not-so-practical” things. Although I do think it is good to give to those in more need as part of the gift to friends and relatives, as wil suggests, I also think it is important to give some sort of gift solely meant for your loved ones, no matter how much they have. Even Jesus accepted the high-end oil (definitely not a need) as a gift representing great love and devotion!

    The topic of what is a want and what is a need is a hard one. (which is maybe why the kids study it for several years in school). I find that as I age and have more resources, things that I once viewed as wants I now consider a need. Many years ago, my family had no cars (in a city with better public transport), then we got one car, and a few years ago we added a second. Are either of those cars a need? I know several families that live without any car in Albany. But now that my husband and I have gotten used to the two cars and not having to plan car use, the second car feels like a need. Is it really? I haven’t bought a smart phone for that reason – if I get one, it will feel like a need, even though it really isn’t – yet. Once society expects you to have one, it may become a need.



    • themiddlegeneration
      Dec 07, 2011 @ 11:08:26

      You are so right, Susan. It is amazing how wants change in to needs before we even notice it. And the idea of giving something to everyone shows our love and caring. All the responses I got from this post seemed to elicit the need for a follow up post. I’d love your thoughts on the new one.



  5. Susan
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 00:15:10

    Oh, and it’s so hard for me to believe that YOUR kids don’t like to read books!



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