Photo by Rata Fernandez
I need new jeans.
I need my own ice skates.
I need a new zipper binder. See—mine has a rip.
A 12-year-old, as it turns out, has all kinds of needs. As a parent of ‘tween girls, sometimes it can feel like pointing out the difference between “needs” and “wants” is a part-time job. In some respects, it’s just a matter of semantics—a way of teaching them about the specificity of words and the importance of choosing their words carefully.
In other ways, though, it’s all about helping them put things into perspective. When we think we need something, there is always room to follow with the question “Compared to what, or whom?” Do we have a modest amount of clothes, or an abundance? Was our vacation last summer minimalist or extravagant? Is having to share a laptop with two siblings a hardship or a privilege? It all depends, of course, on how you look at it and what standard you hold up to it.
Compared to what?
My own struggle with wants
As an adult, I have to admit that I need those same lessons and reminders every bit as much as my kids do. I have what feels like a pile of need in my gut—longing, reaching, striving, and feeling sorry for myself. I’m just more adept than my kids at knowing how and when to express all of those wants/needs.
Last week I read the blog post “The Quiet Desperation of Need” on Scoutie Girl Blog, a new favorite of mine. In the post, Tara shares her journey with jobs and work, needs and wants, and tangible and intangible rewards. At one point, she writes, “I thought I wanted more money. And wanting money is ‘not okay.’”
Eventually, Tara was able to sort through the difference between her desires and needs. As it turns out, some of the things we think we so desperately want are not that important, and some of the things we long for but downplay (maybe out of guilt) really are important—maybe even things we truly need. Here’s how she puts it:
After Lola was born, what I needed was a way to stay home with her. What I needed was an outlet for the creativity that I was rediscovering. What I needed was a career that let me reach my full potential. I felt that need with the same longing I have for clean air and good food.
Sorting through the “why” behind the need
After reading Tara’s post, I couldn’t help but think about my own greatest desire at this point in my life: a bigger home. I have been all over the emotional map with this desire. Sometimes I feel guilty about it: My life is so blessed, we have a comfortable home, why do I want more? Other times I feel a sense of almost desperate indignation: We work hard, we don’t live lavishly or want anything extravagant. Is it too much to expect that each of the girls could have their own bedroom, or that all five of us wouldn’t have to share one bathroom?
Tara’s perspective helped me re-frame all of this in a way that feels much healthier, and less extreme. It’s not about guilt or entitlement. It’s not about money or what we do or don’t “deserve.” It’s about who we are, what we care about, and what kind of life we want to build. I responded to Tara’s post with this comment:
[Your post] helped me to think about what exactly I wanted, and why. I didn’t want a big home just to have a big home, like a status symbol. I want a bigger home to enhance the things I love most about my life: family time, inviting people in, hosting meals, having a guest room for people to comfortably stay. I want my girls to have some autonomy and not have to share a bedroom. I want all of us to get along a bit better because we’re not fighting over the one bathroom. :) I want a space devoted to writing, sewing, and creating. And I want a bigger kitchen, with enough room for our whole family to prepare meals together. Thinking through those things makes me see my want for a bigger house differently.
And this whole thought process has helped me discover a new way to help our family—kids and adults alike—organize priorities, set goals, and gradually build a life that’s better in the right ways, for the right reasons.