Don’t Catch Affluenza This Christmas
Parents want material comfort for their children — but too much poses dangers to the soul.


Nancy French

The 16-year-old rich kid from Texas got only ten years’ probation after killing four people (and paralyzing one) while driving drunk. His attorney claimed Ethan was the victim of “affluenza,” which is a fake condition resulting from having too much money, not enough understanding of consequence, and a cancerous sense of entitlement. His punishment includes spending time in a rehab clinic near Newport Beach, which costs almost half a million dollars per year and where he can have organic food and equine therapy.

Is it possible that the thing for which we parents have been striving — material comfort — is actually poisoning our children in insidious ways?

Though it’s definitely difficult to raise kids with too little money, it’s also hard to raise them with too much. Gladwell points out that there is little sympathy for wealthy people who discuss this phenomenon. However, the tragic Couch case affirms what even we non-multimillionaires already know: Getting everything you want presents its own set of problems.

This should be a lesson for us all when it comes to December 25.

Christmas is when parents try to make their kids’ dreams all come true, even if just for one day. Every television ad reinforces the message to parents: Pull out all the stops, indulge, give your kids their best day of the year.

It’s easy to see why December 25 is frequently the most depressing day of the year as well.

There’s something incredibly dejecting about watching your kid open a gift and sensing that it simply isn’t the right color or size. There’s something even worse about knowing you’re not as grateful as you should be for the package of new socks, or even those new diamond earrings your spouse has so kindly placed under the tree. Christmas, though just one day, reveals our hearts, exposes our sense of entitlement, and sometimes just falls short. Of course, we know it shouldn’t be about the gifts. But we also know Santa doesn’t drop everything down the chimney. Someone’s got to stock up on the Scotch tape, bake two dozen cookies for school, and figure out the right amount to spend on the gift for the boss.

Because it’s so easy to lose sight of the miraculous birth of Christ, we sink too much value into the idea that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” and we had better enjoy it, darn it.

This Christmas, however, don’t succumb to affluenza of the heart. When you sit down to open presents with the kids, remember this: Christ came even though we are broken, entitled, spoiled, and ungrateful. Even more to the point, he came because we are those things.

Instead of being shocked and hurt when your kid rolls his eyes after opening a Lego set just like the one he already owns, simply point him to Christ. Remind him of God’s goodness during this season.

And don’t forget to point yourself to Christ by laying down your expectations of “the perfect holiday,” “the perfect gift from your spouse,” or “the perfect reaction from your kids.”

After all, it’s not just children who live with selfish, entitled hearts.

Nancy French is a New York Times best-selling author.