Saturday, June 12, 2010

Needs and wants

Distinguishing between needs and wants seemed really simple when I was child. We were taught the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, water and air and it seemed pretty straight forward- everything else is a want, not a need. But then I grew up. I realized that I had needs beyond basic survival and that I might have life but wasn't really living if those needs weren't being met. In college this understanding was given a name when I learned of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. There has been some research to suggest that the hierarchy is pure myth- needs are needs and one is no more important than the other. Others contend that Maslow had it right because one can't begin to think about 'higher' needs if certain basic needs aren't being met. Whichever side of the argument people fell on however, the one thing everyone seemed to be in agreement about was the actual needs Maslow had put forward. These include:

paraphrased from Wikipedia
1.Physiological Needs
These are those basic needs many of us learned as children. Maslow believed that all other needs were secondary to these. On this point I agree with the hierarchy theory. It's difficult to care about much else when you are starving.

2.Security Needs
The need for safety and security include a desire for steady employment, health insurance, safe neighborhoods, etc.

3.Social Needs
These include needs for belonging, love and affection. Maslow considered these needs to be less basic than physiological and security needs and this is where I depart from his theory. I believe that the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the unemployed have a strong need for relationships. Their friendships, partners, and families may become even more important in their time of need.

4.Esteem Needs

The term self-esteem has been devalued in our society but the need for esteem is still vital. This is our sense of self worth and our belief that we have value in the world.

5.Self-actualizing Needs
Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others and interested fulfilling their potential.

When I look at all of the needs I begin to think about how I parent a little differently. My children have these same needs and it is my responsibility to ensure that ALL of them are met, not just those basic physiological and security needs that are self evident in parenting. This becomes tricky because the line between wants and needs become blurry. When I make something for dinner that one of my kids doesn't like they don't need me to make something different but they do need to feel valued in the day to day decisions made for our family. Kya doesn't need dance lessons but she does need the opportunity to actualize her goals and dreams. The same is true for Jace's desire to build his own gaming system. These are not frivolous desires but yearnings to fulfill their innermost needs.

The line between needs and wants is further muddied for children. In a recent discussion on an unschooling forum a member known as annakiss had this to say:

I think that children cannot often distinguish between wants and needs and that this is a good way of considering their perspective on matters. It does not mean that all wants should be considered needs, but that the desires of children are very serious to them and the expectations of adults should reflect rather than deny that.

In other words, it may not be a need but that doesn't mean the request shouldn't be treated with respect. Imagine if you went to your spouse/partner and stated a desire to purchase something important to you. Instead of talking it through and seeing if it were possible, empathizing if it it's not your spouse begins to lecture you about how great you have it and that you should be grateful instead of asking for more. That would not endear my husband to me (to say the least). Eventually I'd stop seeing him as a partner and instead as an adversary. This is what happens when we dismiss our children's requests. It may seem frivolous when Kya asks for another American Girl or Jace wants a new video game but these things are important to them. I realize, just now as I'm typing this, that one of the reasons I've been dismissive in the past is because I feel guilty. I WANT to give these things to my kids and I can't so instead of acknowledging the desire I try to diminish it, thus diminishing my guilt for being unable to provide the object of their desire.

So, when it comes to needs and wants I'm trying to say yes more and I'm trying to be respectful and empathetic when I must say no.

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