I realize this is not even an issue in France, although I suspect there might be some international version of the same conundrum. I'm talking about the American Girl doll and how much my 6-year-old wants one of those bank-breaking toys. And now, the birthday parties at the American Girl Doll stores have started, and we're the only family on the block who is holding out on buying one. I just don't see how my daughter, who can destroy a stuffed animal with a Sharpie in five seconds flat, is capable of taking care of a $100 doll. And that's not even counting the outfits, which I'm guessing double as solar panels since they also cost more than what I can pick up for myself at Target. And Target's great!
I don't want her to be left out, but I also don't want my girl thinking that it's okay to spend such lavish amounts of money on toys when you're only 6 years old. What do I do?
Dear Mrs. Grinch,
Thanks for the excellent and personally excruciating question.
Every time I pass that trio of American Girl dolls in my daughters’ room—one, by the way, with nail polish all over her face—I feel the three of them taking turns delivering phantom doll kicks to my backside for being such a sucker.
Sadly, Julie Albright, Felicity Merriman and Ivy Ling (bless you if you aren’t familiar with those AG names) moved in before I began researching French parenting, particularly the art of restraint. When my daughter, Daphne, was only 4 years old, she copied her 6-year-old sister’s habit of begging daily for one of these dolls so that she “could be like the other girls at school.” Her pre-K teacher’s daughter has nine of them. Her California cousins also have enough to form an all American Girl Doll soccer team.
According to my girls, every female child in Brooklyn had at least one. And thus, so did my girls. Admittedly, I didn’t shell out $350 for the dolls. My father-in-law did. (Ugh—the guilt mounts.) He needed an idea for Christmas presents, and I needed to get these little beggars off my back.
Oona, my older daughter, outgrew her love of Felicity within a year and willingly handed her off to Daphne. Oona has always been more of a stuffed animal kid. Daphne loved the dolls for a little while—loved them so much that she gave two of them extreme makeovers. If I hadn’t found her cutting Ivy’s hair, God only knows what would be left of the dolls now. Almost worse than defacing these lavish dolls, however, was when Daphne took yet another cue from Oona and also began to ignore Julie, Felicity and Ivy.
I would counter my daughters’ pleas with an explanation about responsibility.
Many of the French parents I interviewed talked about teaching fiscal responsibility to children at an early age. Sadly, it wasn’t until after Daphne had reshaped Julie’s face that I started that conversation: “Daphne! Now we’ll never be able to sell her on eBay!” Poor kid felt wretched. But really, what was I thinking giving a 4-year-old a $110 doll? Or even a 6-year-old, for that matter?
I have invested a lot of thought in our whole American Girl fiasco. The dolls are lovely and well made. Many of them have compelling backstories, and their value is apparent in the devotion they inspire in legions of young girls. That being said, they are also a fad. If I could do things over again, I would counter my daughters’ pleas with an explanation about responsibility. Regardless of the fact that all of the other kids have AG dolls, it’s irresponsible of me, as a mother, to expect children so young to take proper care of something so expensive and, quite possibly, a passing fancy. Age 8, or even 10, is a much more sensible age to shell out such big bucks for a doll. By then, children understand both themselves and the value of money a little better.
If you need any more inspiration to stand your ground, I suggest a visit to any of the American Girl Place stores. The spectacle of parents forking over real American dollars (many of them, at that) for a doll to have its hair done and perhaps a facial, is enough to send any sane parent running.