The Barbie Doll Story: A Child’s Lesson in Accountability

By Sharon Knapp Lamberth

As children, my siblings and I were given seventy-five cents each week that we could save or spend at our discretion. I, like so many other little girls, enjoyed playing with Barbie dolls. I recall a time when a newly advertised Barbie doll came on the market; one that I very much wanted. When I had saved enough money, my mother agreed to take me to the store to purchase the doll. I can still recall the excitement I felt as I counted the days until Saturday.

Dressed early and ready to go, with wallet in hand, I told my mother that I was going outside to sit on the curb by the driveway to wait for her. Living on a quiet cul-de-sac, my next door neighbor and I regularly sat on that curb engaging in ‘girl talk’. My mother called to me to hold onto my wallet and not take the money out, lest I might forget my wallet or lose the money. 

As hoped, while sitting outside, my friend saw me, walked over, and joined me on the curb. Unable to contain my excitement about my upcoming purchase, I told her that I was waiting for my mother to take me to the store to buy a new Barbie doll. I opened my wallet to show her the money I had saved and, in the process, dropped the money down the street drain! 

At that very moment, I heard the front door open. Out walked my mother. Knowing that I had done exactly what my mother told me NOT to do, I got in the car and said nothing about the incident. Once inside the store, we headed for the toy aisle where all the Barbie dolls were shelved neatly in rows. Having no choice, I blurted out to my mother that I had dropped my money down the street drain and asked her if she would give me money to buy the doll, promising to pay her back. 

You can just imagine my disappointment when I heard my mother say, “I didn’t lose the money, you did. In order for the money to fall down the drain, you had to have taken it out of your wallet; something I specifically told you not to do.” “But I was just showing it to Kelly,” I replied. Unwaivering, my mother repeated, “Again, I did not lose the money, you did.” I looked at my mother pleadingly and asked, “Can you please loan me the money (I might have even added, “just this once”)?” Her response: “I could, but I am not going to do that. What I will do is give you some extra jobs to do so you can earn back the money you lost. When you have enough money, I will bring you back to the store to buy the doll.” I wanted to throw a hissy fit right there in the store, but I knew better.

Once home, I went straight to my room and cried my eyes out. When I finally stopped crying from exhaustion, my mother came into my room and provided me with a list of tasks and how much money I could earn for each one. Concerned that the store might sell out of the Barbie’s, I got busy and worked hard to complete the list in a timely manner. A week later, my mother took me back to the store to buy the doll. 

Content with my purchase, I was more receptive to my mother’s words of wisdom on the ride home. “Had you followed my directions, you would not have lost your money. You did not need to take the money out and show it to anyone. As your parent, it is my job to help you to learn to be responsible. To do that, I had to hold you accountable for your actions. Having you work to earn the money that you lost was more reflective of real life and motivated you to get the tasks done in a timely manner.” Of course, she was right.

In today’s society, countless numbers of children, teens, and adults seem quite lost when it comes to understanding the importance of recognizing and accepting personal responsibility, and accountability, for one’s actions. Though parents are their child’s first and primary instructors, many have dropped the ball (perhaps unintentionally or unknowingly) in teaching this critical life lesson; a lesson best taught not by rescuing children from adverse situations, but by holding them accountable for their actions. The Barbie doll incident is but one example of the many mishaps that typically occur throughout childhood; mishaps that are perfect opportunities for parents to teach rather than rescue.

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