One of the most common myths about money crops up in relationship to our children. It goes something like this: If I deprive my children, I’m a bad parent. The vogue these days is to lavish on our children everything they desire and then more. We don’t want to deprive them of anything.
We have forgotten how to say no.
Perhaps we fear losing their love and devotion. Today’s families have less time to spend with their children. In more families both parents work, often spending extended hours on the job, and more families are headed by single parents. So to compensate for not having as much time to spend with our children, we give them things, believing it will make them happy or will demonstrate how much we love them.
Whatever the reason, the situation has grown to absurd proportions. Our kids tell us that they just have to have 7 For All Mankind jeans, which cost $165! All their friends are getting them! If we say no, how are they going to look to their friends? We don’t want them to feel embarrassed or deprived. We get them the designer jeans because everyone else is doing it for their kids.
We talk about it with the other parents. We comment on how silly it is and how expensive the jeans are. But we still buy them. We have forgotten how to say no.
If we don’t say no sometimes—in fact, if we don’t say it fairly often, our kids are not going to understand that they can’t have everything they want in life. What message do we want our children to learn? That everything they want will be given to them? Or do we want them to realize that there are some limits to what is available—and they can help to earn it, if it’s really important to them?
What about a joint effort? “I’ll buy you the $60 jeans, but if you want the ‘7’ jeans for $165, you have to work to make up the difference.” By using this approach, you would be teaching them that it’s okay to have lofty goals, but you have to work to achieve them.
Walt is forty-four. His parents provided for him abundantly his whole life, including paying for his room, board, and tuition for four years of college. But the thing he remembers most occurred when he was nine years old. More than anything else, he wanted a red ten-speed Schwinn bicycle. No other kid on the block had a ten-speed yet. His dad, instead of just buying it for him or giving it to him for Christmas said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll pay for half of it, but you have to earn the other half on your own.”
Walt took a newspaper route and he sold cookies door-to-door. In four months, he was delivering papers on his new red ten-speed Schwinn bicycle.
“It really made an impression on me,” he said. “I liked it, having to earn the money. It bothered me at first. I thought it was unfair. It seemed impossible that I could earn $60 on my own. But I did it. And I have never been prouder. I took care of that bike, too. Something in me really wanted more of that—having to earn my way, at least part of the way.”
Walt, like a lot of kids, wanted to be responsible. He enjoyed the powerful feeling of “I did it. I earned that!” He did what it took to get there. It wasn’t just given to him. He felt the enormous satisfaction that comes from achieving a goal.
Kids need and love boundaries. When kids are given everything they ask for during their developmental years, it makes a strong imprint. They grow up believing they should have everything. It creates and reinforces a mindset that says the way to get something is to demand it—or always expect that it will be given to you. It eliminates the cause-and-effect relationship between productive effort and reward. It sets in motion a materialistic pattern that will cost both you and your children tens of thousands of dollars over the years.