Most moms I know are pretty good at making things happen. We might not always be on top of the latest fashion trends or know enough about world events to hold a lengthy debate, and our diets and exercise schedules may be lacking. But when it comes to our kids, we seem to be rock stars at creating opportunities, often to our own (and sometimes their) detriment.
Why is this? Our children are important to us, so we find the time and resources to meet their needs. But beyond that, most modern moms make the time to accommodate their “wants” as well…so much so that we confuse them with needs. We sacrifice things that are important to us (like hiring a babysitter so we can go out on a date with our husbands) so we can afford the monthly gymnastics or piano lesson fees. We settle for one more month of clothes that are worn and ill-fitting because the kids need new cleats for soccer or baseball or whatever.
But I’d like to argue that this is not the way it should be.
Of course as parents it is our responsibility to meet our children’s needs. At the minimum, it is our responsibility to feed, clothe, shelter, and educate them (If you think your kids are not being educated by what you do and say, you are sorely mistaken).
But when it comes to extra-curricular activities, kids should have to have a little “skin in the game” and realize that every penny that Mom and Dad earn is not automatically allotted to them. Kids need to help earn money for field trips (especially big ones like overnight trips), sports equipment, entertainment and the like. (Yes, I did say field trips…for a school to ask parents repeatedly to cough up $25 for bus and lunch fees is ridiculous. Many families budget every dollar and don’t have that option. These are wants, not needs.)
Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority. Every time I turn around, it seems that I am being asked by some club or team to send in money for an event. The whole concept of “making do” with the resources available seems to be a quaint memory of days gone by.
I would like to suggest that we start thinking and questioning more before automatically coughing up money. My family and I have to do this. We have 6 kids. Currently, four of them are going to Catholic school (which I concede is a want), but even when they were in public school we were constantly being asked to send in money. While my husband provides well for us, we are not what you would consider wealthy, especially by local standards.
We do expect our kids to contribute. They can do it through work (babysitting younger siblings while I run errands or make meals or go on a date with their father) or they can do it through cash (they have had to earn money for trips they are taking this summer). And still, things are tight for us. But our kids are learning important lessons about the finite nature of money.
Now, on the flip side, I believe that as adults, we ought to be able to use a little bit of our hard earned money for the things that we want. It really is okay to buy yourself a new pair of shoes and have your child wait a month for his new shoes (unless of course they have holes in them or they have outgrown them). It really is okay to buy department store makeup for yourself and drug store makeup for your teenager. At some point, kids have to learn that there are perks that come with working hard and “paying your dues.” Otherwise, they will be sorely disappointed when they get out into the “real world” and learn that they cannot afford the same cell phone plan that their parents have.
We owe it to our kids to not provide them everything they want. If you can afford it, that’s great. But then I think the challenge is even greater. And if you live in an affluent community, it is even more important to be mindful about your spending. It’s easy to just hand over cash than to make them wash the car or mow the lawn, especially when it seems like that is what “everyone else” is doing. However you are actually robbing your kids of valuable lessons by not expecting them to contribute.
Let’s start demanding that our kids’ lives revolve more around “being” and “doing” than around “having.” Let’s pay attention to who they are becoming instead of what they are accumulating. And let’s stop letting ourselves feel guilty for enjoying the fruits of our labors while expecting our kids to work for some their own perks. Teaching our kids to be responsible really is the loving thing to do.