Hey! Do any of you remember stressing to spend enough money on the perfect gifts for your kids at Christmas only to have them open all of the presents and fall in love with the little toy you got at the dollar store? You probably thought to yourself…”I could have saved 500 bucks and only spent a dollar at the dollar store and the kid would have been just as happy.”
Well…that all to common circumstance is a microcosm of one of the grand truths of raising kids. I write from the experience of being a kid…and now having kids of my own.
If you’re like me…you spend a great deal of your life trying to figure out how to provide a good life for your kids. You constantly think and worry about whether you are coming up short as a parent. You worry that somehow your inability to create an ideal situation for your kids will taint their childhood, ruin their life, and it will be all your fault. You worry about the time going by so fast and what you perceive as a lack of “creating memories with your kids.”
Many times we link all of our shortcomings back to money. We think to ourselves, “if I made a little more money…I could do so much more for my kids.” We think that money will make their lives so much better and that their childhood will be that much more exciting and memorable.
Unfortunately…for most young parents…lots of money is not an option. But is that really a bad thing?
Think about this for a second. Act like you just won the lottery. You now have as much money as you’d ever need to “do so much more for your kids.” What would you do? Would you vacation 24/7? Never work again? Buy your kids designer clothes? Get them an endless supply of toys?
You could do anything you wanted! Life would be a breeze…and the kids are “set for life”! Right?
But then a few months go by and you start to realize that none of those things were ever the best things for your kids. You realize that your kids aren’t “better off” or more happy. In fact…now they start to expect everything. You’ve got a gardner so there’s no yard work to do. Your house is so big now that you’ve had to hire a maid. Now there’s no housework to do.
Kids watch their parents and want to mimic them. If dad pays someone to work in the yard…then son thinks that is the way things are supposed to be. But if dad works in the yard, son figures he ought to work out there also. Is it bad to have a gardner? No. The only problem in all of this is the fact that the son never saw all of the hard work that dad did in order to have enough money to pay the gardner. The son wants to mimic the dad but never learned to work hard.
You don’t need to experience that sudden influx of cash to know that this is true. Just study the lives of the kids of the rich and famous. So many of them have no idea how to function in a society. They have no idea how to take care of themselves or work hard…and regardless of how much money you have and how many “experiences” you’ve had with them…they’ve forgotten them all. Now…all they wish for is self-sufficiency. But they’ve never seen that side of life and have no idea where to start…and it’s depressing.
When I was growing up, we were close to being poor. My dad didn’t start making good money until after I was 18 or so. I watched him bootstrap his own company with no help from anyone. My mom and I cruised around in a beat up Monte Carlo that used to back fire down the road. We were lucky to have a car. We rented modest little homes. I remember working hard every weekend shoveling dirt, mowing lawns, pulling weeds, and riding in trailers to the local dump. If I earned five bucks…I was rich. I learned how to pitch in…and I learned how to work hard. I’m so grateful for that.
My parents probably wished every day of their life that they could do more for me. But if we were rich…I probably wouldn’t have had those experiences of working with my dad in the yard. I wouldn’t have learned to be grateful when my mom bought me a couple shirts at Mervyns for back to school. Those experiences…I remember. For some reason…I remember. But I can’t for the life of me remember any of our trips to Disneyland.
But you say to yourself…”I don’t want more money so that I can spoil my kids…I just want them to have better experiences while growing up.”
Dallin Oaks once shared how a friend of his “took his young family on a series of summer vacation trips, including visits to memorable historic sites. At the end of the summer he asked his teenage son which of these good summer activities he enjoyed most. The father learned from the reply, and so did those he told of it. “The thing I liked best this summer,” the boy replied, “was the night you and I laid on the lawn and looked at the stars and talked.”
Think of it! You’re kids don’t care how much money you make! They don’t care about flying first class to the Bahamas or sipping virgin pina coladas on a Maui beach.
All they want is you.
What our kids don’t need is more money for luxurious lifestyles and exotic vacations or for us to make life easy for them. If anything…we should be making it difficult for them. I know that sounds weird but just hear me out.
Think about a sensei or karate master who takes on a protege. Will it do the pupil any good if the master is easy on the student? Heck no, right! When that student gets into the real world…he’s going to get his teeth kicked in. It is the master’s duty and responsibility to prepare this pupil for the real world. They have a controlled environment in which the master can intelligently take the pupil to the brink of mental and physical exhaustion in order to create growth in that individual.
This sort of training makes the vicissitudes of life seem easy as they present themselves to the student when the sensei is long gone.
I think so many of us have our thinking backwards. We live our lives to make our kids lives easier. But as we make our kids lives easier…we make our kids lives harder. We get frustrated at our financial situations because we aren’t able to give little Johnny his dream birthday or little Suzie her coveted pony.
A majority of us spend our days thinking about all of the things we don’t have. We let precious time slip through our hands because of a preoccupation with some sort of ideal situation. I’ve personally fallen into that trap many times, whereupon my good ol’ dad reminds me to “enjoy the journey” and good ol’ mom tells me to “blossom where I’m planted”.
So if you can teach kids anything while they’re young, teach them to be happy with less. We say that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Teach them to be creative with what they have. To turn nothing…into something. Not something into nothing. Then…if money comes to them down the road, they’ll use it for good.
So stop obsessing about money as the catalyst for your child’s happiness…
and start obsessing about spending quality time teaching them…loving them…and listening to them.