Sometimes my parenting strategies seem inconsistent or like a total shot in the dark. I throw out some creative method, pretend with my kids like I’m real confident in what I’m doing and then hold my breath to see what happens next. Needless to say, I have my share of parenting flops. So I’m happy to be able to tell you about a recent “parenting win”.
At Christmas time, my kids love buying gifts for each other. It is only within our immediate family that they spend their own money to buy and wrap gifts that are only from them. This means a lot to them, and on Christmas morning, the first gifts they want to open are the ones from each other. That’s especially neat to me, because those are also generally the smallest gifts that cost only $5-10 each. They’re also pretty creative with their wrapping, as seen below. Sam purchased an eagle charm for Abby’s new charm bracelet, but he wrapped it in a big box with a giant heavy log to throw her off.
One day a couple of weeks before Christmas, Lydia excitedly selected things to order for Sam, Abby and her daddy. I told her she owed me 24 dollars and she went upstairs to her room to get the money. She was gone a long while before she came back to tell me that she only had six dollars and some change. We were sure this wasn’t the case, because Sam and Abby both had quite a bit of money. Lydia has what you might call an “organizational problem”. Sam and Abby are so sweet to her and quickly went to help her look through all her purses, wallets, Ziplock bags, and books. Yes, books, because she uses dollar bills for bookmarks. Her room is somewhat of a disaster. But they only found another dollar or so in there.
I told Lydia that if she still wanted to purchase the gifts, she could work to earn the money. She excitedly said, “Yes! I’ve been wanting to do that. I really want to be a puppy sitter.” I explained that a puppy-sitting career she’d surely read about in one of her books wasn’t exactly what I meant, but that I did have some jobs she could do. I made a list of some chores that needed to be done and how much I could pay her for each one. The pay I came up with balanced the factors of minimum wage, the thoroughness of a 9-year-old, and the amount of time and effort I thought each thing would take her. Then, she chose from the list which chores she would like to do. She worked for me two different days doing various chores.
I have to tell you that being in the “holiday spirit” and loving this girl like I do, it was tempting to overpay her or just buy the gifts myself. There were moments where it was hard for me to not give in and help her out. She was working while her siblings were playing. But this was not my gift to give. I knew how much more her gifts would mean if she really worked to buy them. I remembered how much it means to my kids to wrap a gift and place it under the tree that is truly from them. I knew that if I gave her money that didn’t actually cost her anything, I would be robbing her of the experience of really giving and her siblings of the experience of receiving something that truly had meaning. So I stuck to my guns and continued on with this lesson.
Lydia did enough jobs until she had the $24 she needed to buy the gifts. She was so happy on Christmas morning to have her gifts for the family, and I’m so glad that she earned them. I knew this would teach her and even her siblings a valuable lesson about what it means to give to those you love. But already, after this experience, two other great things have happened that I really wasn’t expecting. First of all, she cleaned her room all by herself. She cleaned it like I have NEVER in my life seen her do. It actually annoyed me, because I had given up long ago and decided that she was incapable on her own of much organization and that she would always require help. Now I know that she actually can do it, and she was totally taking advantage of me or Abby or anyone that would help her “helpless” little self. Oh, the life of the baby of the family. Anyway, the second thing that happened is that she is now saving her money. She received some money for Christmas. She is keeping it all neatly in one wallet and told me that she does not want to go shopping with us because she is saving her money.
This will be one of my favorite memories from this Christmas. There are valuable life lessons learned when you let your kids problem-solve their own stuff and don’t rescue them. Age-appropriate advice and support are part of the process, but don’t just “fix it”. Let them work for something that takes their time and effort. It’s certainly not the easy way for the kid or the parent. But oh how much greater are the lessons in responsibility, ownership and the real heart of giving.