There are so many opportunities for our children. And we love them so much and want good things for them. But the options never end, and when does it get to be too much? Nathan and I have made the conscious decision that we will not pay for and provide our children with every opportunity that presents itself. I recognize that we do some of this also out of necessity, because we are a family where kids outnumber parents and where the finances are very tight. But there are choices we make that have nothing to do with these factors. And if we had one child and unlimited finances, I really believe we would still practice many of these same things.
Many families are falling into the trap of living a kid-centric life. When we send the message to a child that the world revolves around them, becoming an adult will be extra hard on that child and on our society that has to deal with them. A kid-centric family misses out on teaching a lot of important lessons about selflessness, responsibility, self control and financial planning. Nathan and I have been very intentional about drawing some lines that we hope will make our kids better people. The jury is still out on if this will have the results we hope for. These aren’t proven methods and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But this is how we are making a stab at combating the kid-centric mentality in our society.
We pay for food, you pay for extras. We are their parents so we feed them. If they go on a school trip where the group is eating out, then we will give them a reasonable amount of money for food. But if they feel the need to buy a stuffed cheetah at the zoo or put $15 in quarters into the arcade at the pizza place, that’ll come out of their pocket.
Just because you are invited doesn’t mean you are going. There are countless opportunities available to me as an adult that I pass up every single day. My child cannot attend every leadership week they are invited to. They cannot go on every overnight trip that their school organizations go on. They cannot go on every vacation with a friend that invites them. Between scheduling, finances, and being intentional about how we spend our time, this just doesn’t work for our family. My kids will learn now to pick and choose their adventures, just like I do as an adult.
Some days will not be about you. Some days we force our son to get up early and sit in the cold to watch his sister’s soccer game because we want to spend our Saturday with him. He might rather stay home or be sent to a friend’s house where the day can be all about what he wants. But he is a part of our family, and some days are about the team rather than the individual. My job is not to entertain all children constantly, so I will not apologize for this. There are certainly days that are all about making a child feel special, like their birthday, the day they compete in a big tournament or the day we shop together for something they need. But I will not try to pretend that every day should be like that.
If you pay half, I’ll pay half. There are some expenses that I can almost justify but not quite. So if it’s important enough to the child, then they can pay for half and invest in it too. We’ve used this method of compromise for lots of things like dance clinics, name-brand jeans, and fun youth trips. This is a good way to easily find out what really matters to my kids as well.
Don’t expect everyone to gladly hand over money for you to go somewhere fun. There are some times when a child earns an opportunity to move on to represent their school or town at a higher level of competition. A child may need to fund raise in order to do this. There are other times when a group or organization is simply going on a trip to play ball, visit a really neat area of the country, or attend a special event. These trips aren’t “earned” and they are basically a vacation. If you want to go on a special trip like this, it would make sense to me that the child and the parents or other extended family members would foot the bill. I don’t want my kids to believe that whenever they want to go somewhere but it’s expensive, they just ask other people for money or do enough fundraisers to make it happen. Notice that our kid-centric world allows children to do this. What if my women’s book club wanted to go to NYC for the weekend? Would a fund raiser be appropriate? No. Because for some reason we don’t approve of adults doing that.
We will sometimes miss your games for our own personal activity. We have three active children. But as an adult, I also have interests and hobbies. Sometimes Nathan will go hunting and miss one of their soccer games. Sometimes I will choose an activity that is for me over being at their event. I could say no to my personal activities and try to be there for all their moments. But I want my kids to know that I am a real person with depth, goals and interests that go beyond watching little league. I want to model what a well-rounded adult actually looks like. When I’m there for their stuff, I want to be all in. But I just will not be there every single time.
I look around at the trend to make life a little bigger and better than it was the day before. If you give your child every opportunity as they grow up, pulling out all the stops and whistles at every turn, then what is left for later? Real life will be a boring let-down. They’ll end up confused, unable to hold a job and never satisfied with their cash flow. We’re already starting to see this play out in our culture with young adults. I hope that my children will learn that happiness doesn’t come from these things. I hope they are learning to be responsible with their money and time, how to make hard financial decisions and how a family is more important than the individuals in it.