How do you decipher between providing a good life for your children and spoiling them? Where do you draw the line between supporting and enabling?
I haven’t quite yet mastered the answer to these questions, but I do know the same parental approaches can have a multitude of different outcomes.
Take me for example. My family was not wealthy. My father worked three jobs so that my mom could be home with my brother and me. I never had chores. Maybe it’s because I kept my room neat without being asked. I was a young girl who liked my things organized. I can remember my mother placing my folded clothes at the foot of my bed. They usually sat there for a day or two, but they eventually made it into my dresser.
I didn’t have a piggy bank or a money jar. I never earned money because I didn’t have chores. My mother took any money I received for birthdays and special occasions and placed it in a savings accounts. If I wanted something I asked for it, and nine times out of 10, I got it. My mom was definitely overindulgent, but perhaps she knew something other mothers didn’t know.
Because you’d think I would’ve grown up to be a spoiled young girl with no sense of responsibility. But somehow, that didn’t happen.
I got my first job at 15 working at the same daycare as my other. By 16 I had a second job working as a hostess at a local restaurant. I don’t remember exactly where my money went to but I’m sure gas for my car and food for my belly.
When I moved in with my husband at age 22, the house was less than desirable. I had to scrub countertops, repaint bedrooms, and strip wood floors. I was surprised by my own capabilities. I’d never had to perform household chores, but I eased into it beautifully. Cleaning toilets, vacuuming and doing laundry became second nature to me. I took pride in keeping a clean home.
Money is the only area where my upbringing shines through. I work hard for what I make, but I’ve also never had to independently provide for myself. I moved from my parent’s home to my husband’s home. My husband’s job carries our health benefits and covers the mortgage. I pay for groceries, my car, life insurance and “mad money.”
We keep separate checking accounts because we manage our money very differently. My husband doesn’t own or even know how to use an ATM card and balances his checkbook by hand. He uses a CC checker, budgeting apps, and automatic bill pay—none of which I’m familiar with. He has his own system and I have mine. I know when my car payment and life insurance are due and I budget accordingly. I don’t balance my checkbook the way I should and often let the automated phone system tell me how much money is available.
I can honestly say I’ve never struggled. I’ve never experienced having to work multiple jobs to pay my rent or to keep the electricity on. And I know this is because my parents always provided for me, without question or much responsibility.
Because I parent my son the same way my mother parented me, I overindulge him. I don’t require him to do much around the house. Granted, he’s only 7 but there are small jobs he can do. I’ve made charts and chore lists that often go by the wayside after a week. He knows how to make his bed, put his laundry in the hamper, and take out the recycling. The problem lies with me—I don’t require him to do his chores every day. He doesn’t earn money to purchase what he wants. Because he’s such a kind-hearted and well-mannered child, I often buy him what he wants—a reward for good behavior.
But I’m realistic about the fact that my mother lucked out with me—the way she raised me could have most definitely backfired. And I worry about the same for my son. I want him to know what responsibility feels like—that sense of satisfaction and pride that accompanies saving up for something you truly want. When you work to earn something you value and appreciate it more. This is an important life lesson in my eyes.
So we’ve been taking steps to stick to the chore list. If there’s something he really wants, we write it on the chart. We list how much it is, how much he’s earned and how much more he needs to save. I still struggle with helping him understand that once he spends his hard earned money, he’ll need to start from the bottom again.
Responsibility and working to earn the things you want can be a hard lesson to teach, but it’s one that will serve your child well in the future. And I’m starting now!