Summer has just passed and weeks shy of Halloween, the stores are already filling up with Christmas decorations. Commercials on kids channels are now a melody of the ‘the latest and greatest,’ new toys on the market, which has children excitedly watching and saying, “I want this and I need that, Mommy!” And meanwhile you are balancing a budget that has you seasick from feeling like your family boat is about to capsize into an uncertain financial sea at any moment. The routine commodities of every day life such as groceries and fuel have nearly doubled or tripled since 2009, and around 57% of families are already living well above their means.
So how do you handle the feelings of pressure to give your children what they want, yet remain true to what you can truly afford? It is only natural for parents to want to give their children the things they want and need, and to provide a life for their children that is comparative to the Jones. But are parents today setting the bar too high? And is this fulfilling of every want, need, and whim even healthy for the children? And lastly, when and how do you decide as a family unit that you will discontinue the façade of seemingly having more than you do.
It is important for parents to realize that the economic class system that exists in this world is not going to go away. Regardless of how much you have (or don’t have) there will always be families with more or less. Comparing yourself, and allowing your children to compare themselves with classmates or friends, is quite simply a behavior that should be stymied as early as possible in life. For one thing, focusing on what others have and on what you don’t have, is an unhealthy way to live and breeds ungratefulness. In parents and in children. Children are naturally expectant creatures with no real grasp of the fact that ‘things’ in life cost money. And it is never too soon to start educating your children about money, money management, and budget.
You also need to consider that the bar you set RIGHT NOW, with your children is likely the same bar that they will try to live by their entire life. It is more important for you to provide happiness, togetherness, and powerful memories that have nothing to do with money, than it is for your child to receive the best gifts or ride around in the best car in town. In the long run, not only will your children be more grateful – but they will also be more prone to feeling satisfied when the financial burdens of life are applied directly to them.
Additionally, children need to learn that the quality of life is not measured by the quantity of things. Sure, your neighbors may be taking twice-yearly trips to Disney while you are camping and roughing it on the beach. You may get your kids 2 or 3 small presents for Christmas while a classmate gets 15. And just as it isn’t fair for them to judge you, and your expenses – it isn’t fair for you to judge them. In other words, spark traditions and habits in your family that make you feel safe and secure. Coveting what others do or have, and assuming that they have triple mortgages on their home only shows that you feel threatened or fearful that you aren’t ‘doing or providing enough stuff,’ for your family.
It’s also a good idea for children to learn the difference between needs and wants. When a child tells you that they need the $85 Angel jeans, or that they need to have their birthday party at American Girl, you should try to explain the difference between what they need and what they want. And, you should also explain to children that it is perfectly okay, normal and even healthy to want things in their life – but that things come with a price tag. For instance, if your teen is insisting on expensive jeans or a Kavu bag, rather than something from TJ Maxx, ensure that they are the ones to sacrifice on getting ‘less stuff’ in exchange for getting the brands that they ‘think they need.’ Another idea is giving your children a certain amount of money, and teaching them how to budget and make decisions to balance out the real needs and the ‘wants,’ in their life.
For parents, the pressure to provide, give, and enable children to measure up is something many people feel. It is the brave who forego cable TV, and who are unconcerned with living up to someone else’s standards, right? Not necessarily so. While it does take some gumption to come up with your own private list of what you feel is important in life and to ignore the plights and pleas from children who feel left out because they don’t have I-pods, it is only as tragic as the parents ‘allow’ it to be. Peer pressure, at any age – can only exist if the victim allows it to. The bottom line is that inequity is a fact of life, but the differences in choices that each parents make for their children is what makes every family unique. If parents aren’t able to stand up for what they believe is important, and make decisions based on what they know works financially for their family – the kids don’t have a chance of living an authentic life.