When financial crisis hits home some children remain in a protective bubble. Perhaps their parents continue to buy those expensive designer sneakers and clothing that represents status. Maybe the children continue sporting or recreation programs with expenses that exceeds the family’s means. One can only wonder, how many dollars a year continues to be doled out for wasteful spending at the corner store or the ice-cream truck. Cellular phones and plans get upgraded to unlimited service instead of demanding children limit their use. Toys carelessly left behind are replaced. It’s an endless list of irresponsible behavior trying to hide what is no longer there.
After all, it’s not the children’s fault that times are difficult. Why should they be denied indulgence? This is a cost that keeps children engaged in their circle of friends and spares them from shame and embarrassment. Shhh, don’t talk about money. Let the kids remain thinking there is an unlimited supply. Parents want to keep their children shielded from financial crisis and to continue appearing capable amid the community and most importantly in the eyes of their children.
Steering a different course once crisis occurs is difficult and requires humility. I know because it is the route I first took years ago when faced with divorce, having to live on a small fraction of what my children and I were use to. Working in a middle school gave me an insider’s view to the relationship of children and money. Knowing what I can and cannot afford, I would be baffled when I’d see children of limited means sporting $140 sneakers or after lunch, day after day, seeing them line up at the vending machine when my own children left for school that morning with only enough change in their pocket for milk having to carry a bagged lunch.
I had to question my frugality, standing court side seeing pride beam from the boy with the squeaky new sneakers. I then understood the status the sneakers represented and I was able to understand and respect such extravagance, perhaps on the part of his grandma who was left to raise him on limited means, or maybe an uncle stepped up taking him for the sneakers, or by chance they were sneakers that had fallen off a truck, this I did not know or concern myself. What I did know was that on the basketball court the sneakers made Luke an equal. It didn’t matter that he lived on the other side of town. This beloved child who didn’t have the braces to correct his massive over-bite, for many weeks wore a smile of great pride.
It was around this time that cell phones gained popularity and my daughter’s father provided her with one, meanwhile to me he was crying poverty. He continued to make the journey each weekend to see his children taking them out to dine in restaurants through a period of unemployment and then there after, all those years, when his pay was 50% less than it had been when we were married. I didn’t see him suffering any financial crisis though my support contingent on his wages lessened further, tightening my ability to provide. He’d replace my son’s worn out $50 sneakers and took him to the $10 barber as needed. The extras I appreciated but felt were owed. I was sure he was gaining funds under the table that escaped the support as he always appeared to be living beyond his documented means.
Ten years later, his exorbitant credit card debt was erased in bankruptcy, while I continue to struggle to get by. I adjusted to live within my means when crisis first hit, only charging necessary purchases during extremely difficult times. I’ve managed crisis after crisis and get angry seeing people being bailed out from their foolishness whether it be through bankruptcy or walking away from their upside-down homes in foreclosure. All these years I have done without and I have even reduced us to living in this old shack I have been slowly converting into a home. It makes one wonder: who has been the fool?
I was lucky to have been saving for a new roof, having some money in the bank back in December 2009, when the job crisis hit home. I’m still unemployed but getting by due to the multiple extensions in unemployment benefits, the child support payments, and the little cushion I had set aside. No matter how difficult the times, each year the children and I take our family vacation. Thanks to modern technology I can job search from anywhere. So, for $100 I planned this summer to take the family for a camping trip on Cape Cod, but my youngest, now seventeen years old, wants to take a trip to Florida to her Godmother’s house, and like years before, she wants to bring along her friend.
Perhaps this means I have done a good job protecting her from realizing that we are in a financial crisis. As the round-trip from New York to Florida by car will cost approximately $400, I told the girls and the accompanying friend (whom all work part/time jobs) that if everyone chips in we can go. This vacation is not on mommy. I can only afford a camping trip on the Cape, but I’d drive and would love to go to Florida instead, provided they share the transportation cost.
I had to humble myself in order to avail my daughter the option of changing our vacation plans. It will be up to them to take on the financial responsibility should they choose option number two.
Do you think this is fair?
Where do you draw the line in these difficult times?
How did you teach your child financial responsibility?
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