When my daughter was five, I told her that she could pick out a toy from Target. When your kids are tiny, trips to the store become grand adventures. You snap pictures of them next to mannequins or hugging the dog statue. It was a whole to-do.
It only took one turn down the Disney Princess aisle to settle on something. The doll, much like all the other dolls she had at home, was majestic. While I can’t tell you which princess she was, I knew she was a princess. I also know she was like $28.
Still early on in my parenting tenure, I worried about saying “no” after telling her to pick “whatever you want.” The fatherly faux paus in terms of limitless promises was something I made a mental note to correct in future Target runs. Plus, looking at her glowing face in the presence of Princess Whoeverthehell was enough to make me want to spend the money for no other reason than that she’s adorable.
As we trotted out of the toy section and over to the checkout line, she saw it. She saw the tie-dye bouncy rubber ball.
It was beautiful. It was colorful. It was perfect.
It was $3.
The princess was abandoned like a bag of wet sick as she darted over to the discount bin with an expression of pure jubilation.
Can I get this instead? Please?
I didn’t know what to do. I was frozen. Was this happening?
Are you sure? You don’t want the doll?
She violently shook her head “no” in that over-the-top way that little kids do when they really mean it. I thought her noggin was going to twist right off.
Sure! In fact, you can get two if you want!
Bingo. I had unexpectedly saved $22 while becoming the best dad in Target..
During stories like these, grizzled poppas like me usually come back with, “If only I knew then what I know now. I would have appreciated that moment.” We let out a sigh and stare into the distance. This is not one of those times.
I knew, as it was happening, that this was an anomaly. I realized then that she was at a rare age when she knows what money is without equating more of it to better. She was seeing the world through her own eyes, not those of ad execs trying to pump me for all they can gouge.
We’ve come a long way since those kindergarten Target days. With all that’s gone on since then, it can feel like a lifetime ago. The memory is still vivid and money education is one parenting technique that still persists. In fact, it goes on forever.
Although, if we’re being fair, my son Lucas doesn’t deal much with money. That’s for the peasants. The toys he loves are because he loves them, not because of the price. In fact, the only money issue for my non-verbal little guy is that he tends to be reckless with expensive things. Not really caring about cost is a double-edged sword in that sense, but when it comes to what he wants in life, his personality still very much in the tie-dye ball phase.
My daughter is getting older and, with that, comes the responsibility to teach her that money isn’t so easy to come by, even if it seems that way to a kid being showered with it. As someone who wasn’t swimming in greenbacks during my younger years, I tend to battle a conflicting internal struggle when it comes to shaping her relationship with currency.
Honest stuff right now – saying “no” feels weird. I know, I know. People are reading this and shaking their heads. I’m not saying that I don’t say “no”, just that it makes me feel uneasy. Still, I do it, but that’s part of what parenting is. You do what’s right for them, not what’s right for you.
That’s why some people can so easily spoil their kids. For any parent who longed for an unpurchased hula hoop during their young, knowing that a present for no reason could bring joy to their child is enough to make them want to sprint to the store. After all, we pledged to give them the lives we always wanted, right? Throwing funds at their faces feels like the right move.
Too much, though, isn’t good. It skews expectations and creates the idea that, in life, when there’s something they need, it will be right there immediately. No work. No effort. No wanting. No longing. The second they desire it, they will get it.
In other words, you don’t teach them reality. You leave that lesson to the rest of the world to do for you in 20 years. The world does it harsher than you ever would.
When we moved into the new place, I wanted to start teaching my daughter the value of money. I created a chart and, if she wanted to earn something, she has to do the chores that pay out the right amount to get it. Whether she dustbusts the stairs, washes the dishes, or bakes boxed brownies for the house, she can make her own money. I wrote it up and prepared myself for the inevitable pushback.
There was none. She made like $20 that day.
Yep. Almost immediately, she displayed a work ethic that, although she likes to pretend isn’t there, is a major part of who she is and why she will do great things.
Times like this make me realize that, as her dad, I need to be on call for things like this as she grows older. I have to help her do the taxes that I barely know how to do myself. I need to help her refinance, long term lease, scholarship paperwork, stock market, buy sell, and flippy house stuff well into my golden years. Don’t tell her, but I don’t know what any of those things really mean.
But I figure, as long as I stay a few years ahead of her, I can learn as I go. Hey, it’s worked so far.