I wrote before about the visible change I witnessed in my kids’ want-iness when we had a particularly spendy summer. Now, years later, I have seen a similar difference play out on a larger scale …
We have 3 kids, and when the two girls were little, we were living the student life; as I’ve mentioned, our budget was pretty much “don’t spend money”. We were still rich by global terms — warms beds, full fridge, and all of that. But, extraneous expenses were rare: clothes that weren’t gifted or thrifted, eating out, takeout coffee… none of that.
Now, the better part of a decade later, our impressionable son is coming of age in a slightly different family culture. He’s not living in the lap of luxury, by any means; but, he comes with us to coffee shops on a Saturday afternoon, he sees us replace dishes and appliances that have long run their course, he eats pizza in a restaurant (never mind that the pizza is $5 because we’re there at 4pm — the best deal going — that part evades his observations).
He sees the money (or at least the credit card) in & out of our wallets, and it’s all so… normal.
I’d never dealt before with the tantruming child who WANTS THE THING SO BADLY that we have to leave a store, crying & empty-handed. I don’t even think it would have occurred to our girls to even ask! But now, to the one who sees, the one who knows that there is spending going on… it’s an option. And he wants to be a part of it.
This concept struck me recently when I (finally) read Ruth Reichl’s foodie memoir, Tender at the Bone. Ruth grew up in middle class wealth in 1950s NYC, and her college roommate — a self-described poor woman from Detroit — one day told her:
Her implication: you take this luxury so for granted, you don’t even appreciate it, don’t even acknowledge it, as a luxury at all.
When I was in tenth grade, my parents took me to England to meet my aunt, uncle & cousins who live there, and of course, to tour around. After staying some days with our family, we did a few days in central London in a (pre-airbnb) rental flat that I'm sure cost a bajillion pounds per night. My response?
I bitched & moaned about it the whole time!
Now, this is partly the teen too-cool-to-vacay-with-my-parents condition, and to be fair, there was a long black hair on my pillow. But, c'mon, 15-year old Shelley... your parents flew you ACROSS AN OCEAN and you are seeing artwork & theatre in one of the best cities in the world and walking into shops older than your entire country.
2018 Shelley — wiser, older, and a parent myself — wants to send teen Shelley home so that she can pay for her own (much dirtier hostel) bed a few years later.
As I grow older & into more financial stability & disposable income (👋lifestyle creep), I feel like: what now? My kids seemed to be less materialistic and more satisfied when we spent nothing. But, what if I don't want to do that anymore?
There are experiences I would love to share, indulgences I enjoy (mostly: food related!)... but does the negative impact outweigh the positive one?
Can adults, who have worked and acquired means to spend their money, spend some of it without spoiling their kids? How do I cultivate an attitude of gratitude, awe, and non-entitlement in them — they who are, in fact, my most precious "belongings"?
I will be wrestling around with these ideas plenty in the coming months, as we ourselves are planning a trip with our kids to London this June. What do you think? What are the answers? Help! (comment below, or email me firstname.lastname@example.org)