Hindsight Parenting: Learning to Parent Within Means
We Are Not in a Position to Obtain Wants
We are not in a position to obtain wants. Through circumstances beyond my control, a third of my single-income paycheck, each single-income paycheck, now goes to the triple-digit-income-home where my sons now reside. But this is not a column to lament about that. Times are hard. There are many families who have felt the strain and stress of a single-income household. (Of course they may not have had to ALSO deal with a stringent state child support formula and grapple with the lack of humanity of those who don’t need but take anyways just because they are entitled to take) but there are hardships all around. This is not a column about that. This is a column with which I use hindsight in order to learn from and to hopefully teach others to avoid the mistakes I made on my mom journey the first time around. And so I will do that by using my new and often repeated mantra, “What does this dilemma teach me?”
Fifteen years ago, I was in a similar situation. My sons’ father and I were in the process of divorcing, and I was left because of some horrific happenings that I won’t go into here having to pay all of the bills that were accrued during the marriage all by myself. There was no decree of child support for a very long time and even when there was, I found it impossible to make ends meet for my boys and I by paying bills with one income that were once paid by two. However, even the lack of funds didn’t stop me from taking the boys on vacations to Disney World, to the ocean. It didn’t stop me from purchasing them the newest and coolest toys that everyone had. It didn’t stop me from buying so many Christmas gifts it looked as if the Christmas tree had vomited presents. How did I do that you ask? Simple, my bills went without paying. WHY did I do that you ask? Well, that answer is much less simple and the analysis is one that is necessary if we are to learn from hindsight.
If I reach deep into the bowels of my consciousness the word that keeps appearing when I ponder WHY I spent money that I didn’t have is GUILT. I think I have probably discussed this concept several times but it is so important that it warrants repeating over and over and over. Parenting out of guilt is NEVER a proper way to raise children. It will cause deep rooted problems down the road even if it seems to soothe the immediate present.
Guilt. I felt so guilty that my children weren’t going on vacations, were missing out on newfangled toys, didn’t get to eat the cool junk food that the other kids brought for snacks, I couldn’t bear it. The fact that they were the products of divorce should NOT punish them. When I spent money that I shouldn’t really spend, at the time, I truly thought that I was putting my children first. But that isn’t true. It isn’t true at all.
What it ended up doing was creating a false sense of reality for my sons. They had a right to have it all. After all, I had given it to them their whole lives. And so, the bottom dropped out when my current husband was no longer working. I was much older and wiser and knew that it was honorable and my duty as a responsible adult to pay my bills. That didn’t leave much extra. This outraged my children, and why not, money seemed to appear out of nowhere their entire lives.
Now it is even tighter. I actually long for the days when I was eking it out month by month. Feeding my daughter and keeping the house that I ironically kept for the boys are now real challenges that I face daily. So my daughter (along with me) needs to learn that she, for awhile, until her dad finds a job, must go without. And although she is only two, I have decided that this dilemma will be the perfect opportunity for her to learn to live within her means and the importance of saving. For the last 6 months or so, she has been stuffing a piggy bank. If she does her “sponsibilities” each night or weekly or whenever she finds a stray penny or quarter, she runs right into her bedroom and drops it into the pig’s back slot. This small act makes her giddy. She has filled two banks and now is working on a froggy bank given to her by our own credit union. While grocery shopping, I talk out loud about how we have to stick to our budget. I compare prices, use coupons and explain gently why we can’t get that extra box of Mike and Ikes that she adores. This week when grocery shopping, I let her take a bit from one of those banks in order to choose one item that she purchases herself from money that she’s earned. I crowed like a rooster at how good she must feel saving money and being able to buy something special for herself. And I think she might be getting the hang of it. Just the other day, when we were placing her very full oversized purple piggy bank back on the shelf, she patted it and said, “This money is for Disney World where Mickey lives.” I felt a little wistful with a comment like that, and I have to admit that for a small moment the old me returned plotting a way to bring her to the “Happiest Place on Earth.” But then, as she often does, her next comment brought me back to a place of sanity—reality. “Someday.” She said without a hint of sadness. “Someday.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed. Logan’s previous column for Hilltown Families, Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales ran bi-monthly from June 2010-Feb. 2011, sharing stories of her first time around as a parent of two teenage boys. — Check out Hindsight Parenting: Raising Kids the Second Time Around every first and third Tuesday of the month.
[Photo credit: (ccl) Vicki & Chuck Rogers]