Kids cost money. School clothes, cell phones, video games, baseball, girl scouts, daycare, music lessons, karate, field trips, birthday gifts, 5 meals a day, braces, contacts, car insurance, and the list goes on.
If you’re feeling the pinch of the rising cost of parenting and a tighter budget, you’re not alone. Parents today face a financial balancing act that may bring feelings that range from guilt to panic. Many say that they are unable to meet the financial “demands” of their kids. “It’s not about greed,” one Boston-based parent says, “I worry that if my kid has less, she will have limited opportunity to pursue her dreams, her happiness, and might struggle socially with other kids at school.”
Today, the question on parents’ minds is “how do we maximize our children’s chances at success without driving the family budget into the ground?” Here’s how you can start…
Build Your Relationship with Your Kids
The average kids receives approximately 2000 commands a day: wake up, get dressed, eat your breakfast, get your shoes, put on your shoes, tie your shoes, get your coat, and hurry up. While many of these commands are necessary, they also stress and can harm the parent-child relationship. During stressful times, good parents can become “bad bosses” by, without realizing it, INCREASING the amount of demands they give.
I often advise parents to spend some time one-on-one with their kids every day (as little as 20 minutes) when they give no commands—let’s call it “free time.” During “free time,” the child chooses and directs an interactive activity to do with their parent (anything except TV). The parent can participate, comment, encourage, and respond to their child–but not give a single command. This is remarkably difficult for most parents, many give commands without noticing it (i.e., Bella, pass me that Lego!). While challenging, mastering the skill of “free time” will counter some of the relationship stress caused from the 2000 commands a day, and help to strengthen the parent-child relationship.
Talk about Money
The budget needs to change. While unpleasant, this can be a learning opportunity for your child if he or she is brought into the discussion (Note: the child’s age and maturity will determine how much they can be included).
First, stress to your child the things that WILL NOT change. You still love them, they are safe, everyone is healthy, etc. Then, tell your child in a way he/she will understand that there is less money, and what that means for the family. Include them in some of the decisions that affect them. This will feel more fair to them then hearing a series of “No, no, no
s” when they ask for things.
Next, give them the opportunity to brainstorm solutions with regard to the gap between what they want, and what the family can afford. Even a younger child can begin to prioritize—“football camp, not Nintendo.” An older child might get a part-time job to pay for some desired luxuries. Your kids might come up with creative ways to get the goods they want, such as go online where things you were paying for, retail, may be available at a discount.
As a therapist, I sometimes hear a client say, “Growing up I had everything, except for my parents.” This client is always worse off than the client that says “We didn’t have much but we had each other.” Remember, parenting is not about “stuff” – it is your relationship that equips your kids with what they need to be successful in life.
Dr. Anthony Centore is Founder of, and Therapist at, Thrive Boston Counseling in Cambridge, MA. Visit: www.ThriveBoston.com