Fruclassity Commandment #9: Give Your Children The Gift of Financial Wisdom (PART ONE)

It can be very difficult to give your children financial wisdom if you don’t start from the get-go. I need to set the scene a bit here. I wrote this post almost three years ago. It’s about my 2nd daughter who was at that time a 17-year old with a big sense of entitlement. My husband and I were just starting the painful process of asserting strong, unified boundaries to put to an end what had been an extremely difficult time. As a relatively new blogger, I made the big mistake of posting this article before seeking my daughter’s consent. She read it and was upset – understandably. I rewrote it so that it was a more general piece. But I kept the original. And this week, she gave me permission to post it.

There will be two parts to this story. Today, you’ll read about “Before”. Next Thursday, you’ll read about “After”. Do you have teens who are challenging you beyond your limits? Take heart. You’re not alone. Don’t give up on your child or yourself. 

DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

DH = Dear Husband

Atwood on Debt: Berne’s “Try and Collect” Debtor

“Scientists tell us that rats . . . will give themselves painful electric shocks rather than endure prolonged boredom . . . there’s the thrill that accompanies risky behaviour . . . Whatever else debt may be, it can also – it seems – have entertainment value, even for the debtor himself” (Atwood, 83 & 86). Margaret Atwood’s 2008 book Payback gives pause for thought.

One part of it that hits close to home for me is her focus on Eric Berne’s book, Games People Play, published in 1964.  “Debtor”, according to Berne, is one of those games, and players go about it differently.  Most of us play the game “Debtor” fairly.  We follow the rules and strive to pay every cent.  Berne identifies another type of player – a cheating player – whom he calls “Try and Collect”. This cheater avoids paying back the creditor and often causes the creditor to give up – resulting in a win for “Try and Collect.”  On the other hand, the creditor might get aggressive use the law to get payment from the cheater.  In such cases, “The debtor can then position himself as a put-upon victim and paint the creditor as a truly bad person who, because of his badness, does not deserve to be paid.  The obtaining of goods on credit, the avoidance of payment, the thrill of the chase, the anger at the creditor, and the acting out of victimhood all come with their own jolt-of-brain-chemical rewards . . .” (Atwood, 85).

It seems strange to me that people would feel victimized at having to fulfill their end of a bargain, but in my own extended adolescence, I did just that in relation to my parents.  I played the “Try and Collect” role, often with victory.  And when there was insistence on their part, I felt genuinely victimized.  What’s with that?

DD2 and the “bride doll”

They say what goes around comes around, and DD2 has been a more stubborn version of my old “Try and Collect” self.  I believe her tactics were established the day we went shopping together twelve years ago for a birthday party.  With DD3 attached to me in an infant sling, the hand of my strong-willed five-year-old pulled me towards a display of porcelain dolls.  I allowed her to select the doll she wanted to give to the birthday girl, and I picked it up, ready to make the purchase.  DD2 then flew into a tantrum.  It was no fair for Erin to get a porcelain doll unless she got one too!  “I want it! Ahhh!” she screamed.  “It” was the bride doll, and soon everyone in the store knew it.  I felt the vulnerability typical of a baby-toting mom with a screaming young child in a store.  Embarrassed shoppers looked away; irritated shoppers cast cold glances my way.  You already know what I did.  I came out of the store with two dolls that day.  One was a bride.

A pattern of enabling

DD2 learned a valuable lesson:  Raise enough of a fuss and you get what you want.  By the time she reached adolescence, she had honed her skill in this area to a debilitating finesse.  I won’t go into detail but will simply say that we have passed through a very dark phase of parenting.  Any sense of being a competent mother left me as I navigated this hostile territory, shell-shocked and lost.  The endless conversations/arguments with DH; the volumes of reading on parenting teens; the professional counselling we sought – it all came down to the need for us (mainly me) to establish boundaries as a unified team.  Battles were raging on every front, and so we had to choose our “hill to die on”.  It was the only one we had the power to hold:  the hill of money matters.

Cell phone battles

Combined with her willfulness, DD2 has an alarming disregard for the laws of addition and subtraction when it comes to finances.  Money has a very short lease in her bank account, wallet, pocket.  Debts are ignored.  Wants are endless.  And there’s no sense of connection between income and expenditure.  A credit card in her hands would be a disaster.   DD2 purchased a cell phone as soon as she got her first part-time job.  The agreement was that she would pay the monthly fees associated with her plan.  But it didn’t matter what the agreement was.  “Nicky’s parents pay for her cell phone!”  “Why doesn’t Dad make more money?”  “We’re so different from other families!”  “Why did you ever become parents?”  You get the idea.  As this was our chosen hill, we didn’t let up.  If she didn’t pay the monthly bill for the cell phone, we had it frozen – and there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.  DD2 has a much stronger will than her mother, and she’s not encumbered by my aversion to conflict.  She’s armed with a keen perception of buttons to push, and a brilliance in pushing them with killing precision.  She had it over me big time.  But I stood on that hill and I died those deaths.  And right now, I can’t remember when our last battle over a monthly cell  phone bill happened.  It’s been that long.

Idea of joint account, surprising acceptance & unexpected reason why

DD2 will be starting university this September, and we really don’t want her to fall into the trap of student debt.  This summer, DH and I decided that in order to help set her up for financial success, we would need to share a joint account with her.  That way, we could enforce savings that would see her through her university years debt-free.  The challenge lay in presenting this idea to her.  I prepared myself to die a familiar but still dreaded death.  We called DD2 to the kitchen table, and I explained with apparent calm strength our plan to set up a joint account and to put aside savings from her income.  She said “OK”.  We were stunned.  Instead of death on our hill, we faced peaceful acceptance.

About half-an-hour later, when I was on the phone, DD2 came into my room saying she needed to talk to me about something really important.  She was visibly tense, and so I got off the phone.  “I got a tattoo,” she told me.  She’d had it for three days.  She knew I wouldn’t approve, but she justified its positive message (written in Latin no less) and its fine appearance.  My astonishment at her apprehension rendered me speechless.  How had I earned the power to inspire it?  She must have interpreted my silence as disapproval because she kept up a stream of justifications.  It hadn’t cost much.  She had paid for it all.  She wouldn’t regret it as she grew older.  I finally said that although I didn’t like tattoos in general, it was her choice. Her relief was strong and immediate – and perplexing to me, indicating as it did the level of her anxiety.  But this humility was short-lived.  Walking out of the room, she said with customary sass, “You’re lucky I didn’t get a tramp stamp.”  As if I knew what that was.

So DD2’s acceptance of the joint account and enforced savings resulted from her desire to pave the way for our acceptance of her tattoo.  Go figure.

It sounds simple:  “Don’t give children what they want just because they raise a fuss.”  But so does, “Don’t spend money unless you have it.” And yet most of us are in debt.  Dave Ramsey says that the road out of debt is simple but not easy; it’s tough.  That goes double for parenting.  I have reason to hope that we’ve hit bottom and are coming up to new levels of harmony in our relationship with DD2.  And I allow myself to envision our head-strong daughter getting her “jolt-of-brain-chemical rewards” from feats of wisdom in money matters.  It’s happened for me.  And they say that what goes around comes around.

Your (respectful) comments are welcome. I’ve shared a glimpse into a personally tough and sensitive time with the belief that some of you will be able to relate and perhaps find support in it. Please read PART TWO next Thursday. The story takes a turn for the better : )



30 comments on “Fruclassity Commandment #9: Give Your Children The Gift of Financial Wisdom (PART ONE)

  1. Ruth, parenting is SO hard that way! We have one with a tendency toward some of those same traits, and it takes everything in me to tell her “no” when she demands something, or to say, “I have jobs you can do to earn the money if you wish”. She is getting it, though. Every day I see signs of encouragement. I have a feeling that one day in the not too distant future that you will be extremely proud of the mature, responsible, selfless person DD2 has become. You got this. 🙂

    1. Keep up your boundaries, Laurie! It sounds like you are handling this situation well. I have no doubt that your daughter is figuring things out. I like that vision you have of DD2 in the “not too distant future”! Thanks : )

    1. There is definitely pain in parenting. And the longer we avoid asserting boundaries, the more painful it gets. I hope that things are going well for you, Brian. Thanks for the comment : )

  2. I’m running into this with my 4 year old now. He thinks he should get something every time we go to a store. I tell him, “Buddy, unless you want to spend your money for it, you can’t get it. We don’t get a toy every time we go to a store.” He usually whines and cries before he settles down or we leave the store, but I stick with the no toy, even though sometimes I feel like I’m dying a little death inside dealing with his tantrums.
    I do plan to teach both kids better fiscal responsibility than my parents instilled in me. Hopefully, they won’t fall into the same traps I did.

    1. Let my story provide you with the evidence you need to know that you are doing EXACTLY the right thing with your son. The “little death” you feel inside might just be the death of illusions that we parents sometimes have a hard time letting go of. Besides, “little” is a lot better than “big” – and that’s the kind of death you feel inside when you deal with a teen tantrum. Your kids are lucky that you’re teaching them fiscal responsibility.

  3. Oh WOW Ruth! That was an awesome article. I am SO looking forward to Part 2. I think most of us can see a little bit of our own kids in your daughter. I must admit to LOLing at the tramp stamp comment. I love that you didn’t know what that was. You are SO lovable, Ruth! 🙂

    1. Not knowing what a tramp stamp was qualifies me for being lovable? Great! Glad you got an LOL out of it : ) And I’m glad you’re looking forward to Part 2. Thanks!

  4. When our son was pretty small I took him with me to get a CD for his college savings. While there, I was explaining to him that if we let the bank have this money for a period of time, at the end of that time, they’d give our money back plus more because we let them hold it for us. Some time later, he came out of his room with a fistful of money and handed it to me to put in the bank so he could get more back later. Succeed!!!

    1. That’s exactly why it’s so wise to start when they’re young. Well done, Mom! Very cute story about your little guy’s advanced understanding of growing wealth by interest : )

  5. DD2 sounds a lot like how my brother was/is but probably not as bad. It’s great you stood your ground, because giving in sends a very clear message, and when you try to stand your ground, they know how to break through by upping their game, usually through guilt, adult tantrums, etc. My brother did this and my parents caved, and caved, and caved again until he was frankly a nightmare. And this went on well into…well, honestly it still goes on and he is almost 50 now.

    1. Thank you very much for sharing what you did about your brother, Tonya. Many people think, “It’s something that teens outgrow,” when it comes to entitlement. But I know of 2 middle-aged “nightmares” who continued to manipulate their parents – in one case until the death of the parents. Now you’re saying your brother is the same. I’m really sorry that you have to witness it – which I’m sure is extremely difficult for you. Thanks for the confirmation that we’ve done the right thing! (HARDEST thing I’ve ever done, mind you.)

  6. Parenting is tough! Thank you for this lesson so early on in my adventure in parenting. I know that at this point with a 10-month-old who doesn’t demand too much in the form of material possessions, it’s easy to think that it will be as simple as saying “no” when we are in stores, but a lot more goes into it than that! Can’t wait to read part 2!

    1. Thank you, Christina. Every child is so unique, and you might find that your Little Miss ends up being cooperative and easy going from infancy to young adulthood. The thing is, you just can’t know in advance. No matter what personality type you find you’re dealing with, healthy boundaries are worth asserting and imparting. Thanks again : )

  7. Thanks a lot for sharing such a personal story! I really resonated with it. I have 3 sisters and I’m the second oldest so I know how teen girls can be. I’ve felt sorry for my mom before with having to deal with all the stuff we put her through (I was one of the better teens out of all my sisters though 🙂 ) but she’s almost done and just has a few more years to go with my last sister. It’s a hard age to be though and it’s easy to not understand everything about life and all the sacrifices that parents make.

    I absolutely love the idea of doing a joint savings account to help your daughter avoid student loan debt, she will be so thankful to you for that one day. I’m starting my son off early with learning about gratitude and not getting stuck in that entitlement stage. Since he’s an only child I do love to provide for him and slightly spoil him but I make sure that he knows he can’t get a new toy every time we go out and allowance isn’t given but it’s earned. It’s a work in progress but sometimes I do feel I lucked out with having a boy in regards to the wild teen years.

    1. Thanks Chonce. I also have 3 sisters (as well as a brother), and it’s true that there really can be quite a rocky road through those teen years with girls! Every child is so unique though. Each of my three daughters is distinct from her two sisters. You are very smart to be taking steps to teach your son right from the get-go. I think it’s OK to indulge in your wish to “spoil” him now and then. Just as long as he doesn’t expect to be spoiled as a right. And who knows? Maybe your son will have a sister some day?

  8. I have a 9 year old boy and I have to say it makes me very happy to know that I will never have a teenage daughter living in my house. I am sure that he will give me his own set of challenges because that’s what teenagers seem to do best. It’s so difficult to parent your children when they want to fight you at every step of the way. I know the joint account acceptance didn’t come for the reason you wanted it to, but sometimes we just have to accept small victories any way we can get them.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Shannon. I think there is a difference in the way teen girls and teen boys present their rebellion, but if you look at Tonya’s comment, you’ll see that a strong-willed refusal to take “No” for an answer can happen with boys too. I hope that won’t be the case with you and your son, but I’m sure you’ll know exactly how to deal with it if that happens. All the best as he reaches his teen years!

  9. Thanks so much for sharing. I certainly am not looking forward to the teen years. I had my daughter kind of late and am really thankful she wasn’t born during our crazy spending years. I think it would be so much harder to be strict if we’d never been that way early on. I’m sure we will still have our boundaries tested over and over. Hopefully we can stay strong!

    1. Kim, the fact that you are going to enter that phase of parenting with your own developed financial wisdom, as well as with an understanding of of the importance of asserting boundaries for your daughter, gives you a very good chance of making it without the dramatics we experienced. At least not where money is concerned : ) Thanks for your comment.

  10. I think that your battle is one many parents face. Thank you & your daughter for sharing with us. I can’t wait to see what happened when she went to university….

    1. Thank you, Tre. I think it’s a battle many parents face too – only most of us aren’t talking about it. I’m glad you’re looking forward to part 2 : )

  11. You did right Ruth, it’s so important to teach your kids how the real world works. She will be better for it even if she doesn’t like it so much right now. Too many parents let their children run all over them and avoid the slightest bit of conflict. But they are really hurting the child’s outlook of the world.

    Oh and don’t feel bad. I wish I didn’t know what a “tramp stamp” was, ha. Great write-up.

    1. You hit the nail on the head in saying that parents “avoid the slightest bit of conflict.” I was one of those parents – and as you say, I was hurting my child by being that way. It’s counter-intuitive for softies like me to accept that there are times when the best nurture involves assertion of authority and engaging in conflict. But that is certainly the truth. Thanks so much for your comment, Warren.

  12. Parenting is probably one of the hardest things that most people go through in life. My parents were too tough and strict on my brother and he ended up rebelling. That did not end well and it took years for them to speak to each other again.

    1. I think that being “too tough” is worse than being “too soft”. I’m not completely sure though. I don’t want to swing too far over to the “tough” side, but I definitely did need to move in that direction. As you say, parenting is hard. There are always points of balance and doubt to navigate. I’m glad your brother and your parents are speaking to each other again even though it took a long time. Thanks for your comment, Tony.

  13. Obviously, I have no idea how hard parenting can be. But I hope DD2 does clean up her act.

    My BIL pitched similar fits. And his parents caved every time. BIL got a present ON MY HUSBAND’S BIRTHDAY! He ended up with no sense of responsibility (clearly DD2 is starting to have that, per the tattoo).

    To be fair, this parallel isn’t quite… parallel. He got addicted to drugs early on, and never really won the battle. Frankly, I’m not sure that he actually fought it to begin with.

    Anyway, the point is that my husband is still bitter. Yeah, he should let it go. But one reason he stopped trying so hard in school? When he’d get As, his parents would treat BIL just as much as him. So he figured there was no point. (School was tough for him, so As were a huge accomplishment.)

    So yeah… I just wish more parents could foresee the consequences of not setting boundaries. The in-laws weren’t great with my husband either, and he got into his fair share of messes too.

    Again, it sounds like DD2 is getting it together. But a lot of kids don’t. And again, I know it’s easy to judge as a non-parent. I just think more parents would be stricter if they realized just how much that attitude snowballed.

    1. I’ve never heard of someone getting a present on his brother’s birthday! I’m so sorry to hear that your parents-in-law caved every time your husband’s brother threw a fit. If you look at Tonya’s comment (several comments above) you’ll see that her brother is still an entitled child . . . at almost 50. I wonder if the addiction would have been managed with better boundaries in place? I do hope that your husband gets perspective, gains compassion, and learns to forgive. In no way is it all “OK” (that’s not what forgiveness means), but he will suffer more from his own bitterness than anyone else will.
      As for DD2, please read part 2 Abigail. It does get better : )

  14. I wonder what hill my parents chose. I was not easy either, not so much in a sense of entitlement, but in declaration of my freedom. Looking forward to part two. I have this feeling that everything turned out for the best for her, or is at least going in the right direction. Kudos for good parenting. It isn’t easy.

    1. Many strong women who have their act together have said to me, “I put my parents through hell when I was a teenager . . .” I find it hard to see a rebel teen in the woman who says it, but it sure gives me hope! Part 2 is up, FF. I hope you’ll read it : )

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