“Those who never make mistakes lose a great many chances to learn something.”
It’s fascinating how seemingly trivial childhood interactions with parents can leave lifelong impressions and shape fundamental behavior long in adulthood. It’s a bit scary, actually: a seemingly innocuous parental intervention may set off a lifetime of unintended consequences. When you intervene to save your child from a little embarrassment, discomfort, or unhappiness now, are you robbing her of critical knowledge or skills she’ll need later? Maybe. As a parent, it’s easy — and sometimes just plain convenient — to go into rescue mode whenever your child makes a mistake. Sally’s story might make you reconsider. Keep it in mind the next time your child flashes that “melt your heart” smile — (or “make it stop” tantrum as the case may be)...
My eldest daughter is 23 years old. She has lived away from home for two years, but recently she has relocated to a city about one hour away from where we live. A few weeks ago she asked me and my husband, Gerry, to accompany her to see a new car she wanted to purchase.
She had scoured the car sales websites, and found a car with very low mileage that was great on fuel consumption. We were actually very impressed with her ability to find a good deal, well within her budget, and after signing on the dotted line, we went out for dinner to celebrate.
Whilst at dinner I said to her “I am very impressed with how much you have saved and how you have managed your money.” She graduated from University two years ago, and in that time has had to relocate three times for her career. However, from the beginning of her working career she has always managed to save money — even if it was only $10 a week!
During our conversation, she reminded us of a story that we had long forgotten about.
When she was in the first grade, her primary school held a Fair. She was so excited to be going to this event and had been talking about it for months... as had all the children at the school.
My husband and I decided that our son and daughter could have $20 each to spend; enough to be able to go on a couple of rides (which were about $2 each), buy some food and buy something special. I was working on one of the stalls, and my husband was supervising my daughter. My son was a bit older and was very excited because he was able to walk around the fair with his friends... he thought he was so grown up!
When my husband and daughter arrived at the fair, the first thing my daughter saw was a stuffed, furry bear, with a big red polka dot bow tie — it was $15. She fell in love with the bear and decided she wanted to buy it. My husband suggested that she wait to see what the other stalls had, before deciding what to buy, but she was insistent that the bear was what she wanted. No matter what Gerry said, she was determined to have that bear, and consequently handed over the $15.
Five minutes later she came across another stall — a fairy stall. This time there were beautiful fairy wands, sparkling fairy wings and all sort of the prettiest little fairy dolls you can imagine. Immediately she realised what had happened — she only had $5 left and she hadn’t even been on a ride yet. So with the biggest brown eyes and turning on that “I am going to melt daddy’s heart” smile, she turned to Gerry and said “Daddy, I really want to buy some fairy wings.” He said “Well, honey, we agreed to $20 each for you and your brother, that’s all the money there is. The fairy wings are $10; you don’t have enough money left to buy them.”
While my daughter was retelling the story she said “All of a sudden I thought to myself — ‘I just spent $15 on this dumb bear and now I only have $5 left to spend — right then I just hated that stupid bear.’”
Gerry replied “I was really torn between giving you extra money and allowing you to learn the lesson, but we had decided on $20 for the both of you. If I had given you more money, I would have had to give your brother more money, so I decided that perhaps this was a good lesson for you to learn.”
“Well,” she said “Now every time I want to purchase something, I ask myself two questions ‘Do I really want/need this’ and ‘If I buy this, what will I have to forgo?’” She then said “Actually it was one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned.”
Later when Gerry and I were talking about the exchange he said “It was the hardest thing I had ever done. She was looking at me with those big brown eyes and pleading with me to let her have more money. How easy it would have been for me to back down — but I am so glad I didn’t!”
It was a valuable lesson she learned from us when she was six years old. This lesson has stayed with her, and shaped the way in which she makes decisions about what she wants and what is important in her life. She never feels as if she goes without anything, because she makes pretty clear decisions about what is important to her. In fact, she phoned me on the weekend to say that she and a friend had booked an overseas trip for August — and she paid cash for the flights on the spot!
At some point, our children have to learn their own lessons. How many times do we as parents say something and then back down? How many times do we not allow our children to learn the experiences when they are young?
Our role as parents is not to rescue our children, but to guide them to develop their own inner knowledge and wisdom. In this particular instance, a “$20” lesson my daughter learned when she was six years old has became a sound financial habit that will stay with her for the rest of her life.