Shocked that her student daughter seemed to need an income of 600 a week, Anthea Rowan decided to turn off the money tap and lay down some home truth about entitlement and growing up
A few years ago, my undergraduate daughter called me two weeks into the term.” Hey, Ma, I’ve run out of fund ,” she trilled cheerfully. The intimation was clear: it was her mother’s job to fix this little glitch.
By ” money”, she meant her entire term’s student maintenance allowance of about PS1, 200. Gone. In 14 days.
I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, “Gosh.” I put the phone down and called her brother, who was at a less illustrious seat of learning in a more expensive part of the country.
How much do you need to live on? He told me. It wasn’t the PS600 a week it apparently expensed his sister.
I called her back and sternly told her that she had spent too much, that I was not about to bail her out and that we needed to make a plan. She forlornly agreed and, within a day or so, proffered an arrangement. And her bank statements: I needed to see where this kind of cash was going.
If I would pay for two May ball tickets, she suggested, she would auction one, pay me back for both, and live on the( slim) earnings for the balance of term. Her food and board were paid for; I knew she would neither go homeless nor hungry. I agreed. True to her word, she paid me back, then ditched the Patisserie Valerie cakes, designer coffee and expensive lingerie habit she was cultivating. Instead, she developed an appreciation for her mother’s proclivity to buy supermarket-own brands and cheap shampoo, hitherto mocked as mean.
When I related this narrative with glee to friends, they were shocked. I ought, they said, to have been more sympathetic, helped her out. Well, I could have eased the pain by nudging a couple of hundred in her direction. But why? I’d merely be condoning her spending spree while ignoring her brother’s shrewd budgeting and, anyway, if I couldn’t afford to waste fund on expensive pastries and chichi undies, neither could she.
My daughter learned a valuable lesson. But so did I. It wasn’t an easy decision. I battled to say no, had uneasy nights, fretted she’d get hungry, cold, feel like a social outcast, and hate me for my meanness. But it was a lesson: you can say no and your children don’t hate you( not for long, anyway ). The sky does not fall on your head.
Richard Watts, a US-based lawyer who counsels the rich and famous and who has published Entitlemania: How Not to Spoil Your Kids, and What to Do if You Have, knows this. Saying no won’t kill you or your kids, he says. It can in fact, be a good tool.
I was reminded of this during a conversation with a friend- the sort of friend who’s never reduced her university-going offspring to a term of foraging and forced sobriety, partly because she’s kinder than me, partly because she’s richer than me, mostly because she cares more of what others think of her than I do. Her similarly glossy children wear designer clothes, play tennis with designer rackets and run in designer trainers. She confided that, even when fund was tight, it remained imperative that her four( four !) children still got what they wanted, what their friends had. When I liberally shared my parenting doctrine with her, she sternly told me I was wrong:” Why do you build your children suffer for your failings ?” My “failing” presumably being my lack of disposable income.” Children must have the things they need and want; that’s your job as a parent, to make sure they get them .”
Need and want? This is another part of the problem, says Watts:” There’s a huge disparity between need and want: I need a new phone, I want the new iPhone 8.” Spot the difference? The richest person in the world, he says- and he should know-” does not have the most: they need the least “. This sounds a little sanctimonious but he’s right. I can’t have whatever I want. And I work. Why on earth should my children? And, anyway, turning a need into a want provides an excellent exercising in incentivising, in identifying passions, in focusing the attention.
” If you want to upgrade your telephone to an iPhone 8, how about constructing some money so you can afford it ?” asks Watts. I never did that, exactly, but I did foster my younger daughter towards a chore cleaning loos in the local youth hostel so she could afford a holiday in Spain. Nothing in the world feels as sweet as building your own money- don’t take that away from your children. And they will never, ever expend your fund as wisely as they spend what they earn themselves. My daughter carefully logs her expenditure on an Excel spreadsheet these days, drinks instant coffee and has an appreciation of the economy of Tesco five-pack pants.
Parents don’t merely spoil their children by dedicating too much, says Watts, they spoil them by taking away the struggle. Unwittingly, I had got it right: I bestowed on my daughter a valuable gift by ensuring she remained well and truly broke. In denying our kids the opportunity to battle( financially, emotionally ), we’re robbing them of the chance to grow.
In the end, overindulgence will catch up with them- and we may be gone , no longer around to prop them up or bail them out. In spoiling them, by dedicating them stuff and easing their way in the world, we might not have allowed them to grow the backbone to gain professional success on their own merit, or forge and sustain happy relationships, or even stay out of the red. Instead, warns Watts, they will be bouncing back to you, demanding to know why you never taught them how to stand on their own two feet.
Nor will they know how to say no to their own kids.
Give your children memories instead of stuff, advises Watts. And, while I agree this is another rather self-righteous-sounding parenting tip-off, I do know how memories can round a kid off in a way that amassing a designer wardrobe and an enviable Apple collection cannot.
I also know that I have granted my daughter a valuable memory. How she chooses to associate the tale of her mom turning off the money tap to her own children one day-” My brilliant mother knew that I needed a lesson in managing my finances/ My mum was such a mean old cow she refused to bail me out when I overspent a little”- doesn’t matter.
What does is that she will never, ever forget it.