Around the office, I’m known as a stern and frugal manager concerning cash outlays. If certain parties, say business suppliers, don’t have a thoroughly convincing case for why they want me to give them more money for some reason or other, I don’t hesitate to say no. Period.
So why is it that I sometimes feel like I’m turning into a guilt-ridden bowl of jelly at home when either of my two children asks me for more coin?
I know it must have something to do with the psychology of being a mom. I love my kids. I want them to be happy, and they know how to tug at my purse strings. I want them to live well and enjoy all the best that life offers. That’s a real challenge, because it’s often the case that in kids’ eyes today the best things in life don’t come free, they come with a price tag.
Grappling with the prolonged whining, misery, and even rage that can follow from not divvying up in the face of a child’s beseeching pleas for tickets to a Taylor Swift concert can do a real number on a mom. Quite often I find my “no” turning into a “maybe” and on the odd occasion a ‘yes’.
So what’s a pushover parent to do? Well, I’ve done a little research, and I’ve found some interesting answers to that question.
For example, there are the thoughts of Cameron Huddleston, contributing editor at Kiplinger.com, who has imagined using a rather curious psychological ploy when dealing with spend-happy kids.
Huddleston notes that she once received a press release with the headline: "Is There Child Slave Labour in Your Child's Halloween Candy?" (the press release concerned Free Trade chocolate given out by the non-profit organization Green America).
She passed the news item along to her senior editor, who joked about it saying, “Sorry, kids, no candy this year. I’m protecting other little kids like you from being forced into slave labour. I’m sure you’ll understand.”
With that, Huddleston started thinking - what if moms could use excuses of this nature whenever kids asked for more money for something? Some ideas came to her.
“Mom, can I have a new toy? No, honey, because most toys are made in China. And Chinese toys have lead paint and other harmful chemicals that could make you really sick.”
“Mom, can I have some new clothes? No, sweetie, most clothes are made in sweatshops where people are paid very little to work long hours in terrible conditions.”
“Mom, can I go to a Hannah Montana concert? No, darling, because you'd just be lining the pockets of her parents and agent, who've probably taken away her childhood to turn her into a money-making machine.”
But then, in the process of removing her tongue from her cheek, Huddleston came round to thinking: well, it’s probably all too extreme. Still, she believes the fantasies do point out something of substance concerning the “no” factor and kids. A mom has to explain why she is saying no, and she has to do so in terms her child can understand.
Says Huddleston: “The slave labourexcuse might resonate with a 10-year-old, but it won't work on a four-year-old. You'll just get a blank stare then more pleading. That's why your response has to be age appropriate - and simple.”
This is where Huddleston praised Money Smart Kids columnist Janet Bodnar's money lessons by age group. Based on Bodnar’s advice, Huddleston arrives at some serious conclusions of her own about saying no to kids. In a nutshell - though I paraphrase and elaborate - they are:
• With wee ones, set and explain limits well before there’s the chance for an in-store meltdown over, say, that plastic troll with the streaked hair. Be absolutely clear ahead of time that there are serious consequences to being disobeyed. If there is a store meltdown, so be it, stick to your guns. Chances are it will be the only one if your child does not get their way. On the contrary, if you give in be prepared for a plethora of future meltdowns.
• For older kids, it’s a matter of reminding them of their responsibilities, particularly in relation to the support you already give them, like the allowance you dole out regularly. Rather than say no to a request, say yes, but add that they’ll have to use their own money, or at least some of it. Perhaps a loan is in order against future allowances? When they realize they have to pony up themselves, they start backing off.
• For still older children, you might cave a little but at the same time get your kids to chip in for things they want, which teaches them good lessons about making smart spending choices. Also, as your kids mature, try changing the game altogether by encouraging them to think about others. For example, when they ask for new clothes, urge them to check their clothing inventory to make donations to others in need. It shifts their thinking from being acquisitive to being socially responsible.
Now, Huddleston’s recommendations all seem pretty reasonably to me. But I ask myself, what if my now socially responsible child absolutely needs new garb for a socially responsible event, even though her bedroom closet is plum full of stuff perfectly suited to socially responsible events? Well, I think it’s probably then that I should start managing my household as I run my business.
No, I hear myself saying. Period.