No, Darling, Because We Can't Afford It

financial planning for attorneys financial planning for entrepreneurs financial planning for young professionals May 19, 2020

By Glenn J. Downing, MBA, CFP®

A friend recently suggested that I write a piece about children and money.  At first I thought myself unqualified, as I have no formal education in this area.  But then I got to thinking that, as a father and now grandfather, that I might have something useful to contribute.  Hence this effort.  This is actually Part I of a two-part series.  Part II is all about my Second Trip to Europe.  

I love children.  Always have.  I don’t like unrestrained screaming, but I do enjoy hearing children happily play.  My wife and I have two married daughters and two grandchildren, all of whom we love dearly.  But children, as they are delivered to us, are loud, messy, demanding, have appalling table manners, and think the world revolves around them.  Furthermore, they don't come with manuals.  Yet it is our job as parents and adults to civilize them. 

In another piece, I’ve written about spending guardrails.  Have a look, if you haven’t already.  As parents, we provide guardrails for our children.  The image is that of the highway:  if we lose our focus while driving, the guardrails will keep us from drifting into oncoming traffic and preserve our lives.  We may get beaten up when we encounter life’s guardrails, but we survive at least, and the general direction of travel remains ahead. 

The guardrails we provide our children should include financial guardrails.  We’ve all encountered children who are “spoiled” – meaning they are self-centered, insufferable brats, because their parents never showed them the guardrails – never said NO, in other words.  They’ve grown up to think the world revolves around them.  Those poor kids.  Are they ever in for a rude awakening when they realize that the easy road as a parent is to give in every time.  How awful for them when they realize that parental indulgence does not equal parental love.

One of the best phrases your child can ever hear from you is this:

No darling, because we can’t afford it. 

There’s so much in that one short and loving statement:

  • The word NO sets the guardrails in place. Children feel secure when they know clearly what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.
  • DARLING, or SON are terms of great affection and endearment.
  • The pronoun WE describes a family – a family of which the child is a member. The child is included in the parents’ decision, even if the child disagrees in the circumstance. 
  • CAN’T speaks to an absolute. It doesn’t say that I could buy it for you if I choose to.  It does say that this purchase is not even an option. 
  • AFFORD speaks to the parents’ cashflow and budgeting. The parents have lovingly spent time looking over their income and expenses.  They have allocated funds for both needs and wants.  They have made wise decisions and choices. 
  • IT is the momentary want of the child. Since all children I’ve known have at best a tenuous grasp on their emotions, it doesn’t take much to deflect their attention.

The fundamental relationship in any home is that of the husband and wife. 

Children come after that.  They will be part of the household for 20-something years, but the marriage will endure for decades beyond.  Children need to know that Mommy and Daddy put each other first, and they come next.  It gives them context and place in the home. 

Think of a dinner party two generations ago.  Cocktail hour came first.  No children present, and adults discussed topics of adult interest.  Dinner was in the dining room.  During dinner, the children of the host family may be included and even encouraged to participate.  No politics or religion, meaning no topics beyond their understanding.  For coffee generally the men went one way and the women another, where they were free to continue discussing topics of interest to them. 

It seems stilted to us now in this age of open floor plans, but there was a reason for it.  Children in this setting knew that they are not the center of the universe, and that Mommy and Daddy were to be looked up to, respected, and appreciated.  As they grow, parents hope to achieve an adult relationship with their children, evidenced by mutual respect, appreciation, thanksgiving, and love.  This type of relationship can never occur, in my observation, unless the parents know how to tell their children NO. 

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