Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is Allowance a Bad Word?

Many things we do as parents have been handed down to us by previous generations.  And often we insert those traditions into our family without considering the purpose.  The child allowance is one example.  As parents, we have the opportunity to teach our children how to manage money, and one of the most common ways to do that is through the use of an allowance. You can google “allowance” and find all sorts of instructions on how much to give your child and at what age.  But I want to back up the whole conversation and first ask you this, “Why do you give your children an allowance?”
Look at the following definitions of allowance:
  1. An amount or share allotted or granted
  2. An amount of something, esp. money or food, given or allotted usually at regular intervals
Essentially, an allowance is free money, money just given to someone and usually given regularly. Wow! Sign me up!  

You may be asking yourself, “What’s wrong with that?  Hey, I’ve worked hard for the money I give my child.  They deserve the best.  They’re MY kids after all.  My parents couldn’t give me what I can give my child.  And they need to know they’re loved.  Man, I’m a generous parent.”
No doubt generosity is to be revered and regular.  But, free money.  That makes most of us irregular.
Some of us have called it “an allowance” when, in fact, our children work for their money, completing chores around the house. In this case, it should actually be called “a commission,” according to Dave Ramsey.
On the other hand, some of us have been giving free money, to our kids, with no strings attached. Maybe you don’t see a problem with this, so let me share something I recently read on

"According to new findings, paying children an allowance can do more harm than good when it comes to their future financial literacy skills. According to Lewis Mandell, a professor of finance at the University of Washington who recently studied more than 50 years' worth of allowance research, "The kids who receive [a regular, unconditional] allowance tend to think far less about money in general." In fact, he adds, those children appear more likely to grow up to be "slackers," since they aren't learning to associate work with money."

As I travel around the country presenting ScreamFree Parenting, I always ask parents this question: What characteristics do you want to see in your adult children? Not once has someone said, “a bum, a slacker, someone who lives off of others.” Without fail, “self-reliant, productive, and financially responsible” are mentioned. If those are the traits that we’re after, then how do we increase the chances that our kids will turn out that way? Well, according to Lewis Mandell, it is NOT by giving them an allowance.  In all probability, Dave Ramsey has it right. We need to be teaching them that money comes their way through work, so giving them a commission for chores they complete seems the most logical. 
I can hear some of you now…”Are you suggesting that my kid be paid for every little thing she does around the house?”  Absolutely not!  I don’t get paid for making dinner, doing the laundry, or making my bed every day. It’s important to distinguish between chores that earn money and chores that don’t. In fact, perhaps different words to describe the two would help. How about “chores” for paid endeavors and “duties” for unpaid? For any household to run smoothly, stuff has to get done. Period. And as I tell my kids, “You get to clean up the kitchen because you live in this house.”
There’s the flip side of the coin as well. Does this mean that we never give our kids money “just because”? Is generosity thrown out the window? Absolutely not! There are certainly times when we want to bless our kids, like giving them some spending money for souvenirs.  That’s certainly a fun part of being a parent.
If we want our kids to grow up to be financially independent and responsible, then we need to begin with the end in mind and look for ways to “allow” them to grow in those traits.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Whose Launch is it Anyway?

This past week I encountered a new thought. An epiphany, if you will. And here it is: In just a few short years, my week-to-week life will look very, very different. And, to be frank, it scares me.

Let’s just take last week, for example. My two teenagers had between them 5 baseball games, 4 lacrosse games, a couple of practices for each sport, 2 tutoring sessions, and an orthodontist appointment. It was also the last week for selecting classes for next year, which occupied several nights worth of discussion, especially for my daughter entering her uber-important junior year. And, of course, there were multiple homework assistance sessions, and a few disciplinary moments. 

Now, in somewhat ScreamFree tradition, my wife and I did not each attend all of these games, and we did not allow all of our conversations to center on the kids. But my goodness, we certainly exhausted ourselves coordinating and supporting all of the above. And that’s what we’re supposed to do in this hectic season of launching our kids through adolescence and into adulthood. Right?

But in a few short years, our weeks will, most likely, look amazingly different. Unless I lose my mind and decide to keep coaching little league (without a kid on the team), I won’t be attending many youth baseball games. Unless my wife gets way overinvolved with one of her high school students, we won’t be taking a teenager to the orthodontist. And unless we both lose our minds and decide to somehow bring a new kid into our home, we won’t be centering so much of our schedules around theirs.

What are we going to do with ourselves? “Just the two of us” is a sweet song, but to be perfectly honest, it’s a scary thought. Are the majority of our nights going to be just Jenny and me, going out to the early bird dinner at 5pm ‘cos we got nuthin’ else better to do? For crying out loud, when my youngest is supposed to go off to college, we’ll only be 46 years old!

Of course, those of you empty-nesters are laughing at me right now.  And I’m guessing there are two groups of you. One group is laughing, “Just you wait, Hal. You think you’ll have more time on your hands, but that just means more opportunities. You’ll find yourself busier than before, and struggling just as much to find quality time with your spouse.” The other group is laughing harder still (while crying at the same time): “Just you wait, Hal. You think you’ll have less of your kids in your life and on your mind, but after high school is when things start to get really interesting. Don’t make any grand plans yet!”

I hear you both. And I believe you both. I’ve worked with enough clients going through the launching phase to believe every word from both of you. 

But despite my education and experience, and despite the increased anxiety I’m feeling these days as a parent of two teenagers, I don’t want to believe that a) my marriage will still struggle to find its place amidst the chaos; and b) my kids will still preoccupy my schedule and my conversations. Yes, you can call me na├»ve, and yes, you can call me idealistic and therefore, unrealistic. 

But just because a hope-filled pursuit pits us against pain-filled probabilities doesn’t mean we should give up. Especially when we’re talking about the relationships that matter most. Especially when we’re talking about defying the odds against Jenny and I having a great post-kids life and marriage. 

What I’m hoping to develop, at the very least, is an eyes-wide-open approach to our post-kids life, with all of its potential difficulties and actual temptations. Difficulties like: facing some very awkward nights wondering if we still like each other. Temptations like: wanting to helicopter over our college kids, hounding them with texts and calls and Skype invitations. Difficulties like: figuring out what to do when one spouse is missing the kids, and the old life, while the other one is starting to dream of a new one. Temptations like: taking on more and more work to avoid facing the discomfort of all of the above. 

Thankfully, I’ve got some time to think on all of this. After all, we do have several more years before both kids are launching out of the nest. But maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t rest on that knowledge. Maybe, just maybe, I should realize that a) their launching has already begun, and b) the kids aren’t the only ones launching into a new life. 

Maybe I could prepare for that life then by altering things a bit right now. What if we both skipped a couple of games this week and went out to dinner instead? How about it, Jen? You in? I hear Golden Corral starts their buffet at 4:30.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Technology-Free Tuesday: How to Dis-connect So You Can Re-connect

Today is Tuesday. Yes, Tuesday. “So,” you may be thinking.  Well, in my house that means one thing: we will be technology free from about 5:30 pm on.
About a year and a half ago, I had a realization one night as I was sitting in my room, playing on my computer. My husband was on another device, and all of my three children were on their own as well—TVs, computers, x-box, iPod Touch—you name it, we were each on one. The nice part of that was that we were each doing something we liked and the kids weren’t fighting. But then the horror struck me: we were completely disconnected from one another. It’s possible that we might say only a few meaningful words to each other in the 4-6 hours we have together in the afternoon and evenings.  Yikes! If I wanted to be the most influential person in my kids’ lives, then I needed to take action.
Thus began Technology-Free Tuesdays. I talked it over with my family and got enthusiastic agreement.  Ok, that’s a lie. Actually, they hated the idea! I did have my husband’s buy-in, though, so in January of last year, we embarked on reconnecting.
I will never forget that first Tuesday. Hell doesn’t even begin to describe it! I’m not kidding. The kids fought like mad and even my husband and I looked at each other at 7 pm and said, “How much longer til we go to bed?” Think: removing heroin from an addict, hiding the booze from an alcoholic. We were serious addicts who had to admit we had a problem. I can’t tell you how tempting it was to say that my little experiment didn’t work.  After all, as my kids informed me, we all seemed to get along much better when the TV was on. But I know that sometimes things get worse before they get better and the fact that things were REALLY BAD showed me just how addicted we were and it was a sign that the experiment WAS working. Ironic, but true.
I’d like to tell you that the next week was better, but it wasn’t. In fact, it took some time for us to get used to being around each other without distractions. There continued to be days when the kids complained about the books we chose to read or the games that we played. And frankly, there were days when I didn’t want to disconnect and reconnect. Ultimately, though, I knew that in spite of the discomfort, the payoff would be worth it.  It will be the times reading together, conversing about hard topics, or laughing together that will live on in my children’s memories, not the numerous hours spent vegging in front of some piece of technology.
I have a confession to make, though: over time, we began to disregard our prior commitment to Tech-Free Tuesdays, but it was last night as I was kissing my daughter goodnight, while surfing the internet, that I realized that once again, I’d hardly spent any time with her.  I hadn’t even asked about her day; I didn’t know her any better than the day before. I knew what we had to do. My husband and I discussed it this morning, and I’m certain the kids will be ecstatic when we tell them tonight!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How to Support Your Kid’s Wishes and Dreams

Remember that moment when you first held your son or your daughter in your arms for the first time? There may have been a moment when you looked into their beautiful eyes and you thought, “Wow, what a miracle!” As you pondered what a wonderful gift you had received, you probably started dreaming about their future. What would it hold for your newly born child? You, like many other parents, started thinking about all of the things you wanted for them. As parents, we want our kids to be successful. We want them to be well-rounded, well-spoken and well-versed. Maybe, with some work, they could be the president of the United States. Perhaps, with some discipline, the next great sports legend. 

Is there anything strange with dreaming about the future we want for our children? Well, no. Getting lost in the fantasy of our desires is pretty normal. We cross a line, however, when what we want becomes our primary focus for them. Because soon our behavior will follow suit. We typically can see this played out by many (not all) of the Toddler and Tiaras moms and dads.

It becomes important that we begin to assign some space in our mind for what our kids want. What are their dreams, goals and expectations in life? Though they may have natural talent for basketball or baseball, do they even like to play? Yes, you might have passed on the athletic genes, but Junior may not have an interest in scoring touchdowns. You are convinced Little Cindy could be the next Cindy Crawford, but the last thing she wants to do is to have her picture taken. What do we do with this? What we can do is put our wants and desires in a secondary position and begin to elevate their dreams.

As parents, we are not responsible for what our children decide to become, but we are responsible to them to help them figure out the best path to take. So how can we help support our kids wishes and dreams?

  1. Listen. Have a conversation about their wishes and dreams for the future. When they open up and tell you, just listen. JUST LISTEN. Resist the urge to suddenly appear as the resource that they need to get there. The coaches that make the most impact are the ones that are chosen, not the ones who force themselves upon their team. Allow your child the opportunity to choose you. The more they believe that you are someone that listens to them, the greater the chance will be that they will come to you again.
  2. Ask. Now would be the time to begin asking them some questions. Not third-degree type stuff, but a simple inquiry about how they believe they can achieve what they want most. “So you want to make the Honor Roll? What do you think you need to do in order to get there? Is there any way that I can help?” Helping them begin to formulate a plan is one of the best ways that we can support them in their quest. When you do this, you are adhering to the old Chinese proverb that tells us, “When you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”  Once they learn the concept, they can always return to the process.
  3. Be Present. When they decide what they want and how they want to get there, be a witness for them along the way. When we learn to calmly watch our children, we can enjoy simply being in the moment with them. Our calm will lead our children to see us as a resource. When we are present with them, we will witness their success and their failure; their jubilation and disappointment. We are there to help them navigate their way through whatever life hands them.

We support our kids’ wishes and dreams by helping them build their own futures. When their goals belong to them, they will care for them; they will protect them. Let’s witness the greatness within them. Let’s celebrate when they finally discover it for themselves.