As mean of a mom that I can be, I have to admit that I’m kind of a pushover. So last weekend at Walmart, when my son Alex picked up a kickball and asked if he could get it, I had “Yes” on the tip of my tongue. He would use it to stay active outside, and it was only $5.97, so why not? My husband, however, had another answer in mind.
“No,” said Rodney as he walked through the store.
“But why?” Alex asked. Until finally he put it down and walked out to the van with us.
I hate to admit this and I don’t say it often, but Rodney was right. The boys have been told over and over not to leave their kickballs in the backyard. They’re supposed to pick everything up when they’re finished and put it in the deck box, because if our dog is feeling bored or frisky she will chew on anything. Several of their balls have already been ruined, so what would it teach them if we get them new stuff each time they forget? And what will they learn if they get what they want each time they ask?
Alex will get his kickball for Christmas. But if Christmas wasn’t coming up, we’d tell him he can use his money to buy it. That’s how our kids get baseball cards or Xbox games. They get birthday and allowance money and we stick it in the bank, and if they want something, they have to really contemplate whether it’s worth it or not. We want to teach them that growing up with a sense of entitlement is not an option.
I hope we don’t sound like ass holes. Because from what I learned growing up, knowing the correlation between money and responsibility is priceless, and I want nothing more than to pass that on to them. I don’t remember my parents telling me no very often, and I got a LOT of things for birthdays and Christmas. But somehow they let me know that if I saved my allowance or earned a paycheck, I could buy something I really wanted at any time.
At 14, I started working at a bingo hall every other Saturday. My friends and I would set up tables in the morning, come back to the smoky, stinky hall in the afternoon to pick up the players’ nasty trash and wipe down their tables, and then take everything down at night. I think we got $20 a day. I had that to spend when I walked around the mall with friends – to buy earrings at Claire’s or a shirt from 5-7-9. It taught me how to save because if something was too expensive one week, I knew if I saved up I’d have enough two weeks later.
On my 16th birthday, I got hired at Burger King. I didn’t have a car but took evening and weekend shifts (that worked around my softball seasons), so when my mom got home from work I borrowed her station wagon to drive myself. It was my responsibility to get my homework done. After six months or so of working, I’d saved up $1,000 to buy an ’86 Escort.
I LOVED that car. I loved that I could listen to whatever music I wanted. I’d put a TLC tape in and drive my friends through town blasting the bass so loud that we could feel it in our chests. I’d drive us through Taco Bell and the smoke from under my hood would fog out the lady at the window who was trying to hand me my food — But I didn’t care! I felt so accomplished that I had bought it myself that nothing could ruin my pride!
My husband played sports and worked as well. Sometimes at midnight, I’d meet him in the parking lot when he got off work at Quick Trip just to see him for a few minutes. Neither of us thought it was an option to not work just so we could spend more time together. Instead we had to get creative about making time for each other.
Today, when I hear college students say they don’t have time for a job, it’s like nails on a chalkboard. I know it’s a controversial subject because some kids struggle with studying and making good grades, but I played softball, worked in the Writing Center at school and worked at Walgreens. What’s funny is that my parents never told me I had to do any of those things, but since it was my decision to go to a university that was over my parents’ budget, I wanted to sign some of my checks over to go toward my tuition, or to be able to pay for my gas money back and forth to school. Expecting them to take on the burden of it all would be selfish, in my opinion.
And having to figure out how to juggle work and sports and school taught me how to be responsible. I’m pretty sure that’s why I landed a great internship at a big firm during my junior year. They saw on my resume that I had worked before and still maintained good grades. From there I landed a full time job and started my career as soon as I graduated from college.
I know that college and a career is a long way off for my kids (or at least I like to tell myself that), but teaching them the value of money – that things are not free – is a lesson that I don’t think can be taught too early. I see some adults who still act like they are entitled to the best of everything – who act like spoiled three year old brats that everyone should cater to – who refuse to buy a T-shirt from Walmart or a package of underwear from Target, and I have to wonder if their parents gave them everything, or taught them anything.
When he’s older, I’ll tell Alex that I really wanted to get that kickball for him, and explain to him why he didn’t get it. But I’m hoping that by that time –after he’s had the chance go through a drive through with his hood smoking, and to feel that music bumping in his chest – he’ll already know.