You've heard already how much I gush over my kids. They are respectful, get good grades and are overall decent human beings. Even if they weren't all those things, I would still love them terribly. However, it doesn't stop me from wanting to throat-punch my oldest son on occasion. Too harsh? Then let me set the stage for this story and you might be inclined to agree. He starts middle school next year, which is completely uncharted territory for this family. I am scared sh*tless of all the new things he will be faced with that I probably haven't sufficiently prepared him for. My hubby and I are used to being in the loop on just about everything he does, but even we recognize that his interests and awareness are quickly slipping beyond our reach. In addition to this, his preteen attitude is about to get him booted from this house quicker than a carton of spoiled milk on a hot summer day. I'm kidding of course (not really!).
Surely you are familiar with our scenario. You work hard to provide your kids with everything they need and want, because it is your way of showing how much you care about them. You don't want your kid to go without, because maybe you came from a less fortunate background and vowed your kid would never have to go without anything like you did as a child. After a few years of providing a plentiful and loving environment for your kid, you realize you have actually created a monster. The plan backfires and they develop a sense of entitlement, because you have not only given them everything they wanted, but you failed to make them understand the value of any of it. They don't know or care that you had to work for it or even show up on your sick days for it. They don't care that you had to skip buying that cool thing for yourself, so you could buy an even cooler thing for them. They just know whatever they want magically appears without any energy or effort spent on their behalf.
This is my situation right now. My oldest son is a rich kid, or so he thinks he is a rich kid. In his mind, he can get his clothes from any high end store and can order from any side of the restaurant menu, just because he is his wonderful self. Money is no object and he deserves whatever he wants because he got a good report card. *Sigh!* True, he did get a great report card, but that can be his get-out-of-jail calling card only a limited number of times. We still have a lot of work to do on his attitude, his smart mouth and the fact that he is waaaay more mature than most of his school friends. "They are so immature, mom!", he says over and over again.
As a result, we decided to give him a project. He and my youngest son have been sharing a room their entire existence. They are so close in age that it has never been a problem until this year. Big boy's rapid decent into his preteen years has made this year more challenging and my baby boy has been left in the dust. There is a mere 18-month difference in their ages, but it feels more like 18 years these days. Add in the fact that their interests are at opposite ends of the spectrum and you get a situation where these once very close siblings fight like dogs and bigger dogs. So now, big boy is about to get his own room. Our guest bedroom furniture will now become his and our former "music room" will become his domain.
But in true "rich kid" fashion, just having his own room is not good enough. He has to go all HGTV on us and ask that he be allowed to decorate it, too. Once we told him he was getting his own room, he started barking out all the changes he wants to make....new paint, new linens, new rugs, etc. My first reaction was to give him a "Hell NO!", but I thought twice about it. Instead, I turned it into a learning opportunity. He will be allowed to decorate his room with anything he wants as long as he earns the money to buy it for himself. Last summer, both boys started cutting the yards of a few neighbors and their grandparents to earn a little extra cash. It was an okay experiment, but I don't know if they really learned anything from the experience. They had no real goals and no real pay off in the end. It was just something to do to relieve the summer boredom.
With the number of yards they plan to cut this summer and the amount of money they anticipate earning, we had big boy create a budget. He will use this money to purchase items for his new bedroom. He will have a grand total of around $200. He was pumped when he came to this total, confirming in his mind that he was indeed "rich". I gave him the task of making a list of items he wanted to buy and allowing him to go to any online store to price the items on his wish list. He went to Pottery Barn, Pier One and other similarly priced stores. I noticed his enthusiasm shift a little as he quickly realized that $200 wasn't going to carry his shopping adventure very far. I was tempted to swoop in and save him, by telling him I would help him if he didn't have enough money. But I didn't. I resisted. I left him alone for a few hours and waited. I was beating myself up for the bad parent I was. When he resurfaced, he had created a new shopping list with items from Walmart and Target. His spirit was quite broken, too. You hate to see that light in your kid's eyes dim. Your first reaction is to jump in and make it better. You want to give them a big hug, tell them everything will be okay and that you will handle it for them. AND...knowing my kid, he probably expected me to do this.
However, I was the one with the a-ha moment this time. I remembered that this was the whole point of the project. He was supposed to learn the value of a dollar and I was supposed to shut up and let it happen. I was supposed to step back and let him deal with whatever was to become of his hard earned money and let him live with the consequences. I reluctantly took him to Target and watched silently as he priced items with his shopping list and calculator in hand. Twice now, we have walked out of the store empty handed, because his taste out-priced his budget. I am sure other parents have done similar things with their kids, but this is my first time in this arena. I have no clue if he will learn anything from it or not. He is after all, my first born. Everything that happens to him is our first time experiencing it as parents. With him, it is constant on the job training. If this experiment works, then I will pat myself on the back long enough to brace for the next high anxiety teachable moment to happen. He may emerge from this without a single scratch, but I will learn how to step out of the way and let him experience more ups and downs for himself. He won't always need a superhero to fly in and save the day, but he will need my love and support. Lucky for him, that will forever be available at no charge.