It's funny how when you're growing up you often don't realize how much things cost. When I was little, I didn't realize that most of our house was cold in the winter because the fuel oil that ran the furnace was too expensive to crank the furnace up; I just thought my parents liked using a wood-burning stove that only heated more than one room if you used a box fan to circulate the warm air into the next room. I didn't know we weren't allowed to ask for things at the store because we didn't have money to buy extra stuff; I thought it was rude to ask for things. I didn't realize that I was wearing boy jeans because the only hand-me-downs that fit me were from my equally-skinny older male cousin; I really didn't give it a second thought.
It probably wasn't until I was about eight or nine, when my dad was established at a better-paying job and there was more money and the house was warmer in winter and I had more girl jeans than boys' hand-me-downs, that I realized money had been so tight before. Granted, even in the lean times we still had it much better than a lot of other people. Even if dinner was Banquet pot pies that could be purchased five-for-a-dollar on sale, we never went without. Not ever. My dad always worked long hours and we always had what we really needed. But it wasn't until I was older that I understood both the fortune of never going without, as well as how stressful it must have been for my parents when times were tough -- when I was older and had a better understanding of what things cost.
Even though circumstances are a bit different for my kids than they were for me when I was little, we still want them to understand what things cost. We talk to them about why we work and how things are paid for and why we don't have some things and why, even if we do have the money for something, that doesn't mean we are necessarily going to buy it. As I was thinking about the way we are teaching the boys about money, I also started considering how teaching them about what things cost isn't only about money. I want them to learn to be wise about their money, of course, but making wise decisions about cost is so much more than considering if they have enough money for a new toy or should be saving for a rainy day.
It is important to me for the boys to understand that there is often a cost associated with our actions an choices. I want to be deliberate in teaching them about cost -- financial and otherwise -- instead of merely hoping they figure it out for themselves. I want to help them learn to weigh cost and make wise decisions for themselves, rather than me always telling them what they should choose.
When they ask me “Why?” a million-gazillion times a day in response to every single thing I say to them from, “Go brush your teeth” to “Don’t swing that metal bat in the house,” my answer is almost always, “Why do you think?” Of course we have discussions about why, but I want them to come up with answers to these obvious questions on their own, without me having to constantly explain personal responsibility and the consequences of their actions. I want them to think about their choices and the cost of those choices.
I don’t want them to be paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice, but I do want them to learn to be deliberate and careful about what they choose. For now it may just be that if they choose to have soda with dinner on weekly treat night, they can't have ice cream for dessert. Which would they rather have? It may be that if they choose not to do their homework when it is time, they don't get their 30 minutes of PlayStation time after dinner. Which is more important to them, putting off homework or having time for something fun later?
Those are obviously not life-changing decisions, but my hope is that even on the days when it seems they will never "get it," somewhere in the recesses of their minds they are learning the importance of choices and the importance of owning their own choices. I hope that as they grow they learn to hear those questions for themselves when they are making decisions: "What will happen if I do this? What will happen if I don't? Why am I doing this? What is it costing me? Is it worth it?"
I hope they will choose what is right, even at the cost of the approval of others. I hope they will choose fun, but not at the expense of others. I hope they will choose to be daring when they should and guarded when they should and have the discernment to know when the time is right for each. I hope they will be willing to take risks, but only when they are also willing to accept that the results of those risks might not be exactly what they'd anticipated. Some things are absolutely worth the cost and some are not. I hope I'm teaching them to discern the difference.
And I pray that when they look back they will see that we worked together to help them learn to make the best choices for themselves, rather than me making all their decisions for them. They will mess up. They will not always make the right choice. But I never want them to feel like their choices were all dictated by me. I know I'm not a perfect parent. I know I mess up in numerous ways. I know I don't always make the right choices for myself. I know this is all going to get increasingly more difficult as they get older. But, God... I pray this is one thing I'm doing right. Even at the cost of my own sanity.