One of the most engrossing challenges facing divorced fathers is how to teach children about money. That’s not to say that it’s a picnic for moms either but dads, especially the ones who sell their souls to become ‘Disneyland Dads,’ typically complicate matters when it comes to children and financial responsibility.
Why? Whether it’s guilt, lacking backbone, or not wanting to waste precious time with the kinds when we have them, fathers simply aren’t doing children any favors by passing on the responsibility that comes along with teaching kids about work.
In fact, my experience as a twenty year veteran of financial services and having interacted with countless divorce fathers leads me to believe we provide a gross injustice when we don’t talk about work as it relates to money.
As a father of a 13 year old boy, I simply wasn’t going to be ‘that dad.’
Therefore, there are ground rules I have when it comes to money and my son. No matter how little time we have, they are reinforced and consistent. Amazingly, they have helped us grow closer and I sense an emerging respect for not just money, but for the effort I take in teaching him.
Here are a few principles I follow which have helped me set expectations on work and money:
No Free Lunch
Gifts on birthdays and major holidays are one thing but just because it’s Flag Day doesn’t mean it’s an occasion to buy that $59 game for the PS3. If my son isn’t willing to wait until Christmas or his birthday for a gift, he better get to work. After all, dad would love a new Cadillac for nothing, too. However, life doesn’t work that way.
What is Work?
I find it amazing when parents tell me they pay their kids to clean their room or do summer reading. Really? Does someone pay you to vacuum or fold the laundry? As for reading, it’s meant to be enjoyable. I suppose I may be cruel, but those aren’t chores, they are basic duties in life. If my son wants money, he has to put in time landscaping, washing the cars, and other jobs as necessitated.
Teach a Skill
My son knows how to change a tire, clean and fix a sump pump, and build shelving. Early on, I taught him some basic computer skills – now he is teaching me. The key is doing it together and making it fun. Turn on the radio (to a station he likes) and do some talking. A bonus – the information you gather during these times will amaze you.
Remember – It’s his Time, Too
Work is always planned in advance. I preface it by saying, ‘next week we need to handle x, y, and z. It will probably take us x amount of minutes to accomplish. I would like to get this done by 2pm Saturday.’ If he has plans with a friend or an event (sports) I find a suitable workarounds but I never ask in advance if the timing works for him or not.
I have high standards. If the car looks streaky after it’s been washed, I explain what’s wrong and he corrects his work. Yet if he goes above and beyond, there are rewards. For example, we needed to move rocks that were in my yard to a field about 1,000 yards away. We borrowed a wheel barrel from the neighbor. When we were finished, I said I was going to return it. Without my asking, he said he would do it himself. Not only did he return the wheel barrel, but he actually rolled it to the spot in the garage where we borrowed it from and thanked the neighbor for lending it to us. Sounds like a minor detail right? But how important to you is it when customers or coworkers are respectful of your time and belongings? As a result of my sons resourcefulness that day, I was sure to include a ‘bonus’ with his pay, explaining why he received it.
Be a Sport
After my son has legitimately worked, I pay him immediately. Plus, if he wants to get something with the money he earned, I make time to drive him to a store. I don’t drop everything to run out and accommodate him at the spur of the moment but if he put in an honest couple of hours of work I feel the least I can do is let him enjoy his earnings.
Talk About Work
At the dinner table, I share what he accomplished that day. Often he replies that it wasn’t a big deal. I always remind him that any man or woman who works hard should have pride, no matter what the task. This provides solid examples for his little sister and has gone a long way to strengthen the relationship between my wife and son given she recognizes his efforts as well.
I am sure many may look at these teachings as simple while other will view them as impractical. However, I believe as a dad it’s my responsibility to teach my children to rely on themselves, not others for money or hand outs. It isn’t a matter of being stern or pessimistic about their futures, it’s a matter of teaching them about pride in a world that seems more appreciative of shortcuts.
And that’s a world where all our kids become losers.