I knew we were poor when I was growing up.
I knew the car we drove was beyond used. I knew when the food I ate had come from a food bank. I knew that we had to buy groceries from a list and that the type of juice we bought was dictated by government regulations.
And I knew better than to ask for things we couldn’t afford.
The reality of our circumstances could not have been concealed with even the most protective parenting. I don’t, in any way, blame my mother for the fact that I knew more about money than most kids. But at the same time, I’d always hoped to be able to protect my own children from that level of awareness.
Unfortunately, this sucktastic economy has put a swift end to those plans.
I avoided it for as long as I could, but there are only so many creative ways you can answer “why can’t I have this?” before you have to admit that “we don’t have the money right now.”
My family is luckier than most. We have a nice home with a mortgage we’re up to date on. We go out to eat occasionally, we take mini-vacations, and we can still afford the basics as well as little luxuries here and there.
But we are looking at ways to cut costs and scale back - and sometimes that means not being able to keep up with all of the desires of our kids.
Trying to explain that to a 9 year old is difficult.
He doesn’t understand why he got to go to Toys R’ Us last week but can’t go to Disney Quest this weekend.
He doesn’t understand why we chose a less expensive daycare option for the summer, but paid for Tae Kwon Do lessons all school year.
What he does understand is that he’s heard the word “money” used to explain our decisions. And I’ve noticed that’s sticking with him.
An extra field trip came up at the daycare he’s attending this summer and he didn’t tell me about it. When I asked if he wanted to go he said, “Yeah, but it costs money.”
It kills me to see him take on the same responsibilities that I did as a child. I hate that he knows what it means to be limited by financial resources - especially since he doesn’t have the emotional maturity to appreciate the subtle nuances of budgeting and choices.
I wish I could have protected him from this. I wish that I could have found a way to teach him about the value of a dollar without prematurely exposing him to the fear of not having enough. I wish that I could tell him “not to worry” and make it so.
I wish that, at least in his little life, money was no object.