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It’s not surprising that raising a child, although a precious and wonderful journey, is costly. One U.S. government estimate for middle-income kids says each child will cost about $242,000 by the time he or she is 18. And that doesn’t include college!
But there’s a lot of wiggle room between that $242,000 average and what you might spend to raise your child. For example, my approach to parenting tends toward do-it-yourself and voluntary simplicity. My motto is: “Don’t buy anything if you don’t have to.” If you have clear and strong intentions for your parenting role, you’ll have a clear compass for the decisions you make about family finances and raising your kids. Without that clarity, you can easily be swayed by your children’s moods, other people’s opinions, your own unmet needs and marketing campaigns to buy more. Try these tips to find your inner compass and save money.
1. To lower your financial cost, ask powerful questions.
We live in a consumer culture that teaches us we need more stuff. From prenatal visits to college tuition, the expectations are high that kids will cost a lot of money. Parents are an easy target market. We want our children to be happy and safe and we’re afraid they won’t be. Ad campaigns that market to our fear work well for corporate sellers, but not so well for your family.
Asking powerful questions is the best way to make sure that what you buy is what you really want to buy and what you are spending money on is what you really want to spend money on. Being willing to ask questions with an open mind is an important part of being a grownup and a great skill to teach your kids. Any time you think of making a purchasing decision, you can use this flow chart to help you make sure it’s something you really want, need, can use and can afford.
2: To lower your time cost, align with your values.
How many times have you said something like this: “There’s just not enough time. If I had 28 hours in the day, I might be able to do it all.” Many parents spend an intense amount of time on their kids—taking them to activities, school experiences or playdates; doing chores for them like cooking, cleaning and laundry. The best way to save time is to take things off your to-do list.
Are there things you do for your kids that you really shouldn’t? If your kids can do or learn to do a job, encourage them. The more we involve our kids in both chores and decisions, the more we create shared time with them while helping them learn important life skills like self-reliance, interdependence and the fact that their actions matter. When we are transparent about how we spend our time and how much we are of service to our children, it feels fairer to them when we ask them to engage, too. Even young kids can be helpful, especially if they are taught how to do the chores and are given time to learn. Still, making the shift from doing for your child to doing with your child is not always easy. Support from a parent coach can make it easier.
Also, be discerning about choosing playdates and activities. Make sure they align with your values, including the values of being well rested and connected as a family. You may have to say “no” or “not right now.” Discernment is a great skill for your children to learn: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
3. To lower your emotional cost, learn to trust.
“I woke up at 3 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. My mind wouldn’t shut off. I kept worrying,” one client confided in me. “How do I get my son to be kind and keep his word? How do I get him to stop messing up?” The fears we hold in our hearts are tender doorways into parenting transformation and windows into our own work. Our children are guaranteed to stir up our worry, anger and pain as well as our joy, sense of accomplishment and pleasure. Leaning in to the discomfort of these emotions allows us to get honest, vulnerable and alive in our parenting. And listening to our own feelings and needs makes it much easier to listen to our children when they make mistakes.
There are many ways to lean in to your emotions—journaling, sharing with friends, parenting support groups, workshops, time in nature, meditation, listening to inspiring words, reading self-help books. When you do this work with compassion, gentleness and curiosity, you make room to experience spontaneous self-correction. You also model a courageous, wholehearted approach to living that your children will respond to.
No one can argue that children are a lot of work. We give them time, money and emotional energy. We are also their models in how to live in the world. And this is one key way our children give back. As they watch our success and failure, joy and struggle, and learn to be like us, they give us the motivation to grow up into the adults we want to be. They help us grow into the love, compassion and understanding that we might not otherwise have found.
Kassandra Brown helps parents find their hidden gifts and bring those gifts back to their children. If you’d like to learn more, please contact her at parentcoaching.org.
Photo by: Working Mother Editor