I love my kids. They’re the best thing that ever happened to me. It is a gift to be a mother and all that jazz. But parenting is not for the faint of heart (especially doing it solo), so I’d just like to note that we are deep inside the war-games in my home. I live minimally and on a budget. Most of my money goes to bills, Organic food, and my children’s extracurricular activities. I call this the epitome of balance. They are healthy, active, and well-cared for children who get plenty of love and cuddles from me. So, why? Whhhhhhy? At the ages of 6 and 9, do they feel it is acceptable to use an entirely new bottle of organic, Costco-sized shampoo to create “potions” during bath time?
This offense occurred two weeks ago and it flipped a switch in my brain. As I floated from my body, I watched some braver, smarter, more enlightened, badass version of myself continue to speak,
“Hey, guys! Here’s the deal. The jig is up. Shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, water bottles, sweatshirts, socks, all clothing and shoes, food, school supplies- all the things- they cost money. And because they cost money, it means they should be used properly and for their designated purposes unless otherwise permitted by ME. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been retained yet, but because I know you’re both old enough to understand that in order to get these things into our home we must hand over money for them, I’d like for you both to really understand this life-lesson today. Starting right this minute, for every item you waste, you will pay me exactly what that item cost me. (The Sergeant surveys the small bathroom, mentally calculating) Here we have an entire wasted bottle of organic shampoo $12, an entire roll of toilet paper in the toilet $1, and organic toothpaste dollops all over the sink and floor $3. That’s $16 I see that you have both contributed to wasting. Each of you needs to give me $8 from your piggy banks please and thank you.”
The sergeant dismissed herself and I returned to my body. I noticed my children’s faces are uncharacteristically somber and remorseful (usually they look at me like I’ve lost my mind when I ask why they waste things and money so much). My daughter (9) went immediately to her room and gathered her dollars as she cried. She asked, “Is this really real, Mommy? Do we have to give you our money? That’s all the money I have!” I winced. This was painful to watch my offspring feel the pain of loss. But the Sergeant’s message was firm but loving, and it would teach them a lesson they would carry for a lifetime so I hugged her and said, “It’s my job to help you understand what costs money and how money works. I’ve asked you so many times before to stop making potions with shampoo and you keep ignoring me. This is the consequence for being wasteful. Your birthday is coming up, I’m sure you’ll have more in your piggy bank soon.” She nodded and hugged me back.
I went to collect on my son’s debt. He looked up at me with the biggest, most beautiful puppy dog eyes you could ever imagine and said, “I don’t have any money in my piggy bank, Mommy.” The Sergeant inside fought off the coddling mother instincts to scoop him up and say, “Oh, that’s OK. Just don’t do it again, OK sweet boy?” This time I let the Sergeant take the lead and she said something that had never occurred to me to say before, “So, if you don’t have the money to pay for what you waste, borrow or need, you have what’s called debt. That means you owe me $8. So any Christmas or birthday money you get will go directly to me until your debt is paid.” He gasped at the thought and questioned my resolve, “Wait, so you’re going to take my birthday money?!” I shook off the push-over-mom-vibes that were quickly rushing in, “Yep! I’ve asked you many times before not to waste toothpaste, shampoo, and toilet paper, but you keep doing it. So, now you’re going to start paying for what you waste and this time those things will cost you $8. Once the $8 is paid, you will be able to keep the rest of your birthday money.” His shoulders sunk as he sighed and looked at his feet. Debt is wearisome. My 6-year-old understands this now.
When I walked away and evaluated the pros and cons of this parenting moment, I realized 3 essentials every parent should remember:
- I need to stop rescuing my children from consequences. Sparing them from feeling the full weight of their choices is robbing them of life experience. We all know personal experience is the best teacher. And applying correlating consequences to the offense is MUCH more educational.
- I don’t have to bear the burden of their disobedience. It is such a weight off my shoulders to not have to keep spending unbudgeted money to replace items they chose to waste! I’ll just use their money now.
- I’m the one who is responsible for teaching them to respect people, property, and time. It’s not their teacher’s job to train them how to be a responsible adult, nor their first boss or spouse one day. It’s mine. And all it takes is a little less “pushing-over” and a little more “steady Sergeant”.
Life in the Koenes Casa is a little more peaceful these days. Step by step, my littles are paying off their debts and choosing to reconsider participating in naughty behavior, and I am feeling less stress and frustration towards them. Now it is just disappointing when they make choices to be wasteful, it no longer incites anger in me. And I have learned that if I am angry with my children, it is a red flag indicating a misfiring of parenting on my end. We all have more to learn and practice, but we are in these war-games together, fighting for our home to be full of peace, empowerment, individuality, and responsibility. We’re building trust, comradery, and security, and it’s priceless.
Every day I am enjoying my children a little more, and they are becoming a little poorer, but really, who can put a price on peace?
P.S. I’d like you to know that when I was searching for a good angsty “child debt/parenting war-game” photo, all they were giving me was happy (like SUPER happy) children and families. Those kinds of images would not accurately portray the travesty my children felt during the teaching of this lesson on debt. So, I chose a picture of coins. Cold and calculated.