“We Don’t Have the Money” But What if We Do? by Connie Dawson

When my children were young and wanted me to buy something, I knew one response that worked every time.  “We don’t have the money.”  End of story.  No more pressure.  And they knew I was telling the truth.


Then we began making more money.   How would I refuse to buy something I could obviously afford?  Hello!  I needed to be truthful but I also needed to feel I wasn’t always just shooting from the hip.  For the good of my kids and for my own good, I wanted to identify the real reason I said YES and NO. 

First things first

Bottom line - I wanted them to be safe and I wanted them to be healthy. 

Translation:  I wouldn’t be paying for any thing or any activity I wasn’t convinced was good for my child. I wouldn’t be giving them permission to do something I wasn’t pretty sure they could handle.  If I didn’t think the object of their desire was good for their bodies and if I was worried that their health would be jeopardized, I could say No.

I might add, “When you are eight, you can ....” or “Honey, when I am sure you can handle that responsibility, it will be yours.”

If the child could make a case for something that was well thought through, made good sense, and was safe, I would be willing to negotiate.  But all negotiation would stop whenever I felt we reached the limits of safety and good sense.

My ten-year-old son asked, “Why can’t we have the kind of equipment the kids across the street have?”  He was referring to every electronic whizbang known to man. 

“Do they have a cabin at the lake?” I asked.  “Do you like spending the summers there?”  I knew he did.  He could see where this was going.  “Your father and I decided that having the cabin takes priority over spending money on the latest gizmo.  I know it looks good, but we have enough of what we need in that department right now.”

Applying values to decisions

Parents get seemingly endless chances to make decisions about what is best for their children.

·  Can I have some candy?

·  Can I play at Jesse’s?

·  Buy me clothes like (current pop star) wears.

·  I want to take trumpet lessons.

·  My friends and I want to go to the mall, okay?

·  My friends’ parents are paying for them to go to ______ for Spring Break.

   Will you pay my way?

·  Can I live at home until I get on my feet?

·  Will you co-sign for my loan?

Being clear about what we value makes deciding much easier. We can construct a simple screening device to use to decide Yes, No, or More information is needed, like:

1. Is it safe?

2. Can my child handle this?

3. Does it fit with what our family believes is important?

Having more money is not the only culprit

Adults in our study who were overindulged as children said the overindulgence their parents did was not all about the money they had.  Actually, 43% said their families made about the same amount of money as other families, and 33% had more.

In addition to being allowed too much stuff, the adults overindulged as children said they were the “victims” of parents who:

·  let them have too much freedom and didn’t require much of them;

·  did things for them they could do for themselves; and

·  protected them from experiencing the consequences of their decisions.                   

Tips for avoiding overindulgence

· Discuss your beliefs and values with partners, spouses and trusted friends.

· Draw the lines between Yes and No so you are satisfied that you are being both loving and responsible.

· If you are vulnerable to frowns, anger and whining, talk to grandmothers whose grown children have thanked them for “holding the line” when it was the right thing to do.

· Remember the secure and loving feelings that were behind your own frowns, anger and whining as a child. 

· If you experienced the poor judgments and irrational fears of your parents, resist the urge to do the opposite.

· Read about the Structure and Nurture Charts (p. 124, 200) in How Much is Too Much? or on the Developmental Highway Handout.

There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).

All photos from MorgueFile free photo. 


© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2024;  bredehoft@csp.edu