Sunday, 17 May 2009

Saying NO; Simple, Frugal, and Loving?

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

We have a teenager in the home. He’s 14, and with two younger brothers in the ranks at 12 and 11 he’s giving us a pretty solid preview of what’s to come in the next few years; bouts of insanity, manic joy and illogical depression, paranoia and loving moments. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but anyone that has or has had a teenager probably gets my drift, they can be a little “moody”.

There are times when our boys want to go places, or do things with friends that we just aren’t comfortable with for one reason or another. We take very seriously the charge we have to look out for our kids well being. Some may call us over-protective but I’m willing to take the hit on that one. I figure they’ll be a lot less scarred by not getting to surf the Internet un-supervised or hang out with kids that we feel are “trouble waiting to happen” than they would be if God forbid they were targeted by an Internet predator or got caught up in some trouble that could have been avoided. We’ve also tried hard to make sure that as our boys get older they learn that things are very rarely just given. If they want something now, or in the future, they need to be willing to do some work for them. There are a lot of times when this makes them a bit crazy. They have friends who have everything they could ever want given to them as soon as they can conceive of it and have a hard time figuring out why it is that they don’t. I work hard and I make a good income, better perhaps than some of those friends’ parents, and still they get NO’s from us. Why? Because I love them, that’s why.

Now, excuse me a minute while I digress to tell you a quick story. A little over a week ago, was our oldest boy’s birthday. The only thing that he’s wanted, and had worked hard saving toward on his own mind you, was an electric guitar. It was a goal that we had decided to help him reach for his birthday. We spent the evening shopping around, comparing prices and “test driving” different guitars. In the end, he was able to find a guitar that was in his budget, which was of good lasting quality and came with some basic services available for the life of the guitar. After the shopping trip, and then later that evening, he came to me to say thank you for helping him stay patient and keep focused on his goal. He was so happy with having reached his goal, or maybe it was just having gotten what he wanted, that he was beaming all evening.

The reason I bother to tell you about this is because just this week we, the wife and I that is, were talking to each other just after asking our son to take a little time upstairs in his room to get a handle on himself after becoming a little, shall we say annoyed with us, for not allowing him to do something that he wanted to do. I remember telling her “Remember how nice it was when he ‘loved’ us last week?” And then it happened. I had an epiphany that made me some understanding of the reasoning behind why some parents treat their kids the way they do; like they are little Kings and Queens who cannot be denied anything. I mean, it’s hard to be a parent. Who of us likes having their kids mad at them or feeling like we’re “picking on them”. We love to see their smiles and beaming faces. We thrive on them being excited to talk to us and giving hugs and love right? Who wouldn’t want that?

I guess I can understand why families that have two working parents, or maybe even just a single parent that obviously has to work, taking hours of the day away from the time they can spend with their kids would feel the need to shower them with gifts and “stuff”. I can’t say there aren’t times when I like to give my kids something special because I know I’ve been busy lately. It’s a conundrum though isn’t it? We work more to afford all the things that we “have” to get, and then feel guilty for working so much and feel obligated to get more stuff, which we have to work more to afford… etc, etc.

As we look further into this idea of simple and frugal living we inevitably come up against this argument. My wife and I did and it took us talking about what we wanted and what we were willing to give up in order to get it. We determined that, at least while our kids were young, we wanted her to have the ability to stay at home with them. I didn’t make much at the time so it meant making some hard choices. We taught ourselves to repair and re-use things when we could, we built regular habits of buying second hand clothes, toys and furnishings and my wife became an expert at stretching a food dollar. These are all things that are regularly suggested as ways to down-size and simplify; no shockers there. The other thing we had to master though was the art of saying NO, and meaning it. It’s hard to do sometimes. But in the long run I think it makes for better budgets and happier kids. You may be saying “What? Happier kids that get told NO? I don’t believe it!” but I tell you it’s true. Remember, raising happy kids doesn’t just mean while they’re kids. It also means raising happy kids that will be happy adults too!

We’ve all heard the term “spoiled rotten” right? Well, it comes from somewhere. Few are the families whose children can be given everything they want for nothing and who will grow up to be able to continue to afford to live that way. So unless your children will be the heirs to some enormous family wealth at some point the chances are that they’re gonna have to work to pay for things themselves one day. What kind of lesson do we teach them when we let them have everything they could ever want? Certainly not that things come at a price in the real world.

The reason I even bother to get into this is because I think it's one of those topics that maybe doesn't get talked about a lot. Often times I think it's easy to decide that we're going to "go green" or live more simply and frugally, but that we don't want our kids to have to "suffer" for it. I submit to you that they will not suffer. In fact, I think I can be second and thirded by many others here that can share with you the INCREASE in their children's joy and happiness after deciding to simplify their lives. What child wouldn't prefer a little time laughing with their family playing board games over a video game? Who of them wouldn't be thankful for a little less "stuff" in exchange for a little more time?

I hope this is received in the tone of which I mean it too. It's not about just saying NO to your kids. It's about helping them to know their place in the world. It's about giving them the keys to a happy future rather than one that leads them from one temporary pleasure to the next.

Bless you all. Till next time.


Sandy said...

I think another side of this is to teach our children to do things, to be productive. My teenagers are always shocked when they meet kids their own age who can't cook an egg or do a load of laundry. With five people in the house who can cook, it's not all that tempting to go out to eat, someone here is always cooking something great. So, that's one example of simple and frugal. I'm sure there are lots more.

willywagtail said...

Everything you have said is true and backed by history. You definitely don't have to apologise. Children are happier when guided by firm principles than when left to work everything out by themselves. At the same time we need to watch as they mature and ease off bit by bit where they have shown they deserve respect otherwise they will be like a spring under pressure when finally of an age to make choices. Each child is different.

Dani said...

we've raised our boys to be productive workers and save...many of their friends got everything they wanted and our boys just shake their heads....they understand and have thanked us as they've grown older so hang in there....our oldest runs a dog rescue now and our youngest has a job lined up after graduation in two weeks.....its hard sometimes but it pays off in the long run..after all, the whole job of a parent is to work yourself out of the job....parents are supposed to be preparing their children to live on their own and not be dependents forever...but contributing members of society...

Mickey said...

I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying. I am the mom of 2 twenty-somethings and a 17 year old. We have been saying no to the same things you speak of in your blog. They are better off for it. They are now starting to see the benefits of not being handed everything. And they appreciate what we have given them and what we have allowed them to do. What do kids have to look forward to if they are handed everything or allowed to do so much more than they should be? Give them the pleasure of working for certain things or looking forward to things when they are old enough.

Kate said...

I'm not a parent, but I strongly support your sentiments. I've got two nephews who get everything they want, before they even think of it. They have the attention span of gnats and are so jaded that I don't even attempt to buy them anything anymore. Can you conceive of anything sadder than a jaded seven-year-old?

I feel sorry for them. They're not spoiling themselves, that's for sure. They are perpetually unsatisfied because mom & dad are continually trying to placate them.

I feel sorry too for any child that is not given age-appropriate, useful tasks to master, and ways to contribute to the wellbeing of the family. Kids used to *work* for the benefit of their family members, and in the process they gained a sense of achievement and self-respect. They gained the respect of adults and siblings in that way too. I feel sorry for kids who are given no useful work to do, and who never gain any real world skills. They are helpless. American culture infantalizes kids far too much. No wonder the teen years are so tough on them and on parents.

wendyytb said...

You sound like you are on the right track, and one day your children will thank you for saying "no." and meaning it... It is a tough world to grow up in now, and whether or not they realize it, our kids need parental protection and guidance.

I think we as parents also have to remember to tell our kids that they are loved... and we need to do it frequently. They can never hear that enough.

livinginalocalzone said...

I was on the "receiving end" of this philosophy as a child, and I can't say enough as to how much I am thankful to my parents for this kind of parenting. Like you and your wife, my parents decided that my mother would stay home with me through my elementary school years (and for many of the same reasons). And like you, my parents had to sacrifice much financially, stay extra-frugal, stretch every penny, and often say no.
But honestly, I never thought a thing was lacking. I never felt deprived, and never felt as if I was up against a wall. I was surrounded by loving parents who nevertheless did *parent* me - teaching me firmly with the goal of raising a productive young person who can handle herself in varied situations, understand finances and financial realities, and keep an open mind. And then they continued to parent in a different way as I grew into a teen, remaining nearby, guiding me and reinforcing basic principles, and at the same time letting me figure out how to handle myself as situations arose. As I grew into myself (so to speak), they taught me respect by modeling it in their own behavior towards my choices when they demonstrated thought and reflection, or expressed my perspective on the world. At the same time, by remaining "present" and setting definite boundaries I knew they still were invested in my life.
Reading your post now, I wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts. I can appreciate a bit more how hard it is to strike the balance between not handing a child everything and still recognizing the encouragement and opportunities a child needs to reach full potential. Saying no is hard, but at the same time often more rewarding for parent and child alike. Self-sufficiency gave me pride as a 2 year old, 12 year old, and 22 year old - and beyond.

Anna said...


I am self-sufficient and resourceful, thanks to my parents who raised me like you are raising your kids.

I feel sorry for my friends now who had everything as children. They just don't know how to function in an adult world.

Lis said...

I too was brought up this way and I have tried to raise my children the same way. My DD15 has just got her first casual job and is already saving 1/2 of each pay packet as well as thinking very carefully about waht she spends the rest on.
Last week she was looking for new jeans - we ended up getting her a $7 pair at the op shop and a $5 top. She is till happy to op-shop as she knows what good value it is :)

P~ said...

Thanks all of you for the great input. I just knew I was "preaching to the choir" here but I also know there are a lot of others out there reading that could use the encouragement. I love getting the opportunity to watch my boys become young men. I also agree totally with many of your sentiments about learning to work. We had them all out in the yard and garden this morning and we worked as a family to get out chores done before anyone played. They mowed the lawn, moved bricks, stacked firewood and cleaned up around the house. Imagine this though... they still had time to play and have fun. Go figure?
Keep up the great parenting everyone!

Lindah said...

Amen! to your post. As a parent of 3 adult children, who sometimes thought we were just meanies, I can attest to the fact that they all are well adjusted and stable financially. They iron and repair and garden, too. Thank you for sharing your parenting philosophy. I wish it could be available to parents in a wider venue. I think it is needed. It seems like we lost this perspective for a couple of generations.

Chookie said...

People who do everything for their kids are missing out on seeing how proud children are when they are truly able to help.

Katja said...

You are so right! My parents raised me the same way and I’m really thankful they did. They had a good system to teach us about money. Whenever we wanted something expensive (like a TV or brand clothes) we had to save up half of the price from our allowance. If we managed that they rewarded us by paying the other half. I will do this with my children as well.
Furthermore, we didn’t get a lot of presents for Christmas. Just the one thing we wanted most, a few casual clothes (PJ’s and the like, or whatever was needed at the moment) and a book.
We never felt deprived and treasured what we got, because we had to work/save for it.
It shaped me into a very responsible and frugal person. My husband and I recently fulfilled our dream of our own horse-farm, so money is tight now, but it doesn’t matter. We have what we need and everything else will sort itself out. I hope I’ll be able to teach my daughter the same values by living them.

mrs jones to be! said...

Definitely. What a supportive post! I try and bring my children up to appreciate time and experiences enjoyed together over 'things' Of course my youngest (5) still wants all the latest stuff but he will grow up with the understanding that they aren't everything in life.
Saving up was the way my parents taught me to wait for something i wanted and my daughter (7) is now following in the same way.
Thanks for the Great Post


Sue said...

This is so true, my daughter turned into the teen from hell for a few years but now she's 21 & has said "Thankyou" for persevering with the word "No"! I now have a daughter I can call a friend & am so proud of her. Next up will be our son, coming up to the age of 11. I do believe that what is referred to as "Quality" time with our kids is simply being there when they need you, not when you can fit them in. I was there for my daughters early teens as I stayed home with our son until he was over 5, she was 10 when he was born. I now have to work but if I can remain part time then I'll be around for his early teens too.

linda said...

Beautifully said. My two are teenagers and being frugal is the way they were raised and yet, they don't like it. However, I find that by explaining things to them along the way, things such as why we can't afford something or if we can, why we don't feel like spending that money on it, works a great deal better than simply denying them things. I would say, 9 times out of 10, they usually are grateful that they didn't buy something on impulse. They either got a better deal somewhere else or they lost interest.
I'm also glad to hear that you take their safety to heart. I too am over protective.

SentimentsbyDenise said...

Very well written!

Threads of Light said...

Fantastic post, and don't think of it as preaching to the choir: I can 'sing', but still get a bit 'out of tune' from time to time. Also, posts like this are great because I love to recommend this site to friends who I think will appreciate thoughts just like these.

Joanne said...

Well said. This echoes a lot of my own thoughts...but I still think I give in too often, particularly with one child who is very persuasive. He is a natural shopper. I say this because I have two boys- one is happy with whatever he gets and rarely asks for anything. The other loves clothes shopping and has become an avid garage-sale/ thrift/ trash-and-treasure shopper. He loves bringing home trinkets and getting a bargain. As I see his room fill with 'stuff', I think to myself that getting more for your dollar isn't the only economic principle I need to teach him. He needs to learn about ENOUGH. Three watches are ENOUGH for a 10 year old. You have ENOUGH little gizmos and gadgets on your desk, etc.

Lil said...

This was a great read. Thank you for sharing your insight!!!!

dmoms said...

I'm so glad to click over here today and read this post. I am that mom that works and because I'm tired or whatever, I say yes when it should be no. My son is almost 13 - asking to be dropped off at the mall. Yeah, I don't think so is my reply. So the next day, he wants a phone. Because he thinks he needs one.

I am feeling called to "get back home" and grow a stronger back bone.

again, thanks for this today

Lily Girl said...

Thank you for this post. I had a very blessed childhood, but my parents also insisted that we earn our "keep" so to speak. To them that was largely keeping up our grades and doing our chores (::gasp::). I was given boundries and rules and frequently heard the word "no". We were given a budget for things like school clothes and if we wanted more, or more expensive shoes we had to come up with the difference. I sometimes was jealous of friends who's parents were more lenient, but having parents who did just that - parent - was a comforting, stabalizing force in my life.

Now that I am an adult my mom is my best friend. I don't think that would have been possible if my parents had not insisted on acting like parents. I am perpetually shocked at the lack of basic life skills and work ethic I see in other people my age. Their parents did them no favors by doing everything for them.

OzCan Adventures said...

I love that you created boundaries for your kids. I love that you upheld your family as the most important thing. I love that you shared your story with us all and helped us along our own journies creating our frugal, loving families!