How I saved my sanity by handing my kids the checkbook:
One summer, my children had gone on a fabulous vacation with their dad. They called me often, telling me of all the great things they had done that day, describing the restaurants where they had eaten, the fancy hotels where they had stayed and how much fun they were having with it all.
A big part of me was happy for them and loved hearing the excitement in their voices, yet a small part of me grew increasingly uncomfortable at the thought of them coming home and of all of us embarking on what I knew would be a low-budget vacation.
I feared that the contrast would be too sharp, that they would feel deprived and that I, in turn, would feel pressured and resentful. None of it sounded good to me, and that is why, two nights before they came home, I made the decision to cancel our trip. I thought that it would be better to disappoint them once than to open myself up to a long string of small but constant struggles.
That night, I went to bed feeling saddened but resigned. We would make small day trips to local places and that was that.
When I woke up the next morning, I immediately felt a vague sense of unease and could not pinpoint its source until I remembered my decision of the night before. Somehow, I could see how I had arrived at that choice and yet, after a night’s sleep, the energy around it felt different to me. My passivity and resignation had turned into a more assertive stance and I could tell something different was about to take place.
Within a few minutes, this new assertiveness was tinged with a healthy dose of defiance as I could hear myself thinking loudly, “I’ll be darned if I let someone else, even unintentionally, define my vacation!”
I knew that were I to ignore this opportunity, I could be embarking on a downward pattern, one that would make a big difference in the way I chose to live my life with my kids.
The vacation was back on, but I still did not want to subject myself to feeling like my kids were traveling with Mrs. Scrooge, following a carefree jaunt with Santa.
As is often the case when I need to come up with a creative solution, I tried to pretend that the subject at hand was one of my clients’. This little trick has helped me many times, and I use it freely. It did not fail me. Before long, I had a plan and was ready to implement it. It kind of made me giggle inside.
A quick trip to the bank provided me with a blank checkbook register, which I promptly plopped into a Ziploc bag with a pencil and a calculator.
When the kids got home, I proposed “The Plan” to them.
For this week-long vacation, they would be in a charge of the money. All of it.
I told them that we had a full tank of gas and gave them an idea of how many more tanks we would need. I also told them that we had a cooler full of food and two nights of camping paid for. I then announced what our budget was (I think it felt like two million dollars to them!) and showed them how to balance a checkbook.
They were so excited. I was too, actually. And so we went.
It was the most fun I have ever had on a vacation with my kids.
For the whole trip, I was never once asked if we could buy this or that. I completely let them go with it and watched in awe as they solemnly decided that “One scoop of ice cream would be best today so that we could have another cone tomorrow.” They recorded every penny they as they spent it and they seemed huge to me as they played with their budget. They told me several times how they loved it. It was a blast!
And guess what? On our trip home, they worriedly told me that we had gone $3.00 over budget! I tried so hard not to smile as I reassured them that we would be okay.
A few months later, I was still digesting the blessings from this experience.
Yes, they learned to happily balance a checkbook and keep a budget (something I feel should definitely be taught in school). Yes, they were surprised at how much things cost and how fast one can spend two million dollars on a camping trip. This is all fantastic learning and I am so thankful for it.
Yet for me, the biggest lesson comes in having morphed a potentially defeating situation into an empowering one. Some creativity, a good dose of defiance, and a sprinkling of playfulness did the trick. I just love it.
As parents—and really, as humans—it can be so easy to judge ourselves against others. It is so easy to see how everyone else is richer/more fun/younger/older than us. And from there, it is just a short hop to getting resigned, to agreeing that since we will never be good enough anyway, we might as well give up, right there. It is so easy to abandon ourselves. When that happens, we are no longer inviting our creativity to come out and play, and life starts to taste a little sad.
What if instead of abandoning ourselves, we claimed our stake in the game, loud and clear? If we did things differently, maybe even a little weirdly? Things like handing our kids the finances…or who knows what else? What would that look like, in your life? For me, it worked beautifully. I have a feeling that it may work really well for you too.
Author: Laura Lavigne
Editor: Catherine Monkman