This year during the holidays, my wife Bridget and I realized that we have reached a stage where very soon, we are going to be the two shortest people in the house. Our two older sons are now well over six feet tall and soon will surpass me in height and tower over their mom. It just a matter of time until our youngest will hit his growth spurt as he turns 10 this year. We stopped to wonder where the last 15 years have gone, and realized in another 15, there is a good chance that we will be spending Christmas with grandchildren.
We reminisced about when our kids were toddlers – it’s hard to imagine that they were ever so small. That said, it’s the experiences they had at such a young age that make them into the kind, considerate and caring young men the are now.
The lessons we teach stick for life
When my oldest son Brennan was four years old, we went shopping at the mall a few days before Christmas. Four is the age where your child is still filled with wonder and longing, and yet still holds their parents in the highest regards. It is a magical age, where you watch your little one grow and interact with the world around them in the most enjoyable ways. As a parent, few ages are more fun.
There is a dark side to having a four-year-old, however. It is when you make your first real parenting mistakes that you come to regret. I’m not sure what possessed me to think that a trip, days before Christmas, with an excited four-year-old, to a place in which every single storefront was essentially the modern version of the wicked witch’s gingerbread cottage from Hansel and Gretel was a good idea. Every store in that mall was designed to lure children in so parents would be forced to spend gobs of money on toys in order to leave with happy children.
My nightmare parenting moment began when Brennan was taken by the siren call of a two-foot tall Superman action figure, that cost $25, in the window of one such store. He absolutely begged me to buy it for him. When I gently said no, he had a breakdown of near epic proportions that only a four-year-old, days from Christmas, could pull in a highly public place.
Once he finally calmed down, realizing that there was no way in heck I was going to buy him the toy, I saw this as a great opportunity to teach him about saving money and working towards a goal. I told him that he could buy it himself, if he worked to earn money and saved enough. Strangely, this seemed to settle him right down. He asked me what he could do, and we set him up with small chores around the house for which he could earn 25 cents each.
January flew by and our little capitalist became quite the household helper. He’d put dishes away. He’d vacuum a floor. He’d ask to go visit his grandfather since “Papa would give him money.” By the beginning of March, Brennan had accumulated the $25 to buy his beloved toy.
Together, we excitedly drove to the mall with a small zip-lock bag of his money, which he was very proud to have earned by working. We walked into the mall…
…and the store was gone. Yep. Closed down, out of business, and gone for good, along with the really super cool Superman toy.
It was an epic parenting fail. All that was left was a heart-broken four-year-old with $25.
Our saving grace was that Zellers in the mall was having a massive toy sale and Brennan was able to grab a pile of discounted Diego the explorer toys with his $25. He left the mall relatively happy, albeit somewhat bitter that a toy store had gone out of business. On my part, I was just thankful that he wasn’t mad at me for making him work for something only to have it be gone forever.
That said, over a decade later, my son has become a chronic saver; he works hard to put money away. Despite the early disappointment, he has developed a mindset for saving that is going to be a huge asset for life. Likewise, his brothers both do the same – in fact, our middle son, Liam, recently managed to save up $500 by the age of 13 to purchase a specialized drawing tablet for his animation work. He’s immensely proud of his accomplishment, as are we.
We’ve also realized that it’s not just that lessons learned at a young age about saving, but its also many other things as well. Our kids have become compassionate and generous young men. Part of that learning was from having them give away some of their toys each year at Christmas to a local women and children’s shelter. While that was a tough thing for them to do at the age of four or five, it helped open their eyes to the world around them and to the fact that sometimes others have greater need than they do.
Who were your inspirations?
I would love to hear from you, our readers, as to who inspired you to become a saver or a giver at a young age and how that inspired the way you look at the world today. If we have enough people, I’d love to put together a newsletter sharing your stories later this year.