It was ticket buying day, and we had a problem. Two of our kids had saved enough money to purchase plane tickets to see grandma and grandpa but the third had not. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, you’ll want to see last week’s post here.
Now, obviously this came as no surprise to Bret and I. After all, we’d been discussing the issue with the kids for months. We’d seen her balance continue to go down, but now the day had arrived, and the news we had to deliver was difficult.
My stomach was turning as I looked at my husband with the parent telepathy that said, “I can’t do this, you tell her.”
With a matter of fact voice, Bret simply said: “Well, it looks like the boys are going with mom and your sister will be staying here with me.” And then he walked away.
I was aghast. No empathy? No “We told you so’s?” Even though we pledge never to say “I told you so,” the mom in me was saying “Really? Not even a hint of “I told you…?”
I looked at the boys who were now doing a happy dance. “Can we call grandma?” they asked as they ran off to find the phone.
I looked at my daughter who had seemingly no reaction. No crying. No shrugging. No rolling of eyes. She just returned to what she’d been doing.
I couldn’t believe it. This was our huge teachable moment. I mean, we’d worked this all out. We’d decided there was no way we could bail her our and buy her the ticket when the boys had worked so hard to save for theirs. Of course when we had decided to use this trip as a money lesson and told the kids they needed to save their own money for the purchase, we’d never dreamed one of them would decide NOT to participate. Who doesn’t want to go to Arizona in the winter? We live in Minnesota for Pete’s sake! True to our parenting mantra, however, we knew we had to follow through on the stakes we’d initially presented: save enough money – go to Arizona. Don’t save enough – stay home with dad.
I had practiced what I’d say to her. Since I work off the premise that empathy is important but know that snarkiness is my default, I’d actually rehearsed being empathetic. But how do you empathize with an indifferent kid? We’d even discussed what we’d do if she asked for extra jobs around the house to try to quickly raise enough money for a ticket to join us. What we didn’t plan for was indifference.
As the days to the trip grew closer, her reaction never changed. We made it clear to her that she wasn’t being punished, that she’d be home with Bret while he worked and the two of them would hang out. Maybe they’d find something to do without us, but no plans were in place.
And then it happened. The day we were dropped off at the airport, she cracked. She gave me a kiss and a hug, climbed back into the car and then stared out the window as Bret drove away. He said she was very quiet the entire way home and not responsive to his attempts at conversation.
It was then that he realized that our money lesson had worked after all. The boys had decided it was worth their money to go. They had saved and they were on their way to a fun, candy-filled week with their grandparents. Our daughter had decided she preferred the quick hit of spending a few dollars on stuff at Target, and had not considered how being left out might feel. It was only now, as she waved goodbye to her best playmates and faced a week alone with dad that she realized exactly what she had done.
Everyone had a fantastic week. The boys and I enjoyed the sun and Bret and our daughter decided to spend an afternoon snowboarding. What is most amazing, however, is the lasting impact that week had on her financial training. Since that day, six years ago, she has never again fallen below the boys in her savings. In fact, she is consistently our best saver and at times has double the money saved as her brothers.
Sometimes the hardest lessons can be the best.