A New Dawn

The stars were aligned for my blog post today: I was reading Suze Orman’s 2009 Action Plan, a handbook on how to cope with the current financial earthquake, on the eve on Barack Obama’s inauguration. Her comments sparked me to ponder the economic impact of today’s society on our children and the choices we have as parents; and what better way to frame the discussion than with Nikki Grimes’ book, “Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope.”

The situation: “You feel guilty cutting back on what you’ve always provided for your family.” Suze Orman says, “Decide once and for all if you want to indulge or protect your family.” She goes on, in her no-nonsense style, suggesting that being the “bottomless ATM for every desire, expectation, and wish your family has” simply translates to wanting to be the hero. She asserts that position is both destructive and indulgent, “all because you feel as if you must always give your kids everything they want – and right now.”

I think Suze’s stance is a little harsh, but I agree with her assessment, especially when it comes to the impact of spending habits on adult children. She continues, “I appreciate that it may initially be hard to institute new financial priorities and habits in your family. Change is always a process that takes getting used to. But the real problem here is that you think acting responsibly with your money will be punishment for your kids. You think that by slowing down the spending you are taking something away from them.”

I’m not talking about the underpinnings that will help our kids grow into successful adults, such institutions and necessities as camp, which are a vital part of a child’s total education. (One camp director relates, in a New York Times article, that a mom sold her wedding ring in order to send her child back to camp, strongly countering the false notion presented by a so-called expert who clearly doesn’t understand the value of a camp experience that “camp… is a luxury.”) A forced choice approach might, however, lead to a reevaluation of wardrobe “essentials” or foregoing a new electronic game.

That leads me to the book about Obama. While the manuscript itself has gotten mixed reviews, you cannot deny that the story provides a scaffold for current events and eventually for history. This is the tale of our 44th president, politics aside: a boy who found the ability to cling to hope and to believe in the power to change ourselves and the world. You can read the historical narrative as a backdrop to the conversation about changing spending patterns in the household, emphasizing that being prudent now ensures the family’s financial soundness in the future. The picture book version of Obama’s life helps create a tangible image of the need for each person, adult or child, to be a part of the solution, to understand that each of us is a component of something bigger than ourselves.

Orman summarizes the societal dilemma: “Children are incredibly adaptable, and they are going to take their cues from you. So don’t pitch this as a scary time and don’t suggest that they are in any way to blame for your problems. In an age-appropriate manner, let them know that you are all going to be fine, but you need to be extra careful with spending and saving to make sure the family is safe during these challenging times.”

Meanwhile, the Skipton Building Society’s recent survey (January, 2009) bears out what you might suspect – children’s spending habits are heavily influenced by their mothers, whether in times of boom or bust. So parents – and moms in particular – be aware that your shopping and spending habits are inherited! Four in 10 surveyed say they spend on luxuries as their parents did. One respondent proclaimed, “My mum is… spontaneous, and I think I have her ‘I need cheering up’ attitude.”

Hey, to be blunt, we do want our grown children to be able to take care of us (if that need arises), right?! So, common sense tells us we should be modeling the right behaviors. Orman concludes, “How receptive will your kids be to the change comes down to how you sell it.” Besides setting the right example, remind your children about those who are less fortunate, encourage them to go without something (like television for a few days), and help them make a Gratitude List.

“Son of Promise, Child of Hope” is a story of triumph, and therein lies the message. Who knows – someday the urban legend may be just as universal as the story of George Washington and the cherry tree! After all, our democracy, rooted in our values, is one of the greatest things our children will inherit.

Tuck-in Tips

  • How do you think you might help change the world and make it a better place?
  • Do you have any hopes? What are they?
  • How can you help our family save a little more money so that when it is time for you to go to college, we will have no worries?
  • Talk about “Habits of the Heart.” How can you help others who are less fortunate?