One of my favorite family vacations is the one where Mark and I took little Roscoe and Logan to California to camp on the beach. This was during Mark's Ph.D. coursework and our family finances had about reached their nadir. But California was only eight hours away and gas was a dollar a gallon. I went to a thrift grocery store, packed a cooler, and we did the whole thing for one hundred dollars.
Despite the ravages of graduate school, which kept us under the poverty line for about the first ten years of our marriage, Mark and I have shared an unspoken commitment to giving our children a feeling of plenty. To making sure we never miss out on fun just because of money. I think this is partly because while both of us grew up in homes that were nigh unto perfect, neither of us really felt a sense of plenty growing up.
Fast forward to today: Yesterday I took the kids to the dollar movies--something that was a rare treat in my childhood--and the feedback I got was mostly along the lines of I'm-hungry-why-won't-you-take-us-to-McDonald's--something that was almost unheard of in my childhood.
Next week we're planning another trip to California on the cheap. We got free one-day tickets to Disneyland by doing the Give a Day-Get a Day program. Again, we're packing a cooler and gas is pretty cheap. But this time the kids are worried about the fact that we don't have a car DVD player--something we hadn't even dreamed of on that first California vacation. (Actually I'm a little worried about it, too, because this trip is going to involve about three days of driving.)
The kids used to have a car DVD player. And after Mark and I administered warnings along the lines of "If you're not more careful with that, it's gonna break" about a million times, it did. So it's hard not to think that if the kids weren't so spoiled, if they were better stewards who really felt the value of their material blessings, we'd still have our DVD player.
Our solution: The kids must buy their own replacement. I'm trawling craigslist and am willing to drive and negotiate. They came up with plans they hope will fund two portable DVD players. Roscoe is contributing by doing the entire after-dinner cleanup for the next five days. Logan, Levi, and Haley have committed to do the bathroom and floor chores I usually pay cleaning people to do. (Yes! I have cleaners come for an hour every week. It's divine.) Logan did five dollars of miscellaneous jobs yesterday just in case the players are more expensive than expected. He's hoping to pocket some surplus when all deals are done.
We pretty much let the kids work for as much money as they'd like to have. So hopefully they learn that industry pays, that plenty is available for those who work and are good stewards of what they have. It's a tricky line, isn't it, keeping the kids balanced between plenty and gratitude?