Our son, now seven years old, is at the age where he is “not a little boy!” There could be no greater insult. So whenever I have an opportunity to let him try on his inner teenager, I jump at the chance. These days I’m on a mission to prime my kid for the real world by teaching him how to pay for things, prepare a meal, and shop for groceries.
As a member of the household, our son doesn’t receive an allowance for doing things that he should be doing. We teach him that none of us get paid for cleaning our own environment. We clean up our shared space out of respect for one another. It's not a perfect system, and the "shared space" is often littered with Legos, Nerf darts, and paraphernalia of days passed. It’s a process.
Nonetheless, our son receives $7 a week – one dollar for each year of his precious existence. He is free to do with that what he will. It’s an opportunity to learn about saving, giving, spending, and most of the time, delayed gratification. It’s tough to watch him spend it “recklessly” on candy or a video game, but then equally rewarding to discuss ways to save up for a coveted toy.
“How about you buy it now and I pay you back for it when I have my allowance?” is a current favorite. I’ve subsequently introduced the terms “lay-away” and “interest bearing loan." Through it all, he’s learning the value of money, the surprising ease of spending it, and the need to save it for more “important” things.
Weekends are precious – particularly lazy, slow-to-rise mornings. We’re still enjoying the endearing stage of bed-filled cuddles and mom-and-dad-sandwich hugs. And sometimes mom and dad want to hug alone for a while, wink wink.
“Hey buddy, I have an idea! How about you surprise mommy and daddy with a special breakfast?”
“Ooh, yeah, that sounds like a great idea!” our little chef says. This is a new exercise and unlikely to be Michelin three star-rated, but for 15 private minutes, buttered cardboard would be cause for celebration.
“It’s ready!” comes the announcement from the foot of the stairs. My husband and I galloped down and were rewarded with the most unexpected and beautiful display of love and creativity in a meal.
“I know you like toast and dark chocolate, so I put a piece of chocolate on each slice and decorated the plate with pieces of banana because I know how much you like fruit. Daddy, I know you like cereal, so I poured you a bowl.”
It was more than the act of our son’s independence that struck me that morning. His ability to observe us, understand our likes, and assimilate what brings each of us joy was jaw dropping. Three huge smiles joined us at the table that morning.
Our family had been drooling about vanilla pudding but I was out of eggs. Our delayed cooking lesson was about to turn into an opportunity to get some fresh air, take the dog for a walk, and earn my son some independent stripes and bragging rights.
It’s no small feat to get my son out the door for any activity. It takes a bit of coercion and creative thinking on my part. “I have a proposition for you,” I said to perked ears. “How about we go on an adventure to the store. We’ll walk and when we get there, I’ll wait outside with the dog and you can hunt down the eggs and pay ALL BY YOURSELF.”
“YES! That sounds amazing!” he exclaimed excitedly.
I scrounged up some cash, saddled up the dog, and we headed half a mile down the road. On the way, we discussed all things eggs – white ones, brown ones, medium-sized, large-sized, free-range, organic… When we finally arrived, I had armed him with all of the information and financial resources that he needed.
Reusable bag slung around his shoulder, six bucks in his pocket, my little man entered through the automatic doors and disappeared beyond the produce section. There was no telling how long this would take, but it was of no consequence to me. The dog and I patiently waited outside, knowing that magical things were happening inside.
Fifteen minutes later, my beaming child reappeared with an awkwardly slung egg-filled bag around his shoulder. He proudly spoke about the organic eggs that he not only found, but inspected for damage. He headed toward the register, paid for the eggs, and calculated that he even had enough cash to pay for candy – a win for him. He recalled his entire adventure, noting every important aisle twist and turn.
Each of these moments provided our son with an invaluable opportunity to build his self-esteem and flex his burgeoning muscles of independence. He was able to relish in the afterglow of giving and, thanks to vanilla pudding, I was able to discover some simple ways to let my son know that I deem him trustworthy and capable.
Now I can build upon these successes and watch this little human grow – then confidently unleash him into the world.