My 3-year-old son has a makeshift piggy bank that stores the money he has received from relatives for birthdays and holidays, etc. The idea that a toddler needs their own money is a little absurd, isn’t it? I remember having a piggy bank as a kid but I can’t say I saved any of the money for anything of substance–or for anything my parents couldn’t or wouldn’t buy for me. Furthermore, does any friend or relative gifting money to a child actually think the money will go towards something useful?
The gift of money is really a win-win situation. The giver doesn’t have to put much thought into the gift and is also able to give the excuse that they really want the gift recipient to use the money for whatever they want. But what parent is going to let their child use the money for whatever they want? Regardless, the potential for the money is exciting to the gift recipient, and either way, the money usually gets set aside for long periods of time.
One day I realized I was short on money for the bills. I remembered there was a 50-dollar bill in my son’s piggy bank. At first, I was disgusted with myself for even thinking of stealing from my child. Then, I realized it was more like borrowing than stealing. So I took the money, deposited it into my account, and paid the bill. My shame escalated when I decided the proper thing to do would be to write an IOU, making the loan official, and not just something to be forgotten or viewed as proper allocation of funds.
My humiliation soon turned to anger and confusion. Did I even need to pay my son back at all? Was I tallying up his daycare bills for him to repay me later? Isn’t a family a team that helps each other out? Maybe the money was meant for me, the parent, all along?
We can make any excuse we want, but those of us with a conscience know, it isn’t worth the guilt of not paying our children back. It doesn’t matter that we repay them every day with our love and support, because that is our job as parents.
Even though I knew I would honor my IOU, I still felt the extreme guilt of having insufficient funds, to begin with. What was I doing wrong? My wife and I had good jobs, and we were living modestly, right? Well, as those of us with kids know, having children quickly depletes the bank account, no matter how much you make, or where you live. It is all relative.
So, the best thing to do is just accept you will be poor until your kids grow up to become self-sufficient. It doesn’t matter what life-promises we think are waiting for us, money will be a struggle, especially raising children. We may be financially poor, but we are strong as a family. I hope one day my son realizes how much he helped me with his unknown sacrifice. He helped because that money went towards something substantial, and not just candy, for instance.
I did pay the money back (until the next time I may need it), so, in theory, it could be used for whatever he wants. I just hope to instill better values in my children, so when the time comes for them to make the tough decisions, they will choose family over candy every time.
Stefan Pittsley is married with two kids and several pets. He is working as a veterinary technician in Lansing, MI.