When we first had children, it was very difficult because we lived an airline flight away from both of our parents. This meant that we were with the children 24/7. I think it was about five months before we spent any time without my son, when some friends offered very graciously to watch him for the evening. After that we had a sitter once in a great while (maybe a couple of times per year), and we’d have relatives who would visit off and on, but in general it was us and our son, and then soon after us and two children.
Our son as also high maintenance when he was young. You could put him into a room full of toys and he’d find the electric plug with which to play, so we couldn’t really go off into the other room and watch TV (I gave up prime time shows at that point). He would also run away from us if we put him down in the mall or other places, so he had to be in your arms or a stroller. I watched with envy when families had children who would just follow them along. Our daughter was just the opposite, so we got a little more piece, but still, we were 24/7 parents.
I remember going to parties and spending the whole time chasing my son around, trying to keep him from breaking things. I also remember trying to go to children’s movies, only to find he had no interest in watching. Even going to restaurants was a challenge since, if I didn’t get him safely strapped into the booster seat within the first five seconds of arriving, I spent the whole dinner trying to get him to sit down. I had to take him and my daughter outside several times when we were at restaurants when they were infants because they started crying. (If you’re annoyed by crying children at restaurants, try taking an infant child to a restaurant sometime. If you are a server at a restaurant and a family asks for crackers, bring the crackers – they don’t care about getting drinks at that point and not getting crackers right away can destroy the whole meal.) I remember looking at other people just quietly waiting for their food and thinking how wonderful that would be.
Becoming a parent meant I needed to give up worrying about myself. I remember thinking that I couldn’t go out and listen to music or go to movies because I had small children. I also realized that by the time my children were old enough to be out on their own, I’d be way to old to go to clubs or concerts anymore. Frankly, it was difficult to give up independence and freedom, now being tied down, but I did it because I was an adult who had a child who needed me. At that point getting to cook dinner or mow the lawn was a thrill because it meant a bit of a break from giving constant attention.
An odd thing happened, however. While at the time I missed things like concerts and going to clubs, and it certainly felt like a sacrifice, I found that being with my family all of the time made me grow closer. Soon I got used to always being around my children and I started to miss them when I wasn’t. In fact, when my wife and I went out on a date alone about five years later, having left the children with a sitter, it just felt odd. We were both rather happy to go home around nine o’clock and back to the children even though we enjoyed the break as well. While the transition – where I went from taking care of myself and worrying about my needs to taking care of my children and dedicating myself to them – was difficult, but it has enriched my life where now the things that once seemed important seem silly.
Now that we’re a bit older, we have some friends who have adult children who are beginning to get married and have children of their own. In many cases our friends – the grandparents now – are taking the infants a lot of the time while their children are continuing with their hobbies and activities as if nothing had happened. I’ve also see families where the grandparents take the children for a week while the parents go off on vacation. At first I thought maybe I was jealous because I didn’t have anyone to provide so much support, but now I realize that I actually feel sorry for these parents because they are not growing and maturing the way my wife and I did, and therefore aren’t reaching the same level of closeness with their children that we have with ours. They will continue to do the things they’ve always done and never totally put their children before themselves, and I find this sad. While there is certainly nothing wrong with taking the kids for an evening or a weekend, by providing so much support the grandparents are enabling their children to live in a perpetual adolescent/young adult stage and never mature into fully devoted parents.
Many parents also continue to enable their children financially long into their adult years. While there is still a connection to home while you’re in college, if you’re out of college and working a job, but your parents are still paying for your cell phone and groceries, you have not matured financially. Certainly this is true if you’re living at home and not paying rent. They are enabling you to live beyond your means, which means you have not learned to sacrifice and do what is needed to make things work.
Parents enable their children because they don’t want them to have any level of suffering. They don’t want them to live in an old apartment on the bad side of town. They don’t want them to have a car that isn’t 100% reliable. They don’t want them to need to live on ramen noodles, or give up their smart phone. They certainly don’t want them to face having the lights turned off or an eviction notice served. But this doesn’t allow them to mature and doesn’t help them reach the state of self-sufficiency needed. Sometimes people need to have the chance to fail before they learn to succeed. They need to live on their salary to learn how to handle money.
When you are just starting out, you might not have a smart phone. You might have a flip phone or even a land line. You might not have cable. You might not have an apartment with a pool, or you might need to live with a roommate. Your first home might not be as big as the one you grew up in. You may have an older car that isn’t the prettiest thing. You might not go on vacation except to the local park or national forest.
By making sacrifices and learning to handle your own finances, you grow and mature financially. You learn that money comes from hard work and that you don’t need all sorts of luxuries to survive. In fact, you may learn that some of the best times happen when you’re in a small apartment sharing an evening with friends and not when you’re at an all-inclusive resort.
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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice. It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.