Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hard Choices

I can't afford everything I want right now.

That's a scary sentence, isn't it? Try saying it out loud: I can't afford everything I want right now.

Did you do it? Did you say it out loud? Or did you make a face, jump over that sentence quickly and move right along, hoping to get to another topic? Did you feel that if you said it out loud, it might make it come true - more true than it is already?

I feel that way - superstitious about money. But on the other hand, I also feel a tiny bit freer every time I tell the truth about it: I can't afford everything I want right now. The thing about the truth is that it anchors you in the present, while leaving room for future possibilities. I can't afford everything I want...right now. But that doesn't mean that over the course of my life I won't experience most things I'd like to experience.

For the last few years my parents have been paying for music lessons and karate for my kids. It's been wonderful, but a month or so ago my father let me know ever-so-subtly that they need to cut back. I immediately told the kids so they could be prepared: next fall everyone gets one activity - that's it.

Yesterday, reality set in. My oldest son plays violin, drums, baritone and piano. He takes lessons for violin and piano. We rent the piano. My son thought he had formulated a good plan; he'd drop piano lessons and continue his studies of the instrument on his own. After all, he knew the basics already.

He'd forgotten all about the cost of the piano.

"We can only put our first four months' rent toward purchasing it," I told my son. "We have to decide right now whether to buy it or not. I can purchase it out of savings, but we'll have to pay that money back."

The piano costs $1050. We've paid $200 toward it already. I could put another $200 or so toward the cost out of money I've put aside toward activities. My son would need to come up with the other $650.00.

I sat with my son while he worked it out. I could tell he wanted me to come up with another source for the money. He wanted me to take care of it for him, and I wanted to take care of it for him, too. Every mommy fiber in my body was crying out, "It's a piano, for God's sake! How can you not buy your kid a piano!?!"

But you know what? I can't afford everything I want right now...not even for my kids.

So I sat, and I breathed, and I told myself - my kid can have that piano if it's what he really wants. He's paid off large purchases before and he can do it again. If he got an after-school job he could pay it off in a matter of weeks. Still, I wanted so badly to intervene and just buy the darn thing and hand it to him.

After a couple of minutes my son said, "I don't think we should buy it. I think I should concentrate on my violin. There are other things I want to spend my money on more than a piano. I started taking lessons because I thought I needed piano to get into music school, but I've decided I'm not making a career of music, anyway."

Not the answer I expected, but a well-thought-out answer nonetheless. I'm happy to report that the decision doesn't seem to have caused him to lose any sleep. He's bright and cheerful today. I'm still having plenty of qualms. How do I not buy the piano? Surely we have the money for a piano! It's hard to let my child learn these lessons. It's hard to let myself learn them, too. It's very freeing, though, to speak the truth:

My son could buy that piano if he really wanted it. Heck, I could buy that piano if I really wanted to.

Obviously, the piano is not really that important, after all.


L Harris said...

Very well thought out! Thanks for sharing.

Tamar Chansky said...

Thank you for this post. At first I was thinking of a practical solution-- buy a less expensive piano. Then as I read on I saw how you resisted the urges to jump in and solve it and in so doing, allowed your son the opportunity to solve it for himself. Beautifully done. Parenting doesn't always feel good at first, but it must have felt great to see that your son has the inner resources to think things through for himself.

I write about this parenting dynamic in my book, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility and Happiness. A lot of what I address is how kids' flexibility and resilience is fostered by parents not jumping in and "giving their children the best," but rather helping them find it for themselves. You have already learned that lesson so well. Thank you for this poignant example.

All best,
Tamar Chansky

Jennifer said...

Wow, Tamar - that sounds like a wonderful book. How did you find my blog?

DebMc said...

Wow, your posts are just getting better and better. Inspiring, both on a financial and a parenting front. Thanks!

Jennifer said...

Thanks, Deb!

I'm trying to be more brave about sharing personal stories instead of just lecturing.

The Team at Tucson Websites said...

My first thought was an electronic keyboard, couldn't that work?

Jennifer said...

We actually started with an electronic keyboard, but it didn't respond to the touch the way this one does and he's at the point where he needs to practice on the "real" thing (ours is still an electronic one rather than a real one).