The truest thing ever said about becoming a parent was by author Elizabeth Stone, who opined that deciding to have a child was to “decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body”.
Most parents make supreme sacrifices to provide for their children, and research shows that mothers in particular will put their children’s needs before their own. It is, after all, your heart that is wandering around out there.
I know many mothers who would go into overdraft to make sure their children had the right clothes to “fit in”, or who justify buying their kids the latest smartphone so they won’t be ostracised at school.
I recently spoke to a woman who was worried that she did not have a retirement fund as she had no money to save, yet she was spending hundreds of rands a month on toys for her two boys.
We want to offer our children the perfect world where they want for nothing, where they never feel shunned or feel they are not “good” enough.
Yet do we fully understand the damage we do, not only to our own financial needs, but also to our child’s sense of responsibility and independence?
I will never forget witnessing an argument between a friend and her 18-year-old daughter over a dress she wanted for a wedding.
My friend had given her daughter a budget and told her to go and look at some dresses while we had coffee.
The daughter returned and said she had found the “perfect” dress, but it was nearly double the budget.
Her mother replied: “I am in overdraft, I can’t afford the dress.” To which her daughter responded: “I don’t care about your overdraft.”
And why should she care? Her mother had never put her own financial needs ahead of her daughter’s.
My friend lives in overdraft, has no pension and no financial plan on how to change this – yet her daughter gets everything she wants.
Her rationale is that she never wanted her daughter to feel that they did not have enough money, which is what she had felt while growing up; yet in trying to protect her daughter from her own childhood memories, she had never taught her the value of money and had, quite frankly, created a monster.
I wonder if her daughter realises that one day she will be supporting her mother in her old age because, ultimately, all that money spent recklessly on children’s “wants” will be repaid by the child in some form, and that is usually supporting their elderly parents financially.
Living beyond your means to give your children a lifestyle you did not have is not a gift, it is a burden.
Believe me, I was raised in a household full of financial stress so I know that children can feel the stress in a household, and it will create negative money memories for them so that in adulthood they may inadvertently repeat the pattern.
Showing your children you are in control of your finances is the best way to make them feel safe.
Share with them how money in the household is allocated and allow them to have some input into the budget allocations – it will make them feel empowered and also make it easier to have the conversation around wants and needs, and how they can work towards their wants.
Part of that security is making sure you have sufficient insurance in place to provide for them if you are unable to contribute to the family financially.
Also work at putting away money for your retirement so that you do not have to depend on them in old age.
Perhaps the best way to be a great mum this Mother’s Day is to learn to say “no” and to put your financial needs first.
The children may not understand it now, but in 10 to 20 years’ time, when they have started their own family and are struggling to make ends meet, as all young couples do, they will be forever thankful for the greatest gift you ever gave them – financial independence.