When we fight with them in the toy store, are we teaching our child that money is scarce?
Money is a big, scary topic for so many of us. It can be confronting to notice our fears and beliefs around money (and the lack thereof) and how we are passing these on to the next generation.
At a certain point when my two sons were young I became much more aware of how I was speaking about money. I was using some very tired old phrases that I heard a lot when I was young and that are very common in our society:
- Money doesn’t grow on trees.
- We don’t have enough money to buy you that toy.
- We can’t afford that bike/Lego/special food.
- You’re wasting money!!
The classic scenario in our family life for many years was a child asking for ANOTHER huge, expensive Lego set to add to their already enormous collection of Lego sets and me having a knee-jerk reaction and saying (yelling) “We can’t afford that!”
I bet you can imagine the scenario and the anxious, forceful sound of my voice. Do you ever have those tense “lack of money” moments?
Do you dread going near a toy store with your child because you anticipate having a dramatic emotional reaction? I did.
I can feel the waves of those reactions echoing in my body even now. They were based on a fear of not having enough money, of running short and experiencing hardship.
My reactions were based on my belief in scarcity. I believed that money was scarce and limited and that every cent had to be earned through hard work. That is what I had been taught as a child and I hadn’t stopped to really investigate deeper until I had my own children and heard these phrases coming out of my mouth.
What happened when I investigated my old beliefs?
I know that some of you reading this will be thinking “Of course money is limited! Of course I have to earn my money through hard work!”
I’m not trying to convince you otherwise. I’m just letting you know what I discovered for myself when I looked deeply into my “money mindset”. I’m inviting you to look more deeply into your own beliefs and to notice the effect they are having on your life and your relationships. You never know what you might discover.
So what do I mean when I say I investigated my beliefs? I learned a process for questioning my stressful thoughts inspired by a woman called Byron Katie. She encouraged me to check in with myself to see if my beliefs around money were really true. There’s a taste of her perspective on money here.
I’ll give you an example of my own investigation.
Lets go back in time to the toy store where my son is begging and pleading for me to buy him a Lego set that costs $200. I know that we only have around $250 in our “general household expenses” account to last until the next pay day. I don’t want us to dip into our savings again this week.
When my child asks me again if I will buy the $200 Lego set I react abruptly and say “No. We can’t afford it!”
This is what I want to investigate: Is it true that we can’t afford that Lego set?
When I was really honest with myself, I realised that it wasn’t true.
We did have the money to buy the Lego set - and we could anticipate more money arriving at some stage soon if we wanted to save up for it gradually.
It was simply an issue of different priorities.
My child wanted the Lego set as their top priority and I had different priorities. I wanted to buy more food and clothes, keep the car in petrol and save up for bills and a holiday.
Realistically, we could have had a discussion about what we each wanted and why we gave those things priority and figured out a mutually agreeable solution together. Perhaps the toy store was not the best place to have that discussion, but we could have moved it somewhere else or put it off until we got home.
Instead of having this chat I clung to my belief that “We can’t afford it.” That’s when my emotional reaction escalated.
This is what happened:
- I felt stressed.
- I resisted and opposed what my child wanted.
- I told them that they shouldn’t want more Lego:
- I told my child: “It’s a waste of money.”
- We had an ugly fight in the toy store.
- I attack my child with my judgements and blamed them for “making a scene.”
- My child learned lessons about limitation and scarcity and felt attacked and hurt.
Yuck. This was horrible for everyone.
Have you ever had a fight in a toy store like this? Do you remember how awful it felt?
So how can things turn out differently?
To avoid simply trotting out the same old story about “Not being able to afford it” (and enduring the scene that often followed) I found it helpful to be as honest as possible with myself and with my children.
This meant being a lot more honest and transparent about the money flow in our family and the decisions and priorities made by “the parents”.
When questions about money came up at home we had open discussions about where our money usually came from and how we usually spent it.
I was also honest with myself that there had been many times that money had come from unexpected sources just as it was really needed. Like the time we planned a family trip to London without knowing how we were going to pay for it and then were surprised by an inheritance of $20,000 that we certainly hadn’t anticipated.
Being really honest meant admitting to myself and my children that we had always had enough money as a family.
Without comparing ourselves to anyone else and without insisting on instant gratification of every wish — we had always had enough.
This is the personal truth that I arrived at after my investigation:
If I speak to my child from this knowing of enoughness, I respond with kindness and respect rather than going into an emotional reaction.
I might say:
If I’m grounded in my own “enoughness” I can also be fully present to listen to my child express their feelings – even if that means they have a meltdown in the middle of the toy store.
I don’t have to “give in” to something that I’m really not happy with and I don’t have to resist or fight my child.
Instead, I trust that a solution can be found that everyone is happy with or can accept.
Instead of scarcity, I’d much rather teach my child that we can trust the flow of life and all it’s resources.
I’d rather relax into the enoughness of the present rather than getting lost in stories about the past or the future.
Unlearning is a key aspect of conscious parenting
Those emotional scenes in the toy store turned out to be a real gift (even though they didn’t seem that way at the time). My children kept asking for what they wanted very assertively and they manged to push my buttons repeatedly. Instead of fighting and blaming them again and again, I chose to investigating and unlearn my old money mindset. This has been a long and evolving process. I didn’t release my belief in scarcity overnight, but I did resolve to stop saying “We can’t afford it” to m,y children.
Visits to the toy store turned into opportunities for me to keep unlearning my old beliefs and come closer to my deepest truth.
Gradually, visits to the toy store turned into joyful experiences for all of us and my sons enjoyed collecting Lego for many years. My youngest son is 17 now and still loves to buy Lego. He’s also sold thousands of dollars of Lego online and now has enough money to buy his first car.
The process of investigating and unlearning old beliefs that did not serve me well anymore became the focus of my conscious parenting journey. My old money mindset has fallen away and I don’t miss it at all.