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WHEN I was a kid, we would go to Broadway Centrum along Aurora Boulevard. There was a token horse ride with red and black accents, and I remember asking my parents if I could ride the horse and my parents would say no. Whenever we would dine out, we were not allowed to order juice. I understood, as I saw my parents saving up for important things like our education, their own house, etc.
A lot of us are the offspring of baby boomers. We are the witnesses to and beneficiaries of our parents’ struggles. Our kids, on the other hand, are children of “affluence,” growing up in a world where “having” is the norm and “wanting” is almost unnecessary. On the surface, our kids seem luckier but I really struggle a lot in raising my kids in such a landscape.
Here’s my ongoing process in dealing with this dilemma. My starting point is always the goal that I want to raise happy and fulfilled children. I then ask myself if I am helping my children as I pursue this goal? Am I happy and fulfilled? What life experiences are helpful toward this goal?
On the one hand, I was defined by how I was raised. It was a “cookie cutter” approach where we followed our elders’ footsteps, and hard work was and remains to be the main ingredient for success. But then there is the environment of today’s youth… the world of abundance and availability. It is about being the “youngest” to do something, or becoming a YouTube sensation, or earning a substantial spread from “flipping” their ideas to the highest investor.
I hold on to my basic beliefs that 1) kids’ foundational years are 0 to 10; 2) kids’ values are nurtured and not at all genetic; and 3) kids absorb reality, not words.
Reading my favorite author Malcolm Gladwell has certainly helped a lot. According to him, “Children of multimillionnaires in Hollywood do not rake the leaves of their neighbors…. Their fathers do not wave the electricity bill angrily at them if they leave the lights on.”
Gladwell labels parents who have it better than their own parents as “immigrants to wealth.” According to him, it is harder for them to set limits because they can’t lie and say, “We don’t have the money.” He points out the important relationship between parenting and money: More is not always better. He explains it in an inverted U curve—that there is a point where money makes things better but well past this point, money can also “start to make the job of raising normal and well-adjusted children more difficult.”
Differentiating for my kids “abundance” and “happiness” is a continuing process, and I continue to make a conscious effort to show my kids that “happiness” does not mean having the best material possessions. It’s about being content with the life they themselves work for.
Today I choose deliberate situations to engage my kids and myself on the subject of affluence and happiness:
- Books for me is nurturing content. I have no problems even if my kids want to buy 10 books. “Hobby” stuff is different. These are things they need to work for. If they want a new game or something, there is a grade requirement. I want to train them to reward themselves after they’ve done the work.
- Work is fun. When our kids see that we enjoy our own work, they will see work as a
- welcome endeavor.
- Sports is a good simulation for hard work. Sports is doing repetitive work in pursuit of a non-material reward.
- Show kids that money doesn’t grow on trees. When grocery shopping, I compare prices for things of parity, and choose brands because of quality. I tell them saving a few pesos here enables us to buy other more important things.
- Explain savings. When my daughter was 7, we told her that we put her Christmas money in preneed investments for her future. Today when she gets gift money, she automatically gives it to me instead of spending it right away.
- Spend “fruitfully.” After their first birthday, I kept their birthdays simple. It is a celebration with their closest friends. When they turned 7, which is an important year in the Philippines, I let them choose where they wanted to travel so I could teach them new things.
- Last, I emphasize simple joys. From game nights and cooking pancakes to zip lining in Quezon City Memorial Circle, I always show my kids that laughter is something money can’t buy.
In conclusion, kids grow up so fast. My greatest fear is waking up one day and discovering my kids materially abundant but are ill-equipped to be self-reliant. We must accept that the “era of affluence” is here. We cannot escape it.
Abundance is not wrong. We just need to be judicious about it, so that we help our kids craft meaning for their own accountable future.