By Cass Grange, Senior Advisor Associate and Director of Business Development
This could be a short essay. In a word -No.
The capacity for delayed gratification is a predictor of adult success and happiness. It is also a common trait of the most successful investors. I do not believe it is totally an inherited trait. It is like a muscle that you can exercise and make stronger, just as grit and determination can be made stronger. Part of our job as parents is to guide our kids to strengthen their character. If we take the long view of how delayed gratification can help them become better savers, investors, students and workers, why wouldn’t we make them wait for some things?
I had an adult babysitter tell me several times, “If these were my boys, I would give them the best of everything! Nothing but the best!” She heavily implied that I was falling down on my duties as a parent, by not providing the best clothes, toys and vacations that money can buy.
I didn’t listen. I figured I turned out okay so why not try to raise my kids like my folks raised us. My parents’ first piece of advice is always to pace yourself. Parenting is a marathon that goes on and on. And so do the expenses. Your baby does not care if she sleeps in designer sheets or wears little designer shoes. Babies hate shoes anyway. Your kids have plenty of time to become fashion snobs. Let them tell you when they want designer clothes. Don’t set up the high expectations earlier than you need to.
What about birthday parties? It is a big trend to have huge birthday parties for one-year-olds. If you hire a pony for the one year old, what do you do when she turns 16? My question is: Where do we go from here?
When they had a graduation ceremony from kindergarten and people pulled up in limos with 6 year olds in tuxes and party dresses my question is: What do we do for prom? When you take your kids on a fabulous trip every spring break, how do they handle graduating from college with no vacations, no money and no spring break off? Where do we go from here? The answer is often an adult life that is filled with discontentment and disappointment.
One problem of giving our kids the best of everything is that we rob them of the opportunity to grow, to wait, to dream, to struggle and to achieve. I’ll give you an example. My kids both wanted electronics when they were 12 and 13. First, Eric begged for a phone. I said he’d have to pay for it and for the minutes each month. He said that EVERYONE IN THE 7Th GRADE HAD A PHONE EXCEPT HIM. I said, “Really, Everyone has a phone?” “Mom, even the Amish kid has a phone.” I told him that it should be no problem to borrow another kid’s phone in case he needed to call me, even the Amish kid’s phone. He then came back with the idea of the IPod touch. He said it could work with our WIFI at home. He would not need to pay for minutes, just the Ipod Touch, which was about $200. I said he could pay for it with his own money and that it had to be NEW money that he would earn that summer. Both boys were discouraged. I said if you want it badly enough you will figure it out.
They did some dog sitting for neighbors who were taking their children on fabulous vacations. They made flyers and started babysitting, even though some kids their ages still had babysitters themselves! I paid them to wash my windows. They pulled some weeds for folks and watered their plants. Eric still only made about $120. He knew that I had bought used furniture on Craigslist and asked if he could look online for a used Ipod touch. I helped him with the website and he called a few people. I coached him on how to negotiate and he asked, “Would you be willing to take $100 on a $120 Ipod touch?” The first man said no, and the second caller said yes.
When Eric got his used Ipod, which still had the original box and had not even been used, he was so happy. I would argue he enjoyed the anticipation of the Ipod and the sense of achievement much more than he would have if we would have put it under the Christmas tree along with all the other gifts. Don’t rob your children of the joy of anticipation or the gratification of reaching a tough goal.
Remember how we used to have to sit at the kid’s table at Thanksgiving? There was a natural order to things back in the days when kids were kids and the parents sat at another table, preferably in another room. I think we have forgotten the order of things in our haste to give our kids the best of everything. As the lines have blurred between childhood and adulthood, and kids are seen at everything from five star restaurants and hotels, SXSW, and cocktail parties, the value of deferred gratification is lost.
Back in my hometown, we had one really nice restaurant. My folks would get all dressed up and go there for dinner, with their other adult friends. I’d ask, “Why can’t I ever go to Dreisbach’s?” My dad would answer, “If I took you to Dreisbach’s, what would you look forward to?” I did go there, for my rehearsal dinner for our wedding. It seemed like a big deal at the time!
I still get quite a thrill out of going to a very nice restaurant or staying at a beautiful hotel, without our children, of course. We have to give them something to wait for, to hope for, and to strive for as adults. In that way, I think I am giving them the best of everything, just not all of it in childhood, but throughout their lives. Take the long view. Ask yourself: Where do we go from here?
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