Category Archives: family

The Importance of Long Term Care

Long-term care is when an individual requires physical and emotional care for an extended period of time. These types of help are typically the activities that normal and active people take for granted. Some of these are walking, using the bathroom, bathing, pain management, eating, doing errands and help with incontinence.

Most people only find out about long-term care when they or a loved-one requires it. Then their options become limited because of a lack of information and insufficient finances to pay for certain services. For this reason, it is important to plan for long-term care. 70 percent of individuals above the age of 65 require long term care. So, if you live beyond this age you are most likely going to require this type of care and this likelihood only increases with age.  So why is long term care important?

Service Options – By planning ahead, you will be able to determine all the services that your community offers and the special conditions that are eligible for receiving a type of service. You will also be able to determine the cost of services and the different payment options (public or private). Knowing this information will allow you to make better decisions when you require long term care. It allows you to take control of your future.

Save Money on Long Term Care – Planning ahead for long-term care is important because the cost of care now exceeds an average person’s income and resources. Planning for this type of care allows you to save your assets and income. You then have the ability to use your finances for other pursuits such as enjoying your golden years or leaving a part of it to your loved ones.

Planning for long-term care also helps your family members since they do not have to bear the entire financial burden. It allows you to involve your family in making decisions without depending on them for everything.

Greater Independence – The most important advantage of planning for long-term care early is the independence and control it gives you over your future. You can choose the type of long-term care you will receive. You also have the choice of living outside of a facility and live at home instead. You also decide the length of time you will receive these services.

Some families find it difficult to discuss long-term care with their aging loved ones. Adult children feel that they are patronizing their parents. But discussing and planning for long-term care is important and will benefit everyone.

 

faulkner grave

lacrosse and Russian

 

faulkner grave

 

I didn’t get that much out of college, other than friends, knowledge, life experiences, and the ability to blow up an opponent in lacrosse.  I majored in math, and now I’m a finance and systems consultant.  Related, fine.  But they are two different disciplines.  I studied linguistics, and while I’m able to speak several languages, I don’t really pay much attention to language, per se.  I minored in Russian, though, and that deeply, thoroughly, and massively affected my life – the choices I made, the places I lived, even all the way through to my spouse and (eventually) my kids.  So don’t assume college doesn’t matter… it just doesn’t matter the way you think it will.  I thought I would be a famous mathematician based on my time in college.  Nope.  But little did I suspect I’d become a Russophile and become “russkiy v sertsye” – Russian at heart.

From Good Financial Moves for College, Part 2:

But that’s not the biggest part of it. Without developing my Russian skills I wouldn’t have met, pursued and married my wife. Maybe if I had taken Japanese I would have lived in Japan, developed a fondness for all things Japanese. Hard to say. But I do know that the decision to learn Russian set in motion the life process that brought me to where I am today.

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Bridgman Pottery

monopoly money

Teaching Children About Finances

monopoly money

It seems that most parents are always lecturing their children with the old adage that says “money does not grow on trees” whenever their children seem to be asking for too many things. Money certainly does not grow on trees, but how are children supposed to know that? To all intents and purposes, some children do not have any idea about finances and how their parents are able to get money for all their ‘needs’ and ‘wants’. It is therefore important that parents take the time to teach their children about money when they are old enough to grasp financial concepts.

Educating children about money will empower them to become financially savvy when they grow up. They will know the importance of getting a savings account as well as making sound financial investments when they become adults. Below are some great ideas for financial education for kids.

1. Explain How Mommy And Daddy Earn Money:

The concept of work and pay has to be explained first and foremost. Children need to know how their parents get money to take care of family needs such as food, accommodation and clothing. Explain to them that parents get paid for the job they do at their workplace. Make them understand that some of this money is used to take care of all the family needs, and the rest is placed in a savings account for future needs.

2. Teach Them About The Exchange of Labor for Money:

To better help children grasp the principles of work, parents should employ them when they are old enough to do simple tasks around the house such as vacuuming, sorting the laundry or taking the trash out, for which they get paid. Parents can also encourage children to work at odd jobs once they are a bit older: starting up a neighborhood business raking leaves is a great example.

3. Teach Them About Saving Money:

Buy a piggy bank for them and encourage them to save some of the money they’ve earned from working at home. When children are trained to do things in a certain way, it never departs from them when they grow up. Open a savings account in their name if possible. They will feel a sense of pride when they see the statement addressed to them.

4. Investments And Life Insurance:

Let children know that investing in bonds and real estate are some long-term means for making money. Buy bonds in their names if possible, to instill that education in them. They will do the same for their children in future. Also let them understand the importance of life insurance. If parents happen to have a policy (and if you have children you probably should), they should educate their children about the purpose of life insurance as soon as they are old enough to understand the concept of life and mortality.

5. Teach Them About Needs And Wants:

Help children understand the difference between the things they need and those they want. They should know that certain things are just frivolous and though they can be indulged in occasionally, those indulgences should not become a habit. This will stop reckless spending when they grow up. Teaching frugality at an early age is critical, because once children start school they’ll be surrounded by other kids who won’t have been taught the same lessons. If your kids haven’t learned to be frugal at home, they certainly won’t from their peers.

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by p e e p e r

car crash

9 Effective Tips to Save on Car Insurance for Teenagers

car crash

Car insurance for teenagers can cost as much as five times more than the rates for adults. This is because of the greater driving risk involved in teenagers evidenced by greater number of accidents and higher number of serious injuries and fatalities compared to adult drivers.

In order to lower actual rates and maximize your teen’s auto insurance coverage, you can give your teen a simpler or older car; let your teen keep a good driving record; let him keep a clean insurance record; enroll him to a driver safety education; get your teen a safer car; let him maintain good academic grades; keep the mileage low; keep the car safe; and apply for multiple policies with your insurance company. To help you save on auto insurance costs for your teenager, here are proven tips you can consider:

Give your teen a simpler or older car

A brand new sports car would make a very nice birthday gift for your beloved teen, but if you want to save to insurance costs, this would not be a smart move. Remember that one of the factors that make up an expensive car insurance would be a brand new car because of its high book value. A sports car would also be expensive to insure with its higher horsepower compared to a four-door sedan. With a stronger car, your teen would tend to drive faster, making it more prone to accidents and damages. If you are giving your teen an older car model, you can also save by dropping collision coverage.

Let your teen keep a good driving record

If this is not your first year in getting your teen a car insurance and he or she had a good driving record, you can ask for a discount from your insurance provider. Most auto insurance companies give discounts to drivers who have not been issued a ticket or those who have not been involved in any accident since they have been driving. Remind your teen that it always pays to be a good driver.

Let him keep a clean insurance record

Aside from having a good driving record, insurance costs may also be lowered if your teen keeps a clean insurance record. It is advisable for him to keep from claiming for very minor car damages from insurance companies in order to avail of discounts.

Enroll him to a driver safety education

Some states require teenagers to get driving lessons first before he gets a driver’s license. Aside from this condition, the cost of getting a car insurance quote for teenagers may also be reduced if your teen had been enrolled to a driving course before driving his own car, most especially if he had good grades. The insurance company would most likely give discounts to responsible student drivers who have had lessons to safe driving than to those who have not.

Get your teen a safer car

Just like in applying auto insurance for adult-driven cars, discounts also apply to teenager-driven cars with safety features. Airbags, anti-lock brake systems, and alarm systems can help lower the insurance cost of your teen’s auto insurance as they reduce risk for injuries as well as theft and damages.

Let him maintain good academic grades

Yes, indeed. If your teen proves to have good grades in school, most especially if he is in the honor roll, you can avail of the good student discount. Most insurance companies offer this incentive to responsible students who are most likely more sensible and responsible too when it comes to driving.

Keep the mileage low

When you ask for auto insurance quotations, companies do ask for estimated mileage your teen has to travel from residence to destination, as well as estimated annual mileage. As much as possible, advice your teen to keep his mileage low and use the car only when needed. Do not encourage weekend road trips and the like. Higher mileage leads to higher risk of meeting accidents, thus resulting to higher insurance cost.

Keep the car safe

Another very important determining factor for insurance premium is the place where your teen brings and parks his car. Insurance companies will be asking where the car will usually be brought and parked. Is the school parking safe? Are the places he goes safe enough, too or are there many reported cases of car thefts and damages? If at home, does he park his car in a covered garage or just outside the apartment? Of course, the more risky the situation, the higher the insurance cost.

Apply for multiple policies with your insurance company

If your teen’s insurance provider with other concerns, such as life or home insurance, also covers car insurance and you get a policy from them, you may be given a discount on your auto insurance for your devotion to their company. Alternately, you can also apply for the whole family’s car insurance policies in one insurance company and be granted of discounts for each of your plan. Do not hesitate to ask your insurer about these discounts to save bucks.

Other discounts you may avail of with your teen’s car insurance include loyalty discount, if you have been with your insurance company for a certain number of years, as well as multiple car discount, when you enroll more than one car for your teen.

photo Attribution Some rights reserved by johntrainor

appetizers

a money parable that doesn’t make sense

The owner of a successful small business in his hometown had two sons. The younger son asked one day if the father could lend (really give) him a substantial amount of money. The father, being the trusting sort, gave him the money without asking why he needed it. The younger son took off for a distant big city where he spent everything and then ran up substantial credit card debt on top of that. The economy in the big city went south and he had trouble paying for his pricey condo in a “hot” neighborhood. Things got so bad that he took a job in a restaurant and started eating food that people left on their plates.

The young man said “My father has so much money, and I’m starving! I’ll go back to him and apologize and even offer to work for him.” So the young man went home. His father was overjoyed to see him. The young man apologized for his wasteful behavior, and asked to be forgiven. He said he wasn’t worthy to be his son anymore.

The father instead took him to a fine men’s store and bought him a new suit. He gave his employees the day off and took his son and his employees to a fine chain restaurant and threw a party, ordering many delicious appetizers.

Now all this time the elder son, who also worked for his father, was attending to business with an important client. He had worked hard all of these years for his father’s business. He had never asked for anything – he had worked hard, lived below his means and saved for the future. When he checked his Blackberry, though, he noticed that everyone took the day off and was partying at the Outback.

He fired off an email on his Blackberry to his assistant asking what the occasion was. “UR bro is back & we R throwing a party :)” replied the assistant.

The elder son was furious. He drove to the Outback but sat outside, sulking. His father came out and begged him to come in. The elder son was in no mood to hear this. He snarled, “I’ve worked for you for years. I’ve never done the least thing to embarrass you. I’ve provided for myself and my family, I’ve grown the business, I’ve never gone into debt – and you never threw a party for me at Red Lobster, let alone the Outback.”

“But my little brother blew through YOUR money, spending it all on strippers and appletinis, and yet you’re throwing a party for him.”

The father considered this, then said “Listen, you have been a good son. When I retire, my business is yours. Everything I own goes to you in my will. But we should be happy. Your brother, who had disappeared, is back. He was lost, but now he is found.”

The end.

My story is (of course) a modernization of the parable of the prodigal son. My question is this: is the father’s debt forgiveness really consistent with what we expect as people who pay attention to personal finance? Isn’t it really unfair to reward the younger son’s debt? He’s not a bad person, maybe, everyone makes mistakes – but isn’t the elder son right to be annoyed? Why didn’t they even see fit to invite him to the party? Or is this the whole point of the idea of recovering from substantial debt – that, in a way, the battle to escape debt is worthy of celebration? I guess maybe it’s also about the fact that your love of family should be greater than your love of money (or hatred of waste), but it’s tough for me to grasp.

Photo Attribution Some rights reserved by missmeng

aluminum boats

Here’s a quick and simple game for kids.  Give them some aluminum foil – an equal amount for each kid.  Tell them to design a boat, and then take the boats outside and float them in tubs of water. Start adding pennies to each boat, and see which boat can hold the most pennies before sinking.

The lesson which the kids will learn is that large, flat and wide boats float better with pennies in them than small, narrow and steep boats.  I read about this game in my mom’s blog – she’s a gifted teacher for young kids and presents them with these challenges that are appropriate for young kids.  I’d argue most older people would struggle with this challenge, too.

When I was substitute teaching as a gifted teacher back in college*, I executed a plan laid out by the teacher (who, coincidentally, was my mom):  here’s an egg, here’s a lot of paper, let’s go to the second story and construct a device that will get the egg to the ground without breaking.  It’s a tough challenge!  But kids managed to do it every year.

You can give anyone a challenge.  As a kid, it’s easy to rise to it – everything is new and you WANT, desperately, to overcome.  You’re going to apply yourself and overcome it, because you’re excited to learn, to challenge, to overcome.  I think most of lose that feeling over the years.  A challenge becomes an irritant, not a possibility.  You just want things to go away instead of wanting to beat them.  I know I do from time to time.

But life is full of challenges, and to live life fully you have to attack those challenges with the assumption they are solvable.  Otherwise, you’re just going to take the path of least resistance and end up disappointed and frustrated.  Build a great aluminum boat, and watch it float.

*I was a substitute junior high teacher throughout college and a college instructor for 3 years – I fully intended to be a teacher, and I’ve taught hundreds of hours of classroom time.  So I say I was “a teacher” although I was simply an itinerant member of the profession.

Mister Rogers and Daniel Tiger

This one might have slipped past the non-parents out there (and even some of the parents) but I happened to stumble across the news that PBS was bringing back Mister Rogers.  "Aw, how nice," I thought, remembering fondly all of the silly puppets and grandfatherly Mr. Rogers, who along with Captain Kangaroo (and Bugs Bunny and Big Bird) provided most of the TV memories of my childhood.

But reading along in the article, I saw that they weren’t going to have a new actor play Mr. Rogers.  Instead, it looks like we’ll be getting another CGI children’s show with anthropomorphic animals.  Take a look at the new ‘lead,’ Daniel Tiger:

DanielTiger

Now, Daniel Tiger WAS one of the original characters, but he was an actual puppet, not a cartoon:

daniel-ringtone

Why does this matter?  Call me paranoid, or overly obsessed with the ramming of consumerism down our throats non-stop, but why even imply that somehow this new series will be associated with the old "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood" unless the purpose is to fire up parents’ nostalgia (so they’ll let kids watch) and then pump the kids heads full of cute songs and cute critters who will be conveniently available in $14.99 4 inch tall versions at Toys R Us?   Who wants to bet there will be action figures and lunchboxes and t-shirts with Daniel Tiger plastered all over them?  Do we need more babbling animals on children’s TV?  Could we please show them a human grownup once in a while?  This is a larger part of the reason we cancelled cable (although we do still let our kids watch certain children’s shows on Netflix… it’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle).

Fred Rogers was a passionate advocate for children’s television, and I suspect the commercialization of children’s television would have horrified him.  Considering he died eight years ago, he probably even saw enough to be disturbed.  But somehow, I think seeing his calm, imaginative-but-clearly-play-time show turned into some weird CGI fantasy with talking animals would have disappointed him.  It sure disappoints me.

what if no one was watching

Although I’ve lived in three different countries and worked for long periods of time in dozens of others, I had never spent a lot of time around young children (other than my own, of course, in the last five years).  I certainly never paid much attention to child development or early education. I’ve read here and there about child development in different countries, and parenting theories, but I did most of that reading early on in parenthood, and now I don’t care as much – I simply try to do the best I can within the narrow set of philosophies that Bubelah and I have adopted and treat as gospel (the importance of play as taught by Waldorf schools, promoting reading and storytelling, and a very low-pressure approach to achievement, i.e. letting them find their own pace).  But I don’t have a good understanding of how other people in my community raise their kids, let alone how parents in other cultures in the US or in foreign countries do it.

One of the aspects of our Western – particularly American – society that troubles me is the community ideal that focuses on what people “are” in terms of their work. Children are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” by well-intentioned adults as if the goal of life is to find a profession.  Nobody ever asks kids what they want to be when they grow up with the expectation of hearing “happy” or “curious” or “living near a beach.”  Schools promote the idea of education as a “path” leading to the mythical job-guaranteeing “college” and then to a “secure” job with a multi-national corporation offering sick-care benefits and a carefully directed “retirement plan” in which the company forces you to save your money in funds they selected while they squeezed you over forty years for ever more time and ever less money.

Two thoughts:  first, my quotation marks key is starting to creak, and second, this current model of life in modern Western society is going to be unpleasant to the great majority of people. Many people may not recognize it as unpleasant, and will pay great attention to attending University X and getting a job with Megacorp Inc. all the while going home to sit in front of their 52″ widescreen and watch people who – if nothing else – are actually pursuing their dreams in the 21st century version of gladiator combat, American Idol.  And that’s something that bothers me increasingly.  I hate the stupidity of shows like American Idol (which I have never seen – I’m judging based on commercials) but I’d rather see my daughter singing “classic” songs from Toni Braxton on American Idol than hunched over a keyboard on the 3rd floor of a 5 floor office park building with the gentle flickering of fluourescent lights above her.  I’d rather see my son working as a park ranger than trudging back and forth to a job he hates so he can afford “necessities” like a gym membership and a subscription to The Economist.

I don’t meant to rant. I just wonder how much of what we “do” – meaning our work, not what we REALLY do – is driven by the idea that someone is watching us.  There are expectations everywhere: not to let down parents, relatives, friends, our schools, our community, our spouses, our children and even ourselves.  But why would anything be a “let down”?  I think that often the let down is solely internal.  I have no doubt that if I was able to maintain a reasonable lifestyle – meaning healthy food, a home, health insurance, clothing, etc. – I could do whatever I wanted without disappointing anyone.  If I switched tomorrow to being a sanitation worker/blogger, would that “let down” anyone?  It might disappoint the self-constructed mental image I have of myself, that society has contributed to, as an “educated” person who shouldn’t do manual labor.  But what would I do if no-one was watching?  What would you do?  I would argue that based on the large amount of pharmaceuticals and their heavy dosage of reality TV in America that many people are attempting to medicate themselves and their brains into not pursuing this mental line of questioning.  I’ve certainly been guilty of that myself (although I substitute movies for reality TV).

If I am honest with myself, I’d agree with an offhanded comment made by the comedian Bill Burr on (I think) Doug Benson’s podcast. He said nobody is sitting in a cubicle working on spreadsheets because they dreamed of it as a child. Nobody’s getting “filled up” by that work.  And life’s a compromise, in many ways.  Many people are happy to exchange their time for money so they can buy an iPad or a Roku.  I’m fully engaged in that compromise as things stand today.  Maybe I still will be in five years.  And maybe the goal of children in this world is to live like characters in “Defending Your Life” (one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, watch it if you haven’t seen it).  Parents do the best they can to provide a sturdy, well-built diving board for their children to leap off of, but once kids hit the water they have to swim.  The trick will be to learn to swim without fear, using whatever stroke is best for them, and not to worry that anyone is watching that they do it the “right way.”

parenting moments

I originally wrote this post about 3 years ago when my son, Little Buddy, was starting to talk fairly well. I was cycling through some old posts and thought this one was nice enough to republish.

When heaven opens up....

Yesterday Little Buddy woke up and called out for me, as he usually does.  I was downstairs and heard the standard declaration on the monitor:  “Papa, I’m awake!”

I went upstairs, and since I was already partially dressed for work he immediately asked me – even before leaving the crib – “Papa, going to work?”

“Well, yes, Little Buddy,”  I replied.

“Why?  Stay home,”  he shot back in a plaintive tone.

“I can’t.  We need money,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.  I have been explaining the concept of money to him slowly – probably a little bit too much for 2.5 years old, but why not?

“Because we need money to pay for things – all the good food Little Buddy eats, the house…” I said.

“Need money to eat?”  he asked.

“Yes,”  I admitted, in a drastic but not at all untrue simplification.

He paused and considered.  You could almost see the light bulb explode in his head.

“Papa, today Little Buddy no eat.  Papa no need money, no go to work, stay home, play all day.”

These are the moments that both break and exalt a parent’s heart.
photo credit: multi_everything

7 things you don’t want to skimp on

You don’t always want to save as much as you possibly can on everything.  I can think of at least a few examples where spending the least amount possible is not always a great idea:

Education.

I am a huge proponent of public education for two reasons:  1, the involvement with your community, both for parent and child, is going to happen somewhere – there is no sense in insulating yourselves from it; 2, you’ve already paid for it (through taxes).  That having been said, education – particularly college – is not a good candidate for finding the cheapest option simply because it’s cheapest.  That might seem to contradict some of my earlier pieces.  But I don’t think it really does – I simply think that far too many people choose the most expensive college just because it’s the most expensive, and that’s wrong, too.  At every level you need to find options that are good for you and that really address your goals.

Health care.

This one is tough.  Of course you don’t want to overspend, but I can tell you that when you are seriously ill, most – not all, most – thoughts about money go right out the window.  Of course in the case of lingering illnesses, such as happened in my family this summer, you still have to worry about the person’s family’s future – will the cost of health care be too much to allow them to keep a house, for example?  And it’s a sad state in this country that we have to worry about the cost of wellcare.  But in general, when you are really sick or injured, you don’t stop the hospital from doing procedure X because it costs too much.  The hospital or insurance company may stop it, though.

Cars and related expenses.

When you read people suggesting ways to save money on cars, I always think “this is a metal box that you get in and drive around in at 60 miles per hour – do you really want the cheapest car you can get?”  I want the safest car, with reasonable mileage that keeps it from being an outright assault on the environment.  I’ll pay a bit extra for the good tires, even though I could get reconditioned ones cheaper.  Then again, I still drive a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix.

Insurance.

If you live in a flood zone, you can save some money by skimping on the flood insurance.  When the flood comes, though, if your insurance isn’t enough to rebuild your place or buy a new one, why did you bother?  What was the point of saving that money if you can’t use the insurance when you need it?  Make sure you’re insured against financial catastrophe.  Life insurance is important.  Having a $100 deductible on your auto isn’t.

Babyproofing equipment.

I think the choice here is clear.  If you want to skimp on gates at the top of the stairs for your child, then I don’t think you have your priorities straight.

Food.

This one may be a little more contentious, but I think trying to save money on certain types of food is ridiculous.  If you eat meat, try this experiment.  Go buy some heavily processed, dyed, factory-farm raised chicken, and buy some organic free range chicken.  Prepare them both the same way, but don’t overdo the breading, herbs, spices, whatever – keep it simple.  Try both of them.  Tell me which one was a better use of money.  If you aren’t a meat eater, try buying organic, locally produced tomatoes and then buy a Mexican imported tomato from the supermarket.  In both cases, the more expensive option is likely to taste far better, therefore it satisfies you better meaning you’ll eat less, enjoy it more and be less tempted to let it sit in the fridge until it goes bad.  It’s probably healthier, too, but I won’t even use that argument.

This one is the tough one – making money.

If you are starting a business or investing, you don’t necessarily want the cheapest possible option.  Undeveloped property 80 feet from the road with no plumbing or electricity in Montana might be cheap, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good investment.  If you are starting up a restaurant, you don’t want to serve the cheapest possible food.

I guess the purpose of these examples is to show that sometimes the mania for frugality and savings isn’t always the best idea.  Saving money can’t always be solely about retiring or financial freedom.  Between now and then there is a life to be lived, and lived safely and comfortably.

should you have children?

Sometimes it’s hard to come up with a subject to blog about, so tonight I’ll borrow Syd’s thoughts:

If you decide not to have children, you’re also going to have to learn how to fit in to a world that doesn’t understand you.  When people find out that you don’t want kids, be prepared for their shock.  But take comfort in the fact that it’s not as bad as their reaction would be if they found out you were secretly a serial killer.

from How to Fit in Without Kids

It’s an interesting debate. My wife and I certainly talk, with curiosity, about people we know who have chosen not to have kids. Yet ten years ago, I counted myself among those people. Until I met my wife I had little interest in having children; actually, if I’m honest with myself, I had none. I don’t know why, exactly – I had a good childhood, I was happy with family life. I simply didn’t care that much about having kids. When I look back, and try to be honest with myself, it was selfishness. I was busy with my life for a lot of years. I worked very hard, I played very hard… I traveled, I socialized. I spent a lot of time doing stuff for me. Children just seemed like they would be an inconvenience to that life. And I was right.

It’s a trite and tedious comment to say that once you have kids, everything changes. It’s true, though. My life revolved around ME until I was a husband, but even then I had plenty of time for myself. Bubelah and I were both working and could do things as separate people. We didn’t have responsibilities. Sure, we thought we did – we thought the family visits and the social events and work-related crud were responsibilities, but now I know that pales in comparison to nighttime feedings, pouring juice, wiping butts, preparing food, playtime, storytime, sicktime, and bedtime. And when work bummed me out I could take a vacation. You can’t do that with a kid. You certainly can’t do it with two (or more).

So I get Syd’s article. Now that I have two children I look at childless couples and – sadly – my first thought is usually “wow, too bad, I guess they can’t have kids” – as if no-one could rationally choose that path except through the accidents of biology. But then I reflect, and I think that the world would be much better off if people could seriously and thoughtfully consider their rationale for becoming parents. How often is it societal or parental or other types of pressure that lead people into thinking they ‘need’ kids? How many people NEED to reproduce? The world’s not lacking for people, last time I checked.

I’ll throw out one more trite saying: now that I have kids, I can’t even vaguely conceive of life without them. And I’m not just being sentimental, because it’s hard to have kids and many times they are just not fun. My son and I had a meltdown last night when I punished him (no bedtime book) for calling me a name shortly before bedtime. I was mad, he was mad. It wasn’t fun, and I didn’t feel the joy of parenthood at that moment. As I write this I had to jump up from the computer and put my daughter back to sleep after she cried – for no apparent reason. But I still feel an overwhelming sense of closeness to my children that’s impossible to dismiss. I’ve felt endless hours of tiredness, boredom, irritation, and so on, but those hours have been tempered by moments and flashes of pure joy – first words, hugs without reservation and the usual glowing types of experiences parents tout. They’ve been cut with many hours of cute songs, fun play, interesting outings and charming displays.

I love my kids. But does that mean everyone needs children? No. No more than my love of warm weather means everyone should move to a temperate climate. Choices are made about one’s life, and although we tend to make children a central life choice, it’s not the only choice and in many senses may be only one of many. Where to live, what work to choose, who to associate with as friends, religion, diet, money – these are all important, too. You can live a full life with children, but you can live a full life without – just as you can live a desperate life with children, or without.

What you shouldn’t do is judge other people’s choices. There’s an old saying that has always seemed to me to be the epitome of reasonableness and nightmarish lack of concern for other people: “the world needs ditchdiggers, too.” That’s harsh, but you know what?  It’s true. Well, in the same sense, not everyone NEEDS to have kids. Some because they shouldn’t, and – let’s face it – some people don’t want them, even if they’d make great parents. It’s a shocking thing to say, I think, coming from a parent; but it’s true. So parents – treasure your kids. People who aren’t parents – and don’t want to be – will be just fine the way they are.

consumerism and dancing

One of the lessons I’ve learned from being a father of two is that the relationship between happiness and ‘things’ for children is established early on. You won’t be able to completely sever the mental connection between happiness and the accumulation of stuff, either.  As a parent, you’d like to see your children spurn the exciting kiddie t-shirts and the cool beeping toys, but it’s a battle you’re going to lose unless you keep them in a van down by the river, separate from civilization.

Children are naturally attracted to exciting toys, just as adults are. Things that flash and play music and show us interesting pictures are tempting at any age.  We send our son to a Waldorf school, which strictly prohibits the use of electronics in the school (no TV, no computers) and strongly discourages their use in the child’s home (which we, sadly, have not honored as we should have).

My son’s classmates are generally the children of – for lack of a better word – bohemian families, who emphasize local/organic eating, vegetarianism, simple living and so on.  At the same time it’s clear that all of these children know who Spiderman is.  It’s hard to avoid pop culture, and the pop culture is what sucks them in to consumerism. I add to it – I’m a fan of Batman, and both of my kids certainly know who that is by this point.

But it’s not all bad. I’ve realized that fighting consumerism is a losing battle (unless you’re willing to grit your teeth and fix up that van…down by the river).  Parents can, though, teach their children a few key lessons – and take some decisive actions – to teach their children they are more than the sum of the things they own.

Don’t hide the world from them – or them from the world. I don’t like soda – I quit drinking it years ago and only have it a few times each year.  I hope my children never develop a taste for soda, and I won’t keep it in the house.  At the same time, I know I can’t keep them from it.  I hate guns and gun violence on TV, and I’ve mostly succeeded at keeping them from seeing it.  But I do let them drink a Sprite once in a while at a restaurant.  I will let them pretend to play swords or even shoot “shrink rays.”  You can’t assume that you’ll prevent your children from being exposed to ANYTHING, no matter how repellent you find it.

Eventually, everything you dislike – politics, illegal or unethical behavior, horrible foods, and on and on – will be in front of them. Prepare them for it.  Be interested in their interests to combat those things.  After the millionth reading of I Am A Rabbit or Frosty the Snowman I’ve come to appreciate my parents’ efforts to stay interested in my interests growing up (and they still do).  If your kid likes dinosaurs, spend a few minutes reading up on dinosaurs and surprise them with some cool facts.  Are they interested in painting?  Help them learn how to clean brushes.  Do they like stories about dragons?  Read stories about dragons.

Get out of the way. Children can’t develop self-confidence if you slather Purell on their hands every time they play with dirt.  How confident will they be when they leave home for college if you’ve never let them spend the night away from home?  How vulnerable will they be to binge drinking and drugs if you’ve forced your teen to come home at 8 pm on weekends and never let them touch a beer?  Sometimes you have to let your toddlers go down the slide and skin their knees.  Confidence is developed by failing and and trying again, not by having a parent swoop in to the rescue at the last minute.

“Neither a debtor nor a lender be”. In Act I of Hamlet, Polonius utters this phrase, which was relayed to me endlessly by my grandfather, and then my mother.   I know it seems harsh.  Sometimes we need debt – think mortgages.  Sometimes we’ll be lenders – think family in need.  But I think this phrase rings deeply and profoundly true to anyone who reads it and understands it.  There may be exceptions, but debt is to be avoided.  Lending to family in need may seem like a good idea, but if you can, just give.  Don’t lend money, ever, unless you are prepared to lose it.  Don’t ever incur debt – ideally not even for a mortgage but that is sometimes unavoidable.  Teach your children this financial lesson and you have taught them 99.9% of what they need to know about personal finance.

My children, for example, are not each just the child of two parents. They are a person.  I made the mistake for years of defining myself by my job, which was an easy error to make.  It was exciting – it took me around the world, it gave me a corner office overlooking Central Park and it paid me huge amounts of money.  I allowed myself to think I was my job.  But you know what?  I quit that job eventually and someone else is doing it now.  I am still me.  It took me a while to rebuild my sense of myself after quitting, but I knew deep down I was not just my job, or my money, or my things.  Don’t ever let your children grow more attached to things, and don’t pressure them to be a doctor, or an astronaut.  Even the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ can be dangerous:  it implies they need to ‘be’ a career, or a job.  Let them be themselves when they grow up.  My son has a great answer for this if anyone asks him:  he wants to be a person.

Dance.  This is the best advice and the one I often forget; if truth be told this advice is as much for me as anyone.  If you teach kids from an early age to love music, and to stand up and wave their arms as soon as they can, they’ll be happier.  There are few activities more universal or more releasing than dancing.  It doesn’t have to be ballroom, or anything structured.  Just jump around.  It combines music (happy), exercise releasing good endorphins (happy),  being in the moment without distractions (happy), and just being together (happy).  Too often as adults we’re tired after a long day, but trust me – if you did nothing else with your kids but dance, they’ll be happy.

Don’t fight consumerism, or the onslaught of information, or the modern world.  Don’t cling to ideas about your own idealized childhood.  Just try to throw a few little roadblocks in front of the consumer convoy, and maybe you’ll disrupt your children enough that they’ll veer off the interstate and end up on the scenic highway.