How the Economic Downturn Makes Us Better Parents

Families have been hit hard by the recession -- I see it every day in my practice. But you'd think that wealthier parents would be having an easier time than they are. Instead, they're scrambling. Because parents who relied on money to raise good kids had their priorities messed up, and now they're getting their assumptions challenged. I'm talking about the competitive, "keeping up with the Joneses" kind of parenting that results in this kind of stuff:

  • Trying to find the "perfect" stroller
  • Getting on a years-long wait list with the "best" preschool
  • Overscheduling even young children, from "Mommy and Me" to "enrichment" classes
  • Parents not having any adult life (or getting any sleep) because their lives are 100% kid-focused

But even for those of us who weren't ever considered "wealthy", there's a lesson here about priorities, and what it truly takes to be a Good Enough parent.

When you take money out of the equation, all of the extra garbage is drained out. And parents who are used to parenting by spending are forced to start parenting by being.

Being with the kids -- just hanging out. Getting to know their temperaments, tendencies, personalities and foibles. Helping them learn about themselves, and how to  be a good person. And helping them to learn about money -- what it CAN buy, what it CAN'T buy, and how to make budgeting and saving fun.

This is a really good thing. Because your kids don't need lots of money to grow into happy, healthy, productive human beings. They need YOU -- your interested time and attention.

I know by experience, people. I'm not much of a shopper, but I LOVE baby gear. I've spent 10 years searching for "the perfect stroller", and wasted tons of money on the 7 or 8 strollers moldering away in the Stroller Cemetery in our garage. But none of our four babies ever loved being in ANY stroller, and if I had just waited to get to know them a bit before I started buying, I could have saved a ton of cash. Patience and careful thought are worth a lot -- in life, and in parenting.

It starts at the earliest ages. In our family, we've discovered that toys, balloons and candy shouldn't get bought at the market as an incentive for good behavior. Toddlers in our family get told, "Let's put the balloon away now that we're done shopping. The balloon lives here -- let's say bye bye to the balloon." When they don't expect a lot of buying as young children, they enjoy the stuff we DO buy much more.

This is an opportunity to re-focus on the simple (but powerful) fact that it's US, not our "stuff", that make our kids into great human beings. Staying home, cooking together, reading, and running around outside is not only cheaper, it's a better way to focus on the enduring priorities of parenting.

And in the process, we get to know ourselves better, too.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink