If life's a dance, it's "follow the leader"

Surviving the Money Mosh Pit

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We have a neat little plaque on display in our home…it’s in my sight-line on the windowsill as I type this post.  We’ve had it for many years – since our children (now late-teens) were very young – and I have to say that its simple message has served us well.  It reads, “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child”.

From my experience and observation, the child/parent relationship resembles a dance.  Now, I’m no dancer – as my wife would readily attest – but the most fun I’ve ever had dancing was at a staff Christmas event many years ago where the highlight was having everyone – without exception – get on the floor to be taught how to square dance.  The professional “caller” did a magnificent job leading us through the various steps and maneuvers, turning what could have been absolute chaos into this graceful and orderly flow around the floor of the converted barn.  I don’t think anyone went away disappointed.

What does this square dance have in common with our child/parent dance?  Absolutely nothing.

mosh pitBest described as falling somewhere between noisy and chaotic, where most of us pass on financial wisdom to our children might best be decribed as a mosh pit, lacking what made the square-dance experience so successful and enjoyable…order, structure and above all, clearly defined leadership.  When the caller was at the mic, there was no confusion over who was directing the traffic flow on the dance floor – despite being drastically outnumbered.

When children are involved, the household training begins at a very young age and is obviously very influential in setting the path for the future of the relationship between parent and child.  The problem we encounter is that we are too often unclear which party in this relationship is leading the dance – the parent or the child!  Just walk around the mall, toy store or grocery aisle, and you will see children putting on a clinic as they train their parents.  And I believe that part of the problem is that, because of our relative affluence, our children don’t see us saying “no” to ourselves enough.  Little surprise that we are raising a generation that has difficulty saying “no” to themselves… they don’t even know WHY they should ever have to.

Our comfort with living in debt has painted a very unrealistic picture for our children.  If we want something bad enough but don’t have the savings for it, most of us have ready access to credit.  And we have to be careful that this is not the legacy that we leave for the next generation.

We are living in a dangerous age, but not an age without reason for hope.  If your children are old enough to recognize the global financial turmoil and the negative and far-reaching impact of poor financial decisions, perhaps – just perhaps – they will learn the lesson that the previous generation is just waking to:  that we cannot live beyond our means indefinitely – as nations, as families or as individuals.  The forces at work around the world send us the clear message that “the rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Psalms 22:7).  At time of writing this blog, Greece is in line for a financial bailout from the European Union.  Following a generation of financial entitlement and deficit spending, the Greek government has essentially abdicated its sovereignty to the EU, and in particular its most influential stakeholders, Germany and France.  This is just one example at play currently, with more to follow.

It doesn’t have to be like this.  Democratic governments have myriad forces exerting pressure on them, forcing compromise at every turn in order to stay in power to serve yet another day.  Our households need not follow suit.  If we as parents lead the way, we can demonstrate to the next generation the principles of sound financial decision-making:

  1.  pay yourself first (and automatically if possible);
  2. be generous in caring for those in need in your community and beyond;
  3. spend less money than you have left over;
  4. forget about trying to keep up with the Jones’. Refuse to indulge in the material hedonism that marketers would have you believe you deserve.
  5. pass it on…

So, get off the sofa and into the dance…lead as you should.  Your children (and their children) will thank you for it.  In my next post – the final in this series – I’ll share some ideas that might help your technique!