Am I a Normal Parent?

Gila Martow, host of “Trending in York Region” on Rogers TV, invited me to be a guest on her show. The topic: personal debt and how it affects us and our relationships. The more I prepared for the interview, the more I realized how deep rooted this topic is and how it branches out in so many directions.

It’s interesting to consider our spending habits, how they evolve and what they reveal about us. A couple of years ago I was quoted in a Globe and Mail article “Is your kid money smart?” in which I spoke about parent’s modelling being key. Upon further reflection, I think that what makes you a spender or a saver is really a combination of what you see and what you’re born with. One’s temperament, personality or inborn disposition may affect whether one is more one way than another. For example, from a very young age you can predict how a child will handle money by the way he manages Halloween candy when left on his own. For example, if your child hoards candy for so long that by the time he retrieves it, it’s too stale to eat, he may be more inclined towards being a saver. In extreme cases, a child who hoards may grow into an adult who stashes every penny away in the bank or in mattresses, often denying him or herself indulgences. Conversely, the child who devours his candy very quickly, not able to deny the beckoning of its sweetness, may spend in a similar fashion. That child may grow into an adult who has a difficult time saving.

In regards to modelling, what one has seen growing up can either encourage or discourage him from behaving the same way. So, for example, if you were raised in a home where your dad gambled often, but then complained that he had no money to fix the roof or take you on vacation, then you may be more inclined to save so that you can afford time away with your family or to fix leaks. Or you may become a gambler yourself. On the other hand, if you were raised by a parent who barely spent a dime on herself and denied herself any kind of indulgence, you may be inclined to do just the opposite – or you may repeat this behaviour, even without meaning to. You may especially be inclined to move in the opposite direction if your parent saved compulsively but then died prematurely without enjoying any of the nuts she had hoarded for so long. Of course, neither extreme is wise – finding the right balance between saving and spending is both an art and a science.

Money issues often create friction between couples for a variety of reasons. If you were the child of the gambler who complained about having no money then you will understandably be triggered if you feel that your spouse is throwing money at reckless indulgences. If you manage the family finances and believe that your spouse is either not on side or sabotaging your attempts to keep the budget balanced, then this can create a problem too. Sometimes the spouse who is perceived as not being on side is actually rebelling against who he or she believes is a controlling controller. Other times, he or she doesn’t see the financial picture fully because it is only being managed by one person. Even though it’s typical for one spouse to be financial manager, it’s wise to include your partner if you want him or her to be on your team. The way a couple handles money is often reflective of their relationship in general. When partners keep their finances separate, this often means that they are not connected in other ways too. If one person allocates a weekly allowance to the other, then there may be issues around control in other parts of their relationship too.

A huge part of what creates friction in a relationship is debt. If one person brings large personal debt into the relationship, there may be resentment from the partner who is helping to pay it off. If one partner purchases many or high priced items behind the others back or pays by credit card, even though they have agreed not to, this is sure to create problems too. Coming together as a couple to communicate, share and work towards common financial goals is very important – not just for the partners but for the health of the entire family.

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