038: The Opposite of Spoiled

We’re concluding our mini-mini series today on chores – and on paying children to do chores, which leads us to larger conversations about money. If you missed the first part of this then then you might want to go and listen to last week’s interview with Dr. Andrew Coppens, who explores the ways that families in different cultures approach chores and what lessons that can hold for those of us who want to encourage our children to do their chores.

Today we’re going to take that conversation to its logical conclusion by talking about money, and what better guest to do that with us than Ron Lieber,who wrote the book The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids who are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money (affiliate link). It’s a really practical guide to talking with your children about money – from what information they should have at what age, to what to do with a child who always wants you to buy them something at the store, to what to say when a child wonders why homeless people don’t have enough money.


Other episodes mentioned in this show

021: Talk Sex Today

034: How do I get my child to do chores?


This episode is the first in a series on the intersection of parenting and money.  You can find other episodes in this series:

105: How to pass on mental wealth to your child

107: The impact of consumerism on children

112: How to Set up a Play Room

115: Reducing the Impact of Advertising to Children

118: Are You Raising Materialistic Kids?



Carl Richards’ cartoons for the New York Times

Lahey, J. (2016). The gift of failure. New York: Harper.

Lieber, R. (2016). The opposite of spoiled. New York: Harper. (Affiliate link)

Lythcott-Haimes, J. (2016). How to raise an adult.: Break free of the overparenting trap and prepare your kid for success. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.


Read Full Transcript


Jen: [00:37]

Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Now before we get going with today’s episode, which I’m actually really excited about, I wanted to start with some housekeeping items. Firstly, I wanted to update you on our progress towards the goal that I set a couple of weeks back to double the number of subscribers to the show and I wanted to check back in with you and let you know that I’m about halfway towards my goal. So if you subscribed to the show recently, then thank you. I really appreciate it. And I also wanted to remind you that if you subscribe through iTunes, then I actually can’t count that towards my goal because the subscription on iTunes kind of disappears into a black box. I never hear about it and I have absolutely no idea how many subscribers I have there. So if you enjoy the show and are subscribed through iTunes or if you aren’t subscribed at all, would you mind doing me a huge favor and subscribing through my website at YourParentingMojo.com

Jen:    [01:26]

You’ll also get a free gift for doing it through my website, which is a download of seven relationship based strategies to help your child thrive. So I hope you find that useful. The other thing I wanted to mention is that I’ve been doing some soul searching regarding the show. This is episode 38, which means we’ve been running for about nine months now and I really loved working on it. I completed my masters in psychology focusing on child development several months ago and it’s really not an exaggeration to say that I learn more from producing the average episode for you than I did for the average paper for my degree. I love reading and researching and synthesizing and I really get a kick out of having the show. I also love hearing from you and I’m honored that a number of you have taken the time out of your day to thank me for the work that I do and also to make suggestions for episodes which you know, I take seriously as many of the episodes I run these days are based on those suggestions, but I’m coming to a period in my life where things are about to get kind of busy.

Jen:   [02:23]

I’m working on a master’s in education because when I say I love to learn, I’m really not joking and I still have a full time job and of course I’m a parent and underlying all of this is my desire to shift away from having a full time job and toward being self sufficient so I can homeschool my daughter. So I’m trying to come up with ways to keep doing the podcast, which so many of you seem to find useful and also have it continue to help support my own goals. I’m considering a number of options here. One might be to drop the episode frequency down to every other week instead of every week, and since it takes about 12 hours to research and write an average episode, that really would be quite time saver. I’ve also thought about accepting advertising, but honestly I’d really hate to do that because most of what I advocate is that you have everything you need to effectively parent your child and it would feel really disingenuous to turn around and then try and sell you stuff on the show.

Jen:     [03:16]

I’m also thinking about releasing each episode for a week or so publicly and then putting them behind a pay wall for ongoing access. Perhaps this could be combined with a membership to a private Facebook group where I post information about research I find that’s relevant to child development and where we could even have conversations on topics that interest the group. The membership fee might be something like five bucks a month, which works out to about a dollar 25 an episode, which really doesn’t seem like an unreasonable investment to me as I’m thinking about it. I reached out to several listeners who have been in touch with me with some frequency – some of you have a lot of suggestions for episodes and you know you guys are pondering on your answers and I’m looking forward to seeing those. If you’re a subscriber to the show, then you’ve probably also received an email because you guys are the ones who support me by showing up here week after week and learning about parenting alongside me.

Jen:   [04:04]

If you have strong thoughts about ways that I can continue to make this work, then please do drop me a line and even if you’re just a part time listener and you drop in every once in a while to see what’s going on, then welcome and please feel free to cast your vote by sending an email to jen@yourparentingmojo.com, or using the contact form on YourParentingMojo.com. If you’d like to cast your vote one way or another, then feel free to let me know or if you hate all the ideas and would stop listening if I use any of the ones I’ve mentioned, you can let me know that as well, or if you have any amazing ideas that I haven’t mentioned yet, then please let me know those too. Thank you so much for your support as I work on figuring this out. Now onto today’s episode, we’re concluding our mini mini series today on chores and on paying children to do chores, which leads us to larger conversations about money.

Jen: [04:52]

If you missed the first part of this, then you might want to go back and listen to episode 34, which was my interview with Dr Andrew Coppens, who explores the way that families in different cultures approach chores and what lessons that can hold for those of us who want to encourage our children to do their chores, and today we’re going to take that conversation to its logical conclusion by talking about money and what better guests to do that with us than Ron Lieber, whose website tells us that he is a husband, a dad, and the your money columnist for the New York Times. He’s been that your money columnist for the New York Times since 2009. But his bio actually doesn’t say how long has held the first two. How long have you been a husband and dad, Ron?

Mr. Lieber:   [05:30]

I’ve been a husband since 2002 and I’ve been a dad since 2005. I have an 11 year old daughter and a toddler who turned 20 months old yesterday.

Jen:   [05:41]

Awesome. Double punishment. So Ron also wrote The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids who are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, which was an instant New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller when it was released in 2015. I found it to be a really practical guide to talking with your children about money from what information they should have at what age to what to do with a child who always wants you to buy them something at the store. To what to say when a child wonders why homeless people don’t have enough money. So we’re going to talk about all this and more in today’s episode. Welcome Ron and thanks for joining us.

Mr. Lieber:   [06:12]

Thanks for having me.

Jen:    [06:14]

All right. So we covered some of this ground and our topic with Professor Andrew Coppens recently, but I just want to ask you the same question and just make sure that we’re kind of in alignment here. So should children be paid to do chores?

Mr. Lieber:   [06:28]

No. And here’s why. It creates a problematic negotiating position for the parents first and foremost, right after a couple of years have been paid for chores and having treated chores like a job, these increasingly Smart Alec children will at a certain point, come to the realization that if they have managed to save a whole bunch of money and they can then go to their parent or parents and say, you know what, I have enough now for a couple of months so I’m not going to do the chores anymore. Right? And if the point of the exercise, or at least part of the point of the exercise is to make sure that they know what it means to contribute in a significant way to an orderly functioning household, you don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you can be negotiated depth into that corner there, right? Because then if you stomped your foot and say, well, you’re going to do the chores anyway, then you’ve lost the whole connection between money and work that you were trying to create in the first place.

Jen:  [07:30]

Okay, good. So I’m glad that there isn’t a misalignment between what we presented it in the last episode on this topic and your thinking as well. And so that sort of leads the natural question. If, if we want to start teaching about things like handling money irresponsibly, how should we deal with allowances? Is it always wrong to pay children or should we just give them money just for being our children?

Mr. Lieber:  [07:55]

Well, so I wouldn’t necessarily put it the way that you just put it. We’re not giving them money merely because they are our children. We’re giving them money because allowance and money is a teaching tool the same way that books are a teaching tool or, or musical instruments, right? Or art supplies, right. We would not yank those away necessarily because the chores are not being done. So if you’re not a parent that punishes their child by taking away their books when they haven’t made their bed, I would not take away the money either. And I guess this is a, you know, a difficult thing for many people to get through their heads, right? Because we all have so much emotional energy invested in money in a thousand different ways, right? But I would just encourage people to continue saying to themselves over and over again, money is a teaching tool, and if we’re not going to punish kids by taking away their books so we shouldn’t punish them by taking away their money if their chores are not completed.

Jen:    [08:59]

Wow. I would never have thought about it… Equating money with books and using them as a teaching tool. So. So under what circumstances is it okay to pay children?

Mr. Lieber:  [09:11]

I think it’s okay to pay children for a one off chore like a particular really nasty one that has to be done occasionally or seasonally, but for regular things that have to be done on on a daily or weekly basis, I think you ought to do those things for free. So many parents will ask whether it is okay to pay their children for good grades, for performance in the classroom, in effect. And most of the best psychological research has been done are says that that is bad idea. It reduces what psychologists refer to as intrinsic motivation, right? The desire to do things for their own sake, for the pleasure of having learned them and done them well. But some people are willing to make exceptions for particularly difficult and rote academic tasks, right? Multiplication tables say, or I know one parent in my neighborhood here who made the mistake one might say, I’m telling his high school age daughter that for a dollar for every digit of pi, every decimal point of pi that she managed to permanently implant in her brain because she came back a couple of days later having won the pi contest at school, and memorized it to about 120 places.

Jen:    [10:26]

Ouch! That was an expensive mistake.

Mr. Lieber:  [10:28]

It was an expensive mistake for Dad.

Jen:   [10:34]

He won’t do that again. Okay. So parents, we’re saving you from that potential pitfall. Okay. So two instances then where it’s not the best approach to pay children is for on a regular basis for doing chores and also for grades. But if we want to use money as a teaching tool and we want children to learn how to manage their money, how then should we deal with allowances?

Mr. Lieber:   [10:56]

Well, I think you start at an earlier age than you might think is appropriate. Right? You know, we always wonder when are kids really ready to wrestle with this or people say, well, my kids don’t want anything, so why should I bother with allowance? Well, you know, the reason why to bother is that, you know, in terms of thinking about how money is or is not like books or musical instruments. I think about it this way, right? We buy our kids sports equipment or are we buy them a violin because we want them to practice. We want them to get good at these things because there’s value in learning to particular discipline. You should think about money the same way we want them to practice money and get good at it because making mistakes with money when you’re a teenager, I’m thinking about college and certainly afterwards; those mistakes can have long lasting effects, so we want them to have as much practice with that for as long as possible.

Jen:    [11:52]

Okay, so what your question says to me then is that we should be talking with children about money maybe before they’ve actually indicated a readiness to have that conversation with us. What kind of age do children normally start getting interested in and should parents be thinking about having these conversations even earlier than that?

Mr. Lieber:   [12:14]

So I first started going down this road personally before I started going down at professionally when my three year old started asking all of these pressing questions about money. One of the ones that really threw me, was that she wanted to know why we didn’t have a summer house.

Jen:   [12:28]

You don’t have one?

Mr. Lieber:     [12:31]

No, we did not then; we do not now.

Jen:  [12:34]

Same here.

Mr. Lieber:    [12:35]

And we ultimately never will. And we weren’t sure where exactly she got this idea that they even existed. Um, and you know, there she was at the age of three and it was pretty clear that she had glommed onto the fact that some people have more things and more homes than other people do.

Mr. Lieber:   [12:53]

That her parents did not have this particular thing, that she wanted the thing and she wanted to figure out how it was. It came to pass that she did not have it right. So she was only three. So that’s my, my wheels spinning and a couple of years after that I heard from a parent at a talk that I was giving to raised their hand and said, my two girls came to me the other day and wanted to know why I go to work when the other mommies don’t go to work. Right. So if we think that they’re not wrestling with this stuff, at really early ages and what we’re sorely mistaken so you know, for. So for the child who does not ask, you want to know when to start. Well, one good time to start might be right around the time that the tooth fairy shows up for the first time. That may be the first moment that the child has money and they feel like it belongs to them. And very quickly they will realize that whatever it is that the tooth fairy has brought them is probably not enough for them to buy the things that they want.

Jen:   [13:54]

I don’t know. I’ve heard there were some pretty generous tooth fairies around these days.

Mr. Lieber:    [13:57]

Uh, there are, um, I’ve heard scattered stories of $100 bill showing up under the pillow in tonier suburbs in precincts this fine nation, but those, those stories are kind of scattered and far between. So, you know, most kids won’t have enough and some of them will take to try and pull out additional teeth because that’s the only way they know how to get more money to show up. So better at that point perhaps to start with a modest allowance to get them used to collecting the money and thinking about how to best put it to use.

Jen:    [14:32]

Okay. And so what kind of conversation does that start with? How do you decide what’s the right amount of money and how do you present this and say, here, I’m going to start giving you some money?

Mr. Lieber:  [14:45]

Sure. So I think you take a step back and remind yourself of a couple of things, right? What exactly are we trying to accomplish? I think first and foremost, we are in the adult making business here, right? So how do adults manage their money? Well, you know, they make a budget and quite often you can define those expenditures into kind of three large categories, right? There’s saving, there’s spending and there’s giving. So, you know, I encourage parents to use three jars, right? You can even let your kids decorate the jars and the money goes in there. They get a visceral visual sense of how much they have, helps them learn to count, they watch it grow. And then you can make rules around each of those jars, maybe for the younger kids, you know, the spending does not happen. No money comes out of the jar until you have a discussion about it and maybe the stuff in the savings are, you know, it has to sit there for at least six or eight weeks. Um, so that you learned to be patient. And then the giving jar, you know, that tends to be more complicated for the little ones. So often they don’t really understand why they should have to give money away and it may take some prodding to get them to think about a cause that’s important to them. But again, it’s good to begin to exercise those muscles of generosity and, and also gratitude for the fact that you may be lucky enough to have a little bit left over to give it to something or someone that’s important to you.

Jen:   [16:10]

And so do you find that children of that age are kind of ready to be able to help set the rules around those kinds of things and say, what is a reasonable amount of time to leave money in the savings jar? Or is that something that kind of comes over time?

Mr. Lieber:   [16:25]

Well, some of it will depend on what kind of hand you’ve been dealt with the child, right? As much as we would like to apply all the same rules in different kids at the same time, it just doesn’t work that way. You know, even, um, multiple children that have come out of the same womb sometimes at the same time are completely different. Right? And it’s okay to have different rules for different kids, although I would encourage the allowance amounts to remain the same for different kids at the same ages But you know, some kids may have more trouble than others kind of hanging on to the money. So maybe you provide an incentive for saving for a longer period of time or maybe one child gets to take money out and use for spending when they’re out and about on their own when they’re older, a little sooner than a different one might at the same age who tends to buy inappropriate things that are on the banned item list, you know, without necessarily checking the parent first.

Jen:    [17:31]

Okay. So that, that sort of gets to another question that I was thinking of as you were saying that the, the fact that there might be a banned item list and I’m wondering to what extent it’s helpful to just kind of let a child buy what they want to buy and maybe they spend their entire allowance on lollipops one or they blow it on something that we just think is completely frivolous and unnecessary. I mean maybe even bad for their health. If we’re thinking about an entire allowance spent on lollipops – to what extent is it a valuable lesson for them to just blow it once or twice and I come out of it thinking, oh, now I don’t have any money to spend on other things that I might want. Is that a valuable experience?

Mr. Lieber:   [18:12]

I’m a huge advocate of letting the kids fall flat on their face financially and sorted out for themselves. Most of us remember terrible financial mistakes that we made when we were in our twenties. Things that we regret, you know, sort of searing memories that hopefully taught us lessons and kept us from repeating those mistakes again. Uh, it is far better for our kids to experience that regret or even the shame and sadness of having gotten it wrong, of wasting something when they’re younger because then they’re less likely to make the bigger mistakes when there are larger amounts of money involved after they are out from under our roofs.

Jen:    [18:57]

That seems as though it could be a very hard pill for parents to swallow.

Mr. Lieber:  [19:02]

No, I think we all have a terribly difficult time stepping back and just watching bad stuff unfold, but you know, for any parent who’s having a difficult time with that, you know, I would encourage they go right back to Jessica Lahey’s book, The Gift of Failure, if you haven’t seen it already or Julie Lithoctt Haines’ book, How to Rise an Adult. I mean those books are sort of master classes on how to restrain yourself from over parenting.

Jen:    [19:31]

Alright. So then the conclusion is that we should let our children kind of buy what they want to buy with their allowance. And just to kind of bring that full circle, you did mention a banned items list. Is that something that we should develop with our children and what, what kind of items are on your banned item list?

Mr. Lieber:    [19:49]

Yeah, so, you know, I’m a big believer in allowing waste and mistakes, but I also think that any and every parent should feel free to ban things that they believe are unsafe, unhealthy, if it’s radically unhealthy, or, or just on why, right? I mean, we were first confronted with this when our, uh, one of the grandmothers sent my daughter Hunter boots, you know, the very kind of fancy rain boots. Actually I hate that word, fancy. I should never equate fancy with expensive. I don’t want to ascribe values to things based on how much they cost. But this is about the most expensive, you know, rain boots that you can buy for a child, and this doug and me in particular because I happen to be writing a lot about Hunter boots when I was working on the first draft of the opposite of spoiled them.

Mr. Lieber: [20:42]

I use them as sort of a framework for parents to think about wants and needs on a continuum. And I just could not believe the coincidence of these boots showing up for this, you know, still pretty little girl. So we had to decide, right, what did that belong on? A list of extravagant things that we would just not let her wear her own. And that was cast into further perspective a couple of weeks later when the other grandmother, the one who works as a personal shopper at Nieman Marcus on Michigan Avenue in Chicago sent a brown paper box a couple of weeks later, a that had a black leather miniskirt inside.

Jen: [21:20]


Mr. Lieber:  [21:19]

So that went back to the store.

Jen:    [21:23]

Oh it did!

Mr. Lieber:  [21:23]

Yeah; that went onto the banned item list. We just, we just couldn’t get past the idea of a seven or an eight year old girl and a black leather miniskirt just didn’t sit well.

Mr. Lieber:   [21:33]

But the Hunter boots, we just decided to let those go. So, you know, it was a close call, but there are all sorts of parents who, for any number of reasons, including just, you know, not liking what particular brands stand for out in the market place or things that their executives have said or bad things that the companies have done environmentally. I mean, by all means, put that on your list, but be ready to give a thorough explanation to the child who deserves one about why it’s there.

Jen:   [22:03]

And so your talking about the Hunter boots reminded me of something from the book which was, can you tell us what the LL Bean rule is?

Mr. Lieber:    [22:12]

Sure. So the LL Bean rule came out of this sort of hand wringing over the Hunter boots. I mean, I keep hearing as I was doing the reporting about these boots that girls, especially under the age of 18 really coveted and they are, you know, about the most expensive rain boots that you can buy for a child.

Mr. Lieber: [22:32]

Um, so I began to think about all of these different categories of need on a sort of continuum, right? Like we want our kids to keep their feet dry when it rains. Rain boots are a need, but how much rain boot is enough? Well, if you think about it as sort of a horizontal line with, you know, the Hunter boots all the way over on the want side of the line and you know, sort of a generic pair of $20 wellies over on the left side of the line, on the need side, you’ve got to decide as a parent in each and every category what you’re willing to spend there. Right? So I grew up in the Midwest, the Land’s End catalog, came over the transom all the time, like clockwork. Uh, you know, I still wear their dress shirts to this day. And so what we said to our daughter was that we were going to draw a Land’s End line.

Jen:    [23:20]

Oh, it was the Land’s End line, not the LL Bean line.

Mr. Lieber:  [23:24]

Yeah, the Land’s End line. But you know, if you’re from the northeast you can draw it. I’ll be right. Well, you can draw an Old Navy line, right a little bit farther to the left because the boots are a little bit less expensive. You know, you just have to make a decision as a family: how much are you willing to spend on this need and why? Right? Because you know, in the underwear category, you may make a decision that there’s no reason to spend more than $2 on a pair of underwear because who’s gonna see it except you, but in the outerwear category, maybe yours is a family that likes to hike and sleep outside or go skiing, or maybe your children walk a mile to school each day or ride their bikes in the elements. In which case the outerwear has to be really outstanding or everybody is going to be miserable. So maybe you’re a Patagonia, outerwear, a family. You spend a lot on that. That’s fine. You know, no, no value judgments here, but you have to explain it to yourself and then you have to explain it to your kids because if you don’t, it’s all gonna feel random to them. They’re going to have no idea how the grownups in their lives are making decisions about what to spend and when and why. And if they don’t understand that they’re not gonna be able to figure out how to begin to make decisions for themselves.

Jen:   [24:45]

Okay. Which is the critical thing we’re trying to do.

Mr. Lieber:  [24:47]

Right? Adult making.

Jen:    [24:50]

Yes. So before we head off on a different tack, I just want to answer the question that I’m pretty sure everybody’s thinking right now. How much is the right amount to start with?

Mr. Lieber:   [24:59]

I feel like sometimes this is a trick question, although you’re asking about the start question, right? So. So there I think there’s a reasonable answer, right? Because in most families, the five or the six or the seven year old, they’re not really ready developmentally to handle all of their own expenditures. Something that you might ask a teenager to do. So with the young ones the amount almost doesn’t matter, right? Maybe a dollar a week for every year that they’ve been on the planet. So a six year old might get $6 a week and you divide it up, you know, $2 in the save jar and $2 in the spend jar and $2 in the give jar, and you’re off and running, you can take it from there. You know, again, it gets more complicated as kids get older and he wants to give them more responsibility for purchasing the things that they need, and so the amounts may go up from there, you know, at which point, the best rule of thumb I think is just this, right? You want to give them just enough so that they can get some of the things that they want, but not so much that they don’t have to make a lot of really hard trade offs because that’s what we grown ups do all of the time. I’m often without even really realizing it or acknowledging it to ourselves.

Jen:    [26:12]

Okay, great. Well that’s, that’s a good place for us to start then and for teenagers, you’re gonna have to read Ron’s book. So I wanted to go back to something that you touched on a little bit, but there’s sort of a central interest of mine, which is how the parents react to all of this. You mentioned that your explorations on this topic started when your daughter asked why you don’t have a summer house and then you talked with the parents about why her daughter had asked why she doesn’t work or what, sorry, why she works when all the other mamas don’t. And so it seems to me in your mind, and also in this mother’s mind, there must’ve been a lot going on at that moment in terms of thinking about how much money I earn and how I prioritize my family responsibilities and earning money versus spending time with a child and also the flip side of that, what it’s like to set an example to a girl of being a working mother. And so it seems to me that a lot of the problems that we face when we’re talking with children about money is sort of related to the deep seated role that money plays in our feelings of who we are as a person. Is that right?

Mr. Lieber:   [27:23]

Uh huh.

Mr. Lieber:  [27:24]

Okay. Okay.

Mr. Lieber:   [27:28]

So, I mean, where to even start with that, right? We could go on for hours on this topic, but let me start here. Carl Richards, who is a writer and an artist about money, believe it or not, who I edit at the New York Times. If you google, you know, Carl Richards and the New York Times, you can see the incredible Sharpie on napkin sketches that he does for us to try and illustrate complicated money concepts in simple ways. Um, one of his favorite sketches, I actually have it framed in my office is just a simple equation. It says, money equals feelings. Money equals feelings, right? And our kids at the age of two and three, they’re asking us these complex questions about why we work and why we don’t have a summer house. And it just cuts to the core of all of some of the most complicated choices that we have made in our adult lives.

Mr. Lieber:   [28:18]

How do they see right through us? How do they push the button so hard at such a young age? And it takes us back to all of the conversations we did or did not in many cases have with our own parents. So you know the behavior that was modeled for us more often than not around this is just to shut the conversation down. “That, young lady, is none of your business.” Well, that’s a terrible answer. That’s a terrible answer.

Jen:    [28:48]

Darn it!

Mr. Lieber:  [28:49]

I mean, it’s not true. The revenues and expenses in your household matter to them, but also we don’t want to shut down entire avenues of conversation about important things. Right. If we do that, then they won’t come to us with sex questions or drugs questions, so that’s not what we want to do.

Jen:    [29:06]

No. Okay, so what. What should we do then? If. If we get one of the. I’m thinking back to the episode that we did with Saleema Noon who’s a sex educator and she said your, your, your child comes to you and says, Mama, what’s a whore? Or something like that. Then your first response should be “I’m so glad you came to me with that question. I need some time to think about it. Can we talk about it after school?” Would you use that line as well or would you…?

Mr. Lieber:    [29:30]


Mr. Lieber:   [29:32]


Mr. Lieber:  [29:33]

I fully endorse the stalling tactic. If you’re feeling a little more confident, if you feel like you can come up with an answer in the space of a couple minutes instead of a couple of hours, I’d suggest responding like so. Start the same way. I’m so glad you asked. That’s a great question. But then I’d respond with another question, which is why do you ask? Right? And it’s not an accusation. Why do you ask? Right? As if they’ve done something wrong, we want them to know that we honor their curiosity about this and every single other topic because it is their job to figure out how the world works. That is the job of a child, right? To figure that out. So of course money is important to end. They’re going to ask questions about it. But often these money questions where they come from, some event from something that happened at school or something they overheard on the playground or you know, once they can read, all bets are off, right?

Mr. Lieber:   [30:25]

They’re looking at the mail and they’re looking at the newspaper headlines and all the rest of it. So you want to know where it came from because often, you know, some kids are throwing words like rich around on the playground, sometimes they wield it as a weapon and sometimes they, they brag about or they’re talking about all of these crazy words that end with -illion, right? And children have no concept of, of -illion because they can’t take the, can’t count up to an -illion, and so they’re coming to you with these questions, right? And, um, you know, they may be asking how much money you make or how much your house is worth or you know, why this or that person lives in a mansion or whatever it is. But quite often if you gently probe and ask about the origin of the inquiry, what you will find is that these questions, particularly from the younger ones, are some version of the following Mom, Dad, are we, are we okay here? Are we normal? Because if we’re, if we’re not normal, if we don’t have what everybody else has or if we have more than most of the people we know or my cousins, is that because we did something wrong or is it or is it because we did something right and our cousins aren’t working hard enough. So those aren’t necessarily easy questions to answer either, but at least if you ask why do you ask, you will ultimately be answering the right question, which isn’t necessarily the one that they’re asking.

Jen:     [32:02]

Yeah. Okay. And so that sort of gets me to where I’d like to head towards in terms of wrapping up and we’ve talked about the -illions and what it’s like to have -illions, which I don’t know anything about and I didn’t know anything about either, otherwise you would have multiple summer homes. So let’s say I’m out on the street and I’m going to the grocery store and outside our grocery store we often see homeless people and they are usually asking for money or they are selling the newspaper that they sell so that they can get enough money for something to eat and a place to stay and maybe she asks what we can do to help them or she wants to know why they’re on the street selling a newspaper, asking for money. I’ve heard that some children want to take a homeless person home. What do I say?

Mr. Lieber:    [32:51]

I think the answer for a four or six or even an eight year old might be a little different than the answer for the 10 or the 12 of the 16 year old. I think with the younger ones, you really do want to model compassion first and foremost. So that might mean giving money in that context, even if you wouldn’t normally do that because you’re worried that the person is sick or has an addiction issue and might harm themselves with that money or you can get around that in a different way. A family that I profiled in the book where the parents had actually worked in nonprofits for years and knew way more than the average person, the average parent about the homeless issue in the San Francisco Bay Area. She came up with a different solution for her kids about that age. Every year or so, they would go to Costco and they would load up their minivan with all sorts of things that a homeless person might find useful packs of tissue that they could use as toilet paper potentially and protein bars and little mini bottles of water and hand sanitizer, and then they would take all that stuff home.

Mr. Lieber:    [34:03]

They would load it into individual bags, and they wouldn’t have these bags to hand out whenever they were stopped at the stoplight and somebody in the median and ask them for help and they could offer up the back and that was their solution. So right at models, compassion. It gives people you know, things that might be useful for them. It allows children to have a connection in a safe way with a grownup nearby to make a connection with somebody who has less than than they do and feel like they’ve done at least a little bit to help.

Jen:    [34:37]

And in terms of giving money or not giving money than your advice then is to give money even even if we wouldn’t normally, because that is the kind of behavior that we want to model for our children.

Mr. Lieber: [34:51]

I think that’s right. Or you know, another possibility, right? As a small denomination gift card that’s easily usable in a place that sells food. So you could give out a McDonald’s gift card or whatever, the most kind of ubiquitous, not so expensive place is to eat in your area. And that way you can be reasonably sure that the thing that you hand out will get used on food as opposed to something that might be harmful to the person. And I understand there’s danger here that people might see this as using less fortunate people merely as a way to teach a lesson to our kids and model compassion. Even if giving them something or anything or might cause harm in certain circumstances, and I don’t mean to elevate, educating our kids above doing something more or larger to solve this kind of systemic problem. By all means, the older kid should get involved in policy and advocacy and you know, you as a family if this is a cause that moves you or is a particular problem in your area you should devote some of your annual family giving to local shelters and food banks, but this is a very kind of acute and specific issue where you encounter people out in public and you want to find a way to do the right thing. And I think modeling compassion and this way you have to start with a the compassion.

Jen:   [36:21]

Yeah. Okay. And then kind of lead from there and have conversations with your children from there about what it means to not have enough money in and what they might want to do about it maybe.

Mr. Lieber:   [36:31]

Right? Yeah. I mean, you can take it from there. You know, the thing about these money questions, right? Whether it’s, are we rich or why did you choose to be a teacher or a writer or a psychologist when you could’ve been a venture capitalist or these questions about homeless people there, they’re a starting point, right? You know, you answer them in the moment as best as you can, but you’ve come back to them again and again whenever the issue presents itself. What we’re trying to do here is start conversations that last for years that, that allow us to imprint all of the values that we hold dear. So that spending, that saving, that giving these conversations ultimately it leads to, you know, hopefully rituals even that help our kids become more modest and thrifty and patient and generous and have perspective on their place in the world. And curiosity about how it came to pass.

Jen:    [37:34]

What a lovely way to finish. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us and helping us to think through some of these really thorny questions.

Mr. Lieber:   [37:40]

It is my pleasure.

Jen:     [37:41]

Great. And listeners who are interested in the articles and books that run as mentioned today, can find those references at YourParentingMojo.com/money. And don’t forget that Ron’s book The Opposite of Spoiled can also be found at your local bookstore.


Also published on Medium.

About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

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