When should we start thinking about our children’s independence? Their adulthood? Is there such a thing as “too early”?
Most children stagger through childhood and adolescence and bump their way to independence through a strange system of trial and error. Part of that is imposed by “society”: such rituals as learning to get to secondary school without their parents, or navigating the complexities of smart phones and the inevitable risks those bring.
I say that most children stagger because I’m not at all sure that we adults actually give this much thought. As parents, we often expect that our children will learn how to become adults by going to school – and after all, they are at school for the majority of their lives. Teachers often expect that parents will teach their children manners, how to budget, how to “do life”. The result is that many children just get on with it… for good or ill, and most of them do ok…
My children (and likely yours, if you are here) have additional needs, disabilities, that make “getting on with it” largely impossible. Some of them are blessed with a neurology that means they need to analyse the world around them before acting – this means they need data, information, to learn what is considered appropriate or safe. Others are dealt a tricky hand in that their bodies do not work very well – and our world consists of endless barriers to be overcome, which means interacting with people in ways that no “mainstream” peer would have to do.
So in answer to my first question, I strongly believe that you cannot start thinking about your child’s independence too early. And I’m quite convinced that EVERY child would benefit from adults around them that take to heart their responsibility to prepare that child for adult life.
Let’s take an example: managing money! It’s a huge topic, but I think it’s fair to say that most of us hope that our child will be able to handle their financial affairs independently.
I was never a very organised parent – pocket money was something that came and went, and that I was frankly completely flaky about. But we did talk about the cost of things fairly regularly. And if we went on an outing, I might give them £5 at the start of the day and talk them through the choices they might make. It was a conversation throughout the day. Child A might spend all the money within the first half hour, while Child B took their time to go to each shop, return, think, and eventually make a very considered choice. Child C, typically, would refuse to spend the money and instead choose to put it into their piggy bank…
So while we did not have a system, nor did we ignore money. We tried to make sure that money was not a source of stress at home, while helping them understand the link between employment and the bills being paid.
When the children were about ten years old, we made the decision to open bank accounts including debit cards. I was a little concerned because I had always felt that “real” money was easier to understand. Interestingly, ALL of them found the card easier when combined with a mobile banking app. The complexity of different coins was gone, and it became a simple matter of basic maths. And being able to check on their balance at any time meant that by the time each of them was 12, they could tell you immediately how much money they had. That was the time we introduced the idea that you cannot spend what you do not have, that we spoke about overdrafts and probably the time when we started talking about the fact that in life you can borrow money (with the general message that this is NOT A GOOD IDEA).
All of this was very gently, very slow and part of daily life. At no point did we sit down and have “money lessons”… but we did try to incorporate money management into daily living.
Fast forward a few years and I am now the proud parent of three young adults. One is living independently and has found ways to help her manage money in the complex world of rent, bills and limited income. She uses a budgeting app and is far more savvy about her money than I am!! The others have simpler needs but equally choose to spend the money that they have while being aware of what is coming in and what must go out.
To come back to the question of this post: will my child ever learn to manage money? Maybe yes, maybe no. But unless and until you give them the opportunity, neither of you will ever know. I really encourage you to find ways to allow your child to try – however young or old they are. There is a thrill and a joy to be found in earning a little money, or spending a little money and I challenge you not to delight in your child’s experience of this!
Let me know how you approach money with your child!