Happy Accident in Parenting…

I once had an art teacher, Ms. Sylvestri, who would say, “You had a happy accident” whenever I painted something which had an unplanned, but great result.

My father once said that the military is a great option for a kid coming out of high school because it gives them a little bit of responsibility (use this dangerous gun or fix this jet engine) and the discipline to be successful at it. He said that most rise to the occasion when they understand the importance of what they are doing. The military just gives them that opportunity.

So, let me funnel those two ideas into what happened last Friday. I promise it will come together.

I have been telling the kids, when they are 10 years old, we would let them open up a savings account. My oldest turned 10 about two months ago, but because of transitioning banks because of the move to Alabama, we are only just now getting to do this. I told him I would give him $50 to get started, and he could put his birthday money and whatever else he had in his Nashville souvenir money pouch in with it. We grabbed his social security card, and the money he had ($65), and we headed out. At first, he was pretty excited just to get to do something that his younger brothers and sisters are not getting to do, but this lead to one of the most meaningful conversations I have had with him.

I’ve said many times on this blog that I believe one of the biggest problems with parenting these days is we absolutely don’t give our kids any instruction on how to handle money. It’s no wonder when the get out on their own, the rack up a ton of debt and then spend the rest of their lives paying for it (literally).

First, I thought about just writing his social security number on a piece of paper, but the kid had never seen his social security card, so we had a long conversation about what that was, and what it means. He got a big grin on his face when the lady at the bank asked for it, and then asked for mine.

Second, he asked me why they wanted my information too. I told him that if he gets in trouble with money, they would come after me because I was the adult. His eyes got super big. The lady behind the desk just nodded. That’s when I said, “So BE RESPONSIBLE, because if I get in trouble, you get in trouble.” The expression slowly melted into nervous laughter.

As we walked out of the bank, he had his social security card, a bank ledger, a document with his account information on it, and a promotional plastic piggy bank. That lead to the third important topic… identity theft. I told him to be careful with all of those documents and not to leave them sitting around… We immediately had a life lesson in this when my boy sat all of that in the passenger’s seat of my truck with the door unlocked when we stopped for gas. Fortunately, we could see the truck the entire time, but it definitely was a sober moment for him when we got back in. Later he told his brothers and sisters that they couldn’t look at any of his stuff or know what happened, because they might try to take his identity… As far as they are concerned, he might have become a Freemason or joined some other secret society while we were gone.

After we got home, we talked about what we are going to do with the money. Since you have to crawl before you run, Beth and I have talked about a series of goals for the kids, and, since he is the oldest, he gets to be the test monkey…

Goal 1: Raise $1,500 to go on a summer mission trip to a foreign country when you are 13. We thought this would be good because, it’s a big goal, but not out of reach. Also, we want our kids to have the same passion for God and sharing the gospel with those less fortunate. Also, a mission trip will give them other perspectives onĀ money and the world around them. After all, it was on a mission trip that God changed my heart and moved me to adopt the 10-year-old I have today.

Goal 2 is saving up for a car by age 16, and Goal 3 is self-funding your life (gas money, fun-money, etc…) and saving for college/vocational school after. I’ll probably talk about these later, but I wanted to focus on the first for now…

When I told him the first goal ($1500 in three years), that was the second time that day his eyes got super big. Then we talked about it a little bit. That’s $500 a year or $1.37 a day. I told him that whenever he gets money, he needs to give God 10%, he needs to keep some for fun (book fair at school, etc…), and the rest needs to go in the bank. He got a drawer in the desk at home for his piggy bank, and every time he gets $20, he can make a deposit. As an added intensive, the bank told us that they would stamp his ledger every time he makes a deposit, and after 5, he can get a prize. Well, my kids will crawl a thousand miles on busted glass if there’s a smiley-face sticker in it for them, so that was the nail in the coffin.

After a couple of hours, he was excitedly scheming as to how he would get more money. I had to pump his breaks and remind him it was a marathon and not a sprint just before he started selling some of his toys to his brothers. While I love that he is getting passionate about his goal, I don’t want thoughts of “I really only need one kidney…” drifting through his head.

I had in my mind about 25% of what would go down, but the happy accident was, I didn’t plan the ton of adult conversations about discipline, responsibility, goal setting, and how to handle money. I’ve given my kid a little bit of responsibility and a goal, and I’m already seeing him rise to the occasion (There’s the tie-in to the two random statements above – As my youngest daughter says, “Boom, Baby!”).

I don’t know what the opposite of “to add insult to injury” is, but I’m going to give it a shot… To add praise to good health, my other children are now really excited about turning 10 and their rite of passage with getting a bank account… They might be a little disappointed when their’s not a secret induction ceremony at the bank with candles and hooded cloaks, but I’ll wait until they’re 10 for that little heart-breaker.

Funny story: He asked me what he should name his piggy bank, and I shot my mouth off and said “Mr. Bojangles”. I didn’t think he would actually use it. Well… he did. I’ve heard “Let’s put some money in Mr. Bojangles” over and over for three days now, and every time I hear it, it makes me think of that one guy that gets electrocuted in the “Green Mile” who trains a pet rat to do tricks (the rat is affectionately named “Mr. Bojangles” in the movie).

Like I tell most people, I make this parenting stuff up as I go. We blog so we can learn from our mistakes, but this one was a home run. For $50 and an hour and a half, I’ve got my 10 year old more prepared for adulthood than I ever thought possible. If I may end on a corny pun, “Now that’s an investment in the future!” (Yup. The bottom of the barrel. I’m officially out of jokes.)

At the dinnermesa,