Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care


More Than a Means to an End

For a long time, I’ve debated whether or not to begin my Master’s degree. Many factors have caused me to put it off:  work obligations, health issues, finances. Perhaps the biggest concern has been how it would affect my time with my family and my children in particular.

What better way to inspire your children to finish their homework than giving them the opportunity to watch you finish yours?

Photo courtesy of César Astudillo.

Growing up as an African American girl in a poverty stricken community, I got the message that education was the key out of poverty loud and clear. As a result, despite my tendency to meow and bark instead of talk when I was five, I heeded my mother’s pleas and  kept that under wraps long enough to ace the Kindergarten readiness exam at a Magnet school. When the teacher congratulated me on passing with flying colors, my response was a coy, “Meow.”

Soon after entering first grade at a bilingual school, my beloved animal sounds were replaced with a love of learning that served me well. While my peers “got into trouble” with boys, I devoured books. And I was that weird child who lit up at the teacher’s command to “Take out a clean sheet of paper.” I wrote instead of running the streets. Though I still viewed education as a vehicle to transport me to a better life, I relished the blossoming feeling I got whenever I learned something new. Or when something finally clicked. It was as if my mind was full of intelligence seeds thirsting to be watered and bloom.

Now I love watching this happen with my children. Last night when my son struggled through several math packets that he’d “lost” because he didn’t think he could do them, the shift inside him when he finally got it was almost tangible. Feeling smart, he opened up and proceeded to share facts he’s learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his class’s study of Black History. Then there’s Liv with her ability to latch onto new words and then use them in the right context. During American Idol, when her 15-year-old step brother asked why one of the contestants was so small, recalling the explanation she’d heard last week she told him, “He has cystic fibrosis.” What a memory. What a mind.

These glimpses into the potential that lies within my children cause me to suspect that though they buck at doing their homework at times, they’ve inherited my love of learning. So what better way to encourage that than for them to see me doing homework? Or better yet, us sitting down and doing all of ours at the same time? I guess that’s the answer to how pursuing my Master’s would affect our time together.

Even with the above benefit and the many others (advancing my career, increased earning potential, the sense of accomplishment and best of all fulfilling a lifelong dream), I won’t kid myself and pretend that I’m not still a little anxious about embarking on such a huge endeavor while parenting two young children who need tons of support in getting their own school work done. But then little in life worth having comes without some struggle.

As we celebrate Black History month and I reflect on the struggles of the ancestors who have gone before me, like my great Aunt Birdie who had to leave school in the eighth grade to work on the farm, I’m immensely thankful for the opportunity, for the privilege, to not only further my education but to live out the fact that, for me, for us, education is more than a means to an end.

Financial Health for Kids

Some recent financial troubles in my home made me realize that I wanted to teach my children how to live life well by giving them the gift of financial health. By managing my own finances wisely, I could pass this valuable lesson on to my children. I needed to get my own affairs in order, first! After attending a financial health class, I remember painstakingly cutting up all of my credit cards and creating a list of debts to hang on the refrigerator. As I paid off each debt, I crossed it off. It was a visual for the entire family to see, and a very powerful tool.

I needed to do more than model for my children, though. There’s a Native American saying I used as a guide: “Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.”

By having my children work and get paid, I am involving them and teaching them about the value of saving and spending wisely. Our kids are now required to put 50% of any money they get from gifts, chores or other things into their own savings account. There was a lot of groaning at our house, at first, but in July I started to match what my children are putting into their accounts and they are excited to see their balances grow. Children of all ages can benefit from these kinds of activities!

Give 3-to-6 year-olds small, manageable chores. Instruct children to return their toys to a designated basket at cleanup time. At this age, pay them immediately. This provides instant positive reinforcement and young children are more willing to do the chore the next time. Small children learn to save and spend money with visual aids. Using a clear container for their money allows them to see savings go up as money goes in, and when spending their money, they see their money go down.

For 7-to-12-year-olds, a chore list with an assigned dollar value to the specific chores works well. At this age, pay day should be once a week when the work is completed. Older kids can also be given two envelopes to divide money earned between spending and saving.  Spending at this age fosters problem-solving skills because they learn to spend their earned money differently than money just given to them.

Which isn’t to say that some chores aren’t completed without pay! My kids are part of our family and expected to contribute, but I take advantage of the many teachable moments that are offered by compensating my children for performing some tasks around the house. And they’ve learned! When I use my debit card to pay for something instead of cash, my kids bust me every time. I can always rely on my children to be my financial compass, and I do the same thing for them. When they want to go out for dinner or buy something we can’t afford, like a new cell phone, we always look at their savings and our family budget. When the money’s not there, I love to blame it on the budget.

And when they ask me to put some more money in the budget? I tell them to head out back and shake the money trees in the yard! We were living paycheck to paycheck, but now we have a plan and we regularly see the results of our efforts as a family.

– Diann

Photo courtesy of Carissa Rogers.