This is the second post in my series “Financial Mistakes I’ve Made”. To read the other posts in the series, click here.
From the time I was very young, I knew I could make my dad smile.
Just by climbing up in his lap, or reaching for his hand, or asking for an ice cream cone. His arms were always open, and his hands were always giving. I was daddy’s little girl.
As I got older, the things that made him smile changed. Getting good grades, going to college, having a steady job. When I made bad choices (and I made a lot of those), I knew he was disappointed. This led to feelings of guilt and shame.
I tried not to let his expectations influence me so much, but it was hard. He was my father, and he was a good one. I wanted to be the one to make him smile, and make him proud.
Giving Became The Standard
I don’t think he was ever as proud as he was than on my wedding day. That is, until I had kids.
My kids were his only grandkids, so all of his love and giving were poured into my family. To him, giving was his way of loving, and he gave generously. As his only daughter who received so much of his generosity growing up, this became my standard for my kids as well. Giving to my kids is my way of loving them.
My husband, on the other hand, didn’t grow up this way. Although his parents are well off and do give generously from time to time, they are more focused on giving practical things to their sons. When it comes to their grandkids, it’s an average of $75 a year – $25 check for birthdays, $50 cash for Christmas.
My dad loved to especially give experiences – going on vacations, sharing meals at a restaurant, taking the kids to the movies. Just spending time and having fun together. My husband’s parents don’t specifically spend time with our kids, even though they only live 20 minutes away. It’s just not a priority to them.
When my dad passed away in 2008, the landscape of my life drastically changed. No more Tuesday family dinners at Joey’s Seafood restaurant. No more cruises or road trips to the cabin. No more taking the kids for an ice cream cone, to the movies, or to the zoo.
And no more expectations to meet.
It was freeing in a way, but I also felt that I now had to be in charge of the giving. Giving was the standard and the expectation, and I needed to live up to it. After all, nobody else was going to do it.
Why Meeting My Own Expectations Was A Big Financial Mistake
I had to be the one to make sure my kids got “enough” gifts for birthdays and Christmas. I had to be the one to plan memorable family vacations. I had to make sure I was giving my kids amazing life experiences.
Even if it meant using the credit card.
Because to me, the giving was more important than the usual consequence that came with it: debt.
I knew it wasn’t a priority to anybody else, so I felt alone in upholding this value. Who else would create these memories and make them feel special?
This expectation of mine – that my kids would experience the same generosity I received from my dad – drove me to make some very foolish financial decisions.
Despite looking at the debt we already had, I chose to add to it for the sake of making my kids happy. Instead of making our financial stability a priority, I added to its instability by racking up more debt or using money that should have been put in savings.
The Struggle Is Real
I still struggle with wanting to give my kids experiences that extend beyond my financial reach. I still feel like the weight is on my shoulders alone to make life more fulfilling for them. But I’m doing better at creating healthier boundaries, and “sacrificing” my expectations today in order to have financial freedom later.
It’s tough being a parent who can’t give to my kids like my parents gave to me. But I have to take responsibility for my actions and accept the fact that this is mostly because of the poor financial decisions I made as an adult. It’s time to face reality and rearrange my priorities. Otherwise, I’ll never get to a place where I can freely give without boundaries.
And that’s my main motivation to reach financial freedom. To freely give without boundaries.