I’m pretty sure I gasped when she quoted me that figure, and I had to make an effort to close my mouth after my jaw dropped open.
When I mentioned to her that I’d managed to feed a family of six, including four teenage boys - who were varsity athletes - on a budget of $135-$175 per week, she shook her head adamantly and stated that she could never spend that little because her adolescent daughter insists on eating only organic and gluten free products and will touch nothing else.
When I asked if her child had celiac disease, she said she did not, but just “felt it is healthier to eat that way as a top high school athlete”.
I had to practically pick my jaw up off the floor after hearing this.
Yet, it clearly did not even occur to her that she had any other option but to yield to her daughter’s outrageously expensive food demands. I’d even go so far as to say she was proud of her decision to do so – as if it indicated superior parenting somehow.
Once I recovered from the initial shock of hearing about this teenager’s overdeveloped sense of entitlement, it struck me how frequently I hear similar refrains from other parents about children insisting on eating certain foods, or refusing to eat others.
Finickiness about food is definitely a common problem. Just recently, a niece told me that the only fruit her children will eat is strawberries, so she buys them year round, regardless of the exorbitant cost.
It doesn't take much calculating to realize that over time and with multiple children, food "needs" like that can have a significant impact on a family food budget -- even when it's not as huge as a $600 bill at the check-out. That's just perhaps an extreme case amid countless examples of parents caving into their children's demands.
Here’s what I have to say to those parents who find themselves cooking meals or buying groceries to appease one child’s tastes or another’s, particularly if they are spending large amounts of money or time to do so and hurting the family budget in the process.
Just stop it already.
It's time to start acting like an adult and stop trying to appease. You’re doing your child no favors by catering to their wishes – in this case, quite literally. After all, a major part of our job as parents is to set limits for our children, and to raise them to understand that the world does not revolve around them and their every desire.
Saying no to our children is part and parcel of good parenting. It’s a kindness, actually, that helps them develop the resiliency they need to cope with the challenges and frustrations of adult life.
Otherwise, we run the very real risk of raising discontented, spoiled, and high-maintenance brats - much like my colleague's daughter - who are difficult to live with and who often find the transition into full independence and adulthood rocky and unhappy.
This parenting principle applies, whether we are rich or poor. Being able to afford to do something for our children does not in any way mean it’s a good idea to act on it. But it’s even worse if we allow our children to commandeer the family finances with foolish and lavish spending choices that annihilate the household budget.
When it comes to food, children can and will adapt to whatever you persistently present them with, as can be seen by the huge range of ethnic fare that parents serve their families around the world. It follows then, that the notion that children can only digest or learn to like certain types of cuisine is just not borne out by the facts.
So any parent who is allowing their child’s limited taste in food to dictate the family menu is mistaken if they think it’s actually something the child needs. And if they’re permitting the child to avoid entire food groups – such as vegetables – or to dictate the family food budget -- then they’re actually doing the child and their household real harm.
I see similar parental interactions when it comes to children’s activities. Parents will often pay for expensive enrichment activities that they cannot really afford. That includes such things as horseback riding lessons, ice skating and dance lessons, and the competitions to go with them, travel team sports, gymnastics classes, or other expensive extracurriculars that require an often huge monetary commitment.
I’ve even known families make the choice to fund these hobbies instead of the down payment on a home or their retirement funds. To put it bluntly -- that undermines a family’s financial security and shows a serious lack of parental common sense and judgment.
It’s just plain foolish.
Let me be perfectly clear here.
- It’s absolutely possible to provide your children with healthy meals that simultaneously sustain athletic performance and meet budget constraints.
- And it’s also entirely possible to impose financial limits on the expenditures for your children’s hobbies and activities, and to steer them towards options the family can actually afford.
In fact, it’s good, responsible parenting to do so.
Effective parenting often calls for “tough love” decisions that are not at all comfortable for loving parents to impose. But it’s the best way to guide our children to healthy adulthood.
Nobody said parenting would be easy. In fact, it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love. It’s certainly one that’s worth trying to get right.
Don't be afraid to be the adult or the "bad" guy.
In this case, it’s what’s best for our children and what’s best for our own financial well-being as well.