Adventures in parenting

Sometimes it seems like parenting is a thankless, fruitless job. But sometimes something happens to make you think you just might be making progress after all. Then there are those incredibly rare moments when your kids grow and do something right, and you just happen to make the perfect move to reinforce their growth.

We just saw one of those moments. And yes, I’m bragging here. As I said, these moments are rare. Give me my chance to bask.

We have a child who has been notoriously a non-saver. Usually he would have his allowance spent within a few days of getting it. And he would usually complain about how the things he really wants are just too expensive. No amount of trying to convince him to save his money helped.

But then something changed. He got his heart set on a Lego set that sells for around $100. That’s a lot of money for me, let alone him. But he started saving. Even any birthday or holiday money. He would hit us up for odd jobs we’d be willing to pay him for. And he would follow through and do them! And do them well! His savings continued to build.

When he pulled within $30 of his goal we decided he might just be serious about this. The trouble was these Lego sets don’t stay around forever. It might be several more months before he’d have the money, and it would just be the most terrible experience for him if it went “out of print” while he was making those last few dollars.

About this time his brother saved up enough for a smaller set and asked me to order it for him. I got to thinking. I had recently received a gift card from work as appreciation for my work on a recent project. It would be just enough to cover the more expensive set my son was working so hard to save up for. I decided to go ahead and buy the set to make sure he could get it before it sold out.

(I’m not a total nice guy, mind you. It did occur to me that if I bought that for him and he paid me back in cash then I would have, in essence, converted a gift card that could only be spent online in that one place for cash I could spend anywhere. Besides, even if my son changed his mind and didn’t want the set any more I could probably hang onto it, wait for the price to go up, and resell it. Shrewd, and willing to exploit my children. That’s me!)

So the set came, we hid it away, and we watched as this son continued to work hard. And, sure enough, the price went up. It was all I could do not to tell him what we’d done when he noticed the price increase and nearly got discouraged.

This weekend he got the last of the money he needed. It was one proud young man who forked over more money than he’d ever had in his life for the set he’d been wanting for close to a year. Then came the sweet part. I informed him I’d already ordered it, and for less than he thought he’d need. And, best of all, he wouldn’t even have to wait for it to be delivered–it was downstairs at that very moment.

Better. Than. Christmas.

I don’t think his feet even touched the stairs. When we caught up with him he was on the couch hugging the box to his chest and bursting with excitement. He was over the moon. He immediately set to work building it–and it is a very impressive set, to be sure. Almost 1400 pieces, and took him close to three hours to put together. He was on cloud nine the rest of the day.

We did have to make it clear he couldn’t expect us to pre-order everything he might¬† want to save up for in the future, and he seemed to understand. I also tried to explain that I had been willing to do it this time because he had been learning to save and to work hard, and that I was proud of him. So hopefully we’ve reinforced in his mind that having the discipline to save up for what he wants most has its rewards.

He does seem to have¬†learned that you tend to appreciate more the things you work the hardest to get. He expressed that sentiment to me while he was helping me with one of the jobs that would put him over the top. He’s a fairly astute, self-aware boy, so I imagine he really feels that way and wasn’t just parroting something he’d heard somewhere.

I’m fairly sure the thrill of finally owning the Lego set will fade within a week. But I’m hopeful that the lesson–and the confidence and sense of accomplishment that came with it–will stick with him for a long time to come. My wife and I exchanged high-fives in private.

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