Today I’ll start with the tale of my son. For more than two years he’s been asking for a Leon Paul mask; this shiny-all-american-flag-champion-like mask. He started asking me about it when he was just seven and a half. Yes, a first grader dreamed about a mask that costs almost three hundred bucks! Does he want it because it’s the finest in fencing gear? No. Does he want it because it will help him to be a better fencer? Nope. Comfort? Uh uh. He wants it because it looks cool, because the champion fencers wear them, and because it’s different than the other fencing masks he’s seen. The biggest reason is this last one – because it’s different. (A note that in this particular case it had nothing to do with peer pressure as none of his friends have these masks).
My first tactic was to try to show him that champion fencers don’t need fancy equipment. I told him that Michael Johnson won four Olympic games medals and eight world championships not because of his famous golden shoes, but the opposite – he got them after he mastered his running style and became a well known runner. My son was silent.
My second tactic was to talk sense to him. I tried to explain him that because we can afford this “golden mask” does not mean we should buy it. He did not say a word.
The third tactic was trying to talk about him in terms of his age. I tried to hint that this kind of fancy mask would probably look odd and unflattering on 7 years old beginner fencer. He frowned quietly.
Ok, time to bring in the big guns. My fourth and final tactic was to show him the absurdity of the amount of money. I invited him to save his own money and get this golden mask. That was the ticket – he smiled.
It took him . . TWO YEARS to get the money. He began saving starting the very moment that I gave him permission, birthdays and whenever he got a nickel for anything. He came holding his breath, not letting a bit of air in or out in front of the Leon Paul stand at Summer Nationals (again, after TWO YEARS of saving.) A nice lady held his dream in her palms: “Here you go, this is our smallest size!” Now it was time for him to take a deep breath and and put it on.OMG! It was totally big for him. Yes, the smallest Leon Paul mask was too big for 9 year old boy. It was a disaster. Another mom saw his tears dripping quietly on the cheeks and sincerely asked me if I would agree to take a little donation to help him to have this mask – she thought he didn’t have enough money to complete the purchase.
And now for the grand finale to the story. Following the Leon Paul fiasco, my boy went to the Absolute Fencing Gear stand and purchased THEIR American flag mask. They had to order a special XS size from China and they told us that we’d have to wait for 4.5 months, then because AFG forgot to put it in the mail from China we ended up having to wait a whole another month and they put it on a personal flight straight from China. After ALL of this waiting . . . his head had grown. The mask was too small.
The dream that he had held for two years was destroyed and I was nothing but angry at myself that I let it all happen! I did not do my job good as a mom, and I didn’t convey my son that this was not the right dream! I thought that I’d done the right thing by making him wait, but I was admittedly so wrong.
After this intense experience with my son, I found myself asking:
What to do when your young fencer asks you to spend a small fortune on fancy fencing gear?
Honestly, for me it’s the same problem that I deal with when my kids ask for expensive clothes. Here are the deep parental beliefs that I’ve come to as a parent:
Family values first
Is it not in your value system to purchase overpriced, brand driven pieces? Then don’t hesitate to explain this to your children. It’s not in our values to find happiness by having the best brands and biggest names or tags. If it’s not in my family values and priorities, then I am not buying this. We do not believe in purchasing vs. parenting! I am so happy that my kids agree with me in this belief! But kids are not going to come to this on their own, it’s something you have to teach them.
Love is never measured in material stuff
We love our kids unconditionally, forever and ever, without any doubt. But I explain to my kids that my love will never be shown in material stuff like expensive toys, clothes or fencing equipment. They have tried a couple of times to tell me about “that kid in their class that has EVERYTHING she wants,” but they also agreed with me that this is not the biggest sign of love on Earth. We have so many other priceless ways to show our love and support each other in our family without the pricey gifts and items. Love is in our eyes and actions, not in big bucks.
The family budget is not a chain of chaotic purchases
Do we always buy ALL we see or ALL we want? Of course not! We make our choices, we manage our needs, we think about other family members and their needs. We plan what to buy, we do not spontaneously purchases all of the time when you have a family. I explain to my kids that having four brothers and sisters in one family is a blessing, and we must to think about needs of everyone. To buy 4 Leon Paul masks ? OK, kids, then we need reconsider that family vacation, right? Involving your kids in your thoughts about family budget and needs will help them further in life.
Extra stuff needs extra effort to save
Try to encourage your children to participate in the expensive purchases that they expect you to make for them. I offered for my son to save his birthday money for his dream piece of equipment, suddenly his plan to spend was different. He became very consciousness about spending for unnecessary toys or goods, counting those dollars towards his big idea. This is a fantastic opportunity to teach your children about how saving and spending works. Remember that this kind of knowledge has to be taught, it’s not something that your child will learn without practice. Adults have to learn fiscal discipline in order to make those big purchases like a home or a vacation, and learning this skill as a child will carry on into adulthood!
To spend money we need to earn money
Money doesn’t come from the sky (if only it did!) Once I told the kids to organize a toy garage sale, letting them keep their earnings. They stood out there in summer heat the whole day and they earned $17, and remember that needed to be divided by four. Suddenly I felt that they started to think more wisely about how to spend their money, now that it was hard earned. While I don’t make them work for every dollar that’s spent on them, this kind of exercise is great for giving them perspective. A references point for the hard work that it takes to earn is essential.
Be careful with their feelings and show respect
Understand WHY your child wants whatever it is. Maybe she wants a better brand of glasses because kids make fun of her at school for her big ol’ frames. That’s a serious difference from the golden shoes or the Leon Paul mask. Show respect for your child’s feelings, and keep in mind that just because it seems insignificant to you from your adult perspective, doesn’t mean that it’s not significant to your child. Just like the things that seem really significant to you might not seem to be a big deal to your child!
Know how to say NO – communication
Explaining something with caring and understanding is very different than just saying no! You don’t sound like a parent who is invested in your child’s future and who cares deeply for them if you flatly tell them no without a reason. Think about how you’d feel if you asked your someone for something that seemed reasonable and doable to you only to be shut down without and explanation. The key to this whole process is having open communication, which can actually bring you and your child closer together instead of driving you apart. Talk, explain, listen to their emotions and explain yours. Oh, and give it time. Realize that most of the time there isn’t a rush on these things, and allowing your communication to cool over will make things a lot easier for everyone, and will keep you from communicating harshly.
Look for a compromised or creative solution
Look for sales, scour the internet for discounts, look for a used version of that coveted item. Offer to split the expense in half, or ask around in the family to see if someone has something that will fulfill that need. Remember the idea is to teach them the value of material possessions and to help them learn life skills. If a holiday or birthday is coming up, then maybe the item is something to ask the grandparents for. You could also offer to cut out other things that could save the family money, or to have your child clip coupons and give them any money that’s saved out of the budget because of them. Ask them for ideas!
The final message
Don’t be overwhelmed when your kids come and ask for unnecessary or (from your perspective) overly pricey items. This is our opportunity as parents to understand our kids more deeply, to show how much we care, to help them have strong values and skills in life. Most importantly, it’s a chance to tell them that love and family exist beyond all disagreements, and beyond all material goods!
PS The nice part of my Leon Paul mask story is that my younger son jumped up right to the sky and screamed so happily that everyone in the whole town could hear that HE got his big brother’s American flag mask. I love happy endings 🙂