How I Learned To Entertain My Child When Funds are Low
By Chantal Saville
Photo © wdnesday/Twenty20
May 4, 2018
The conversation began like this, and it's probably familiar to you:
“Mom, can we go to Disneyland this year?”
“No, honey. Disneyland isn’t on the table.”
“But whyyyy? Sarah and her family are going!”
Oh, to have a magic wand so that parents could wave it and little kids could understand how the real world works! She was too young to burden with the details of our finances.
Here's how I handled this particular conversation about money:
“Well, because it’s not in the budget for this year. We’ll take a week this summer and go to a cottage up north.”
“Hmph. Can I at least get the mouse ears?”
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This was the conversation I had with my daughter when she was four. Then again when she was five. And once more at age six. By age nine, she stopped asking for things she knew I couldn’t afford as a single parent. She wasn’t too young to have some understanding of the state of our finances.
At first, I was angry that I couldn’t take her to the happiest place on earth. And I did buy her the ears online. That was my solution in the early post-divorce years. If I couldn’t give her what she really wanted (trip to Disney), I would give her stuff (ears… that she wore once).
Fast forward a few years: funds are still relatively low, and her bedroom still looks like a toy store exploded all over it. What’s different is my approach to fun. I came to this totally-obvious-but-it-took-me-a-while style thanks to a lunch. Just her and I, at a big box restaurant. Her iPod was out of charge and she’s a little beyond crayons and colouring pages, so there we were…
By age nine, she stopped asking for things she knew I couldn’t afford as a single parent.
I thought about what I could do to distract her a little until the food arrived, and since she is partial to adventure movies, I told her the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. It's the story where mutineer Fletcher Christian and eight others from HMS Bounty settled for a new life on Pitcairn Island. She sat in rapt attention for 15 minutes as I told the tale of rebellion and piracy, love and desperation. After lunch, she declared it to be the best lunch she’d ever had and not because of the french fries!
I realized that I didn’t need to spend a lot of money figuring out ways to have fun with my daughter: I just needed to inject a little thought into our adventures.
The solution to finding your parenting stride when funds are low isn’t about standing in line with 500 other people when a particular store is giving away free ice cream for one day only. It isn’t about freebies and coupons and scrimping and saving. It’s about discovering the little pleasures and making them into an adventure.
Playing the tourist right in our own backyard is one way we like to spend a day out, discovering little corners of the city we didn’t even know existed. We have visited markets and picked out something to eat that neither of us have ever tried — one attempt was kale and it was NOT a hit!
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We’ve hiked through a local park, pretending we were in Jumanji and on the search for the missing piece of the map. We’ve spent hours on the beach looking for the perfect stones to finish the fairy house in the backyard. We have had movie night right in the living room, complete with cushions, blankets, popcorn and M&Ms. All inexpensive experiences but the memories are priceless.
Throughout all of these adventures, we talk. Well, she talks and I do a lot of listening. Who knew nine-year-olds had so much to say? For me, it’s about spending time together and enjoying the moments, and keeping the lines of communication wide open. After all, these years are fleeting and no amount of mouse ears will bring them back when they’re gone.