We’ve been enjoying having ds17 home for the last two weeks, and during that time he’s shared some perspective on things that he has noted are different between our family mindset and what he sees in the many young men he has been meeting. One comment he made was that our family is goal oriented, and it doesn’t seem to be very common; he said that very few young men he’s spoken to are making concrete plans for the future.
In our home, the topic of thinking about and planning for the future is a frequently visited topic. We have strong family values, so it’s not surprising that marriage and raising a family feature prominently in what our children are expecting/hoping for. One preparatory aspect of marriage that seems to be routinely glossed over is the reality of finances, and the importance of being prepared to support oneself. Not being prepared for this aspect of marriage has placed huge pressures on many young couples, pressures that could have been minimized or avoided by planning ahead for the predictable. (Not only that, it’s put enormous pressures on parents to continue to support their adult children.)
I feel very, very strongly that it’s the responsibility of a parent to give their children concrete guidance in this area. As adults, we understand the reality of financial obligations, we know what has been positive or challenging about the choices we’ve made, and we owe it to our children to actively guide them. And guiding them doesn’t mean cutting out an article about the importance of planning for the future and handing it to your twenty year old to read.
Recently I shared with someone an example of a goal my ds17 has set for himself, and she commented about how impressed she was that he had that clarity at his age to make a plan in that way, particularly since the general mindset of his peers is that they will somehow magically not have to worry about finances when they are married. I told her it didn’t happen by itself – I’ve gone over and over this topic from various angles for the last several years.
I discuss with my teenage children what their values are regarding marriage, working and child raising are; this affects many, many things. For example, what age do they think is ideal to get married at? Why do they believe that? Based on their answers (they are all inclined towards marriage at a fairly young age), we go on to discuss potential challenges. I ask my son to think about how he’ll be prepared to support himself and his family by the time he is married. What will he do? What kind of training/education will be necessary? Will he have work experience by then? I’ve kind of drilled it into him by now that he has no business getting married until he can support a wife – not a popular position in some circles, perhaps, but I truly believe he and his future wife will be much better off than letting him take the short term path of what is easier and feels good.
For my daughters, I encourage them to think about careers that will transfer well to private practice that can be home based if at some point they desire that. At this point, dd15 would like to be a chiropractor, dd14 a psychologist – of course this may change, and it’s fine if it does. This means learning about different careers, the academic requirements and prerequisites, and thinking about how that will work with their personalities and interests, as well as their anticipated goals of marriage and family. Practically speaking, it means that dd14 and I are currently planning a time frame towards her goal – she would like to have her four year degree completed by the time she is 18. I also recently started talking to ds11 about a specific suggestion that I think would be a good option for him, but a big part of this is to warm him up mentally to the idea that we expect him to prepare for a professional career. Since I plan to graduate both dd14 and ds11 at age 16, it’s not as early as it seems to be thinking about this – dd has only two more years for full-time homeschooling so it already affects what dd14 is focusing on this year.
When I see positive or negative examples of financial management, I bring them up for discussion. (I never mention specific names when it comes to negative role models; I only mention scenarios.) When ds17 told me several young men have gotten engaged during the time he’s been at yeshiva, I asked how old they were, and if any of them had completed college or had another career planned. No, none of them. Hmm, I mused out loud, I wonder how they’re planning to support themselves once they’re married? I guess they have parents who will take care of them, or a lot of faith in credit cards. This kind of conversation is common in our home – I don’t belabor the point but I regularly point out observations and discuss the consequences of making certain choices. When I find an article that addresses issues I think will be of interest, whether it’s from a position I agree with or not, I’ll read it out loud at dinner and ask them for their thoughts. (I recently mentioned that I usually stay up late Friday nights talking to my teens – these are topics that we often touch on.)
Some of the messages I’ve shared are:
- anyone old enough to get married is old enough to support themselves;
- there is an easier and more difficult way to do things, and doing things in the right order makes life much, much easier for many years to come – eg, prepare for a career before you have family responsibilities;
- debt quickly becomes a millstone around your neck; don’t spend money you don’t have and don’t rely on credit cards to buy what you can’t afford;
- be willing to think for yourself and do what is right for you no matter what everyone else is doing;
- marriage is something you must be emotionally ready for – it’s not a game, it’s not playing house, and being a certain age doesn’t magically give you the maturity for a healthy and balanced relationship.
It really helps to have a strong sense of commitment to helping my children be prepared as best as I can for the future, since issues come up and it makes a huge difference in working through them to have a compass point to guide me. For example, ds17 would really like to attend a particular type of yeshiva – but the places he most wants to attend aren’t college accredited. I told him that when he’s 21 and has his BA or BS, he can go to whatever yeshiva he wants to pursue the environment that he wants. Don’t think I’m heartless and don’t understand and value his desire for a certain kind of yeshiva. I very, very much understand it and I wish he could find it within the criteria that we’ve set up. But I keep in mind the long term view – what will be more harmful to him later on in life, not being able to support his family (because the yeshivas he wants to go to are against college and working) or having learned for years in a yeshiva that wasn’t as intense as he wanted? If you’re going to be left wanting more, than wanting more spirituality isn’t a bad place to be. And if I’m paying the bill, how I could I in good conscience pay for him to be in an environment that I didn’t believe supports his best interests?
This is really just the tip of the iceberg – it’s a huge discussion since there are so many components to it. I think it’s arrogant and presumptuous to believe that a person can plan for every eventuality, but I do think that parents have more power to actively guide their children than they generally assume.