"Wouldn't it be nice if the walls of the house were plastered with money and you could just peel a note off when you want to buy something?"
In the Life section today, Tan Keng Yao, whose son (7 yrs old) actually asked her that question, learnt a good lesson about parenting. And she wrote cheekily about her experiences with raising a child in a world of endless consumerist appetites in today's article.
She admitted that her husband and her had become her son's de facto unlicensed moneylenders minus the exorbitant interest rates of course. There is actually a background to that admission and it is recounted by Tan in her article.
It all started in earnest with teaching her son good savings habit. But it was not so much for a rainy day. It was to use one's savings to buy toys, more specifically, a fidget spinner, which her son wanted so badly.
Tan thought that this was a good chance for her son to learn about saving, that is, using your own savings to buy what you want. In other words, it was a good lesson on money management at a young age.
To help their son along, they used the scientifically proven method of encouragement called nagging. The nagging however worked and their son finally saved enough to buy what he wanted, a fidget spinner.
But the excitement did not last long after the first purchase. Subsequently, her son came to her craving for a "much better model, a deluxe top-of-the-range super spinner that was gold in colour to boot."
And it costs twice as much as the first older model he had purchased.
So, what do parents do? They indulge of course, and Tan did just that, but with a twist.
She wrote: "I would just top up the amount he needed to buy the top-of-the-range spinner. No harm done. He could just pay me back from his future allowance."
This was where the unlicensed moneylender part comes in.
Tan wrote that they as parents acted like a moneylender for their son, which I suspect is a click-bait to entice the readers to read since the title of her article is this: "My son was in debt and he is only seven." That was how I got hooked to read it this morning anyway.
With a title like that, how can I resist right?
This is also where the family went down the slippery slope on handling money. Her son (around 7-yrs-old mind you) started "imagining all the things he could buy on credit...his desires grew wild,” Tan recalled.
Tan wrote that her son now wanted a tub of radioactive green slime, and she paid for it on credit – so to speak.
Methinks she is acting more like a personal ATM machine for her son than an unlicensed moneylender.
Anyway, her son’s desires grew even more and he asked for "a water gun with a special compartment for ice cubes to shoot cold water."
At this point, Tan lamented: "It takes a lifetime and a half to build a good habit, but it takes just a second to get the hang of a vice."
Here is where Tan and her husband rightfully drew the line. She wrote, with some jargon-filled amusement: "(We) decided the boy had hit his debt limit and we had to stop extending him credit. We also needed to put in place a debt repayment plan."
Lesson? Apart from the cheeky use of adult-analogies to spice up a point, I think Tan is experiencing what all, if not most, indulgent parents are experiencing on a daily, if not, weekly basis.
It is a thing we can't resist when they come to you with that dole-eyed, innocent look of pity, helplessness and smothering gratitude based on the faith that you would eventually give in (or cave in) - which we parents normally do. It is in our spoiling-our-kid-rotten genetic code.
Ultimately, all this is about teaching our children the right values in an increasingly materialistic (and superficial) world they will grow up in.
I recall my 7-yr-old daughter once came to me, after playing in the backyard of her classmate's huge private house, and asked eagerly: "Daddy, why can't we buy a bigger house like my classmate's?"
I told her flatly: "It's way beyond our budget."
She didn't let go. She persisted and said: "But their house has a playground in their house!" Apparently missing the “we can’t afford” undertone.
At this point, my wife didn't help much either when she innocently mused out loud: "It's really big dear."
I squinted at her and knew I had to say something as this is not the first time I was interrogated by my youngest on this.
(Surprisingly, my other two older children never asked me about such materially-challenging questions. Maybe they felt there was no point asking me since their father would make a joke out of it as he always does).
Well, going back to my conversation with Joy, if I recalled it correctly, this is what I told her as I expect any parent would say the same:-
"Darling, is this car space small?" (at that time, we were driving home).
"But are you happy?" I asked.
I smiled (looking at her via the rear-mirror, and catching her smile in return).
I then added: "You are happy darling because we are together, right? We are a family and nothing can take that place, not a big house or a big playground. As long as we are together, we will always be happy." (I don’t know whether that was a desperate logic or not?)
Of course, I am not so naive to think that my brief pat-on-the-back talk with her will make a difference instantly like a wave of a magic wand. Neither am I trying in any way to equate a big house with unhappiness. You can be happy whether in a big or modest house.
But my point is, as every parent can identify with, home (whatever size they come by) is where the family is. Take the family away from a home, and it would gradually become nothing more than a castle with many echoing walls, a vestibule of empty reverberation.
In the end, I sincerely believe that the heart of a home is the warmth of love, and the warmth of love is built up not so much from the depth of one's pocket, but from the deep nurturance of relationships of all who are living under the same roof.
This is the main lesson I wish to impart to my children as an antidote or refuge against a world of endless consumerist appetites.
And I hope that my wife and I as their parents will always lead by example on this.
For the heart of a home does not depend on the size of the house. But it depends on the strength and unity of the hearts beating within it. Cheerz.