Thursday, September 15, 2011

“Family Economy”

Of course it’s not only parents who set up an elaborate “family economy” who can teach the lessons of restraint and more careful handling of money. Any parent who learns to say “no” begins to teach these things.

One of our cute friends, now a mother of four, tells the story of her best “wake up call” on ownership: When she was in her first year of college, she was there on a scholarship and was busy in several organizations including a sorority. Because of her heavy work load, her dad had promised to send her a certain amount of money to live on every month.

One month she found that because she had “bought a couple of extras” she was entirely out of money with one week left to go before more money arrived. She called her mom and asked if she thought her dad would send the money for the next month a little early that month since she was entirely broke and without food. Her mother said that she thought he would and that she’d have him call her back.

Very shortly her very loving dad called her back and reminded her that they had decided together on a certain amount of money that would be sent every month and that no way was he going to send more until the next month started. She would just have to figure it out! Horrified, she started going through the cupboards of sorority house to see if she could find some canned goods to keep her alive for the coming week while praying that some guy would ask her out on a dinner date that weekend. “That was one of the best learning experiences of my life!” she told us. “I learned a lot of lessons about money, budgeting, limits and especially ownership that week that I will never forget!”

And lest we begin thinking that giving kids ownership as an antidote to entitlement is only important for affluent or upper middle class kids or just for kids in “rich” western countries, here is another story:

The year before we wrote this book, we spent some time in a rural and very poverty-stricken part of Southern India at a humanitarian project called Rising Star Outreach with our youngest daughter and a our newly married son and daughter in law who had embarked on a nine-month “humanitarian honeymoon”. Before we got to the project, our married couple joined us in Mumbai (Bombay) where we were giving an impassioned speech about the importance of giving kids ownership at a meeting that included some of the wealthiest families of India. Then just two days later as we arrived at the humanitarian project, we found ourselves amidst a startling change of venue with the poorest of the poor of India…families affected with leprosy!

This project was started by a wonderful woman who, on a visit to India several years ago, had discovered that children of families who had been affected with leprosy, whether it was a parent or grandparent, were “untouchables” and their children were not allowed to go to school and therefore destined to a life of begging on the streets. With her wonderful “this is just wrong” mentality, Becky went home and started raising funds from wealthy friends and donors to build a school in Southern India exclusively for children whose families had been affected by leprosy.

What we found at the project was amazing! Bright happy faces of almost 200 children greeted us at their beautiful new school, which included a computer lab to die for! Suddenly parents of “normal” kids in the surrounding villages wanted their children to go to “the leprosy school.”

Our schedule only allowed us to stay for a week, but our newly married kids and our youngest daughter stayed on, and soon began to realize that the biggest problem that the leprosy-affected children were having was—believe it or not—entitlement. Good hearted donors had rallied around them to provide beautiful uniforms, had given them all they needed for school…paper, pencils, pens and prized possessions such as toys, games and new shoes for everyone sent by loving benefactors from America.

The kids didn’t have to work for anything. In trying to figure out how to cope with this problem, our kids came up with the idea of a “Star Store” where kids could buy things with “stars” they had earned by doing their chores, brushing their teeth, helping with the younger children and doing their homework. With the dedicated effort of the house-parents, counselors and teachers, the effects of those kids feeling ownership of their things was quite remarkable. The children brushed their teeth with brushes they had “bought” from the star store, and did homework with their “own” pencils without being asked or reminded. And suddenly they were much more appreciative of any help they got from volunteers. Again we were reminded that ownership works at any economic and social level.

Recently in Florida a woman who was in charge of all the foster care in her county came up after our speech and said that a light had gone off in her head during our presentation as she realized that the biggest problem with foster children, especially those who drift from household to household is that they feel no ownership!

She said she had decided to write up our family economy system for giving kids ownership and get it to all her foster parents so that they could begin to spring the entitlement trap that is gripping the foster care kids.

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