Thursday, June 18, 2009

To Buy or Not to Buy

Michelle Slatalla's humorous quest for the proper balance in the struggle between providing support for and encouraging independence in her teenage children really struck a chord with me. The fact that it took the form of a prom dress was just icing on the cake.

Most parents want to give their kids the best foundation possible and this requires a lot of thought about what is in their best long-term interest. Short-term desires must often be left unmet in order for the child to develop properly. In the conflict between buying the expensive one-use prom dress and making the teenager pay for it as she had once done for herself, Slatalla reaches the conclusion that it would be easier to give the child her kidney, which she was prepared to part with when signing up for motherhood.

Taking action she senses would delay the child's self-reliance is a tougher issue.

I think I speak for parents everywhere when I say this is exactly the sort of question that we’d like to see researchers address directly, by conducting some kind of definitive nationwide prom-dress study.

It is tough. You feel the same disappointment that your child feels when she is unable to get the things she wants even though she has worked for them. But what about your dreams?
“Sorry, sweetie,” I said calmly. “I don’t believe in spending this much money on something you’re only going to wear once, especially when I’ve never ridden in a gondola.”

This line made me laugh out loud for its obvious attempt at placing unearned guilt onto the child.

How about getting her the dress in the hope of a return on your investment of social support as suggested by the professor running the Longitudinal Study of Generations?
“This is a dilemma,” Professor Silverstein agreed. “But we did find some evidence, when we turned the clock ahead 30 years, that children who had received more resources provided, in turn, more social support later to older parents.”
I think not.

Hoping that your parental largesse will be rewarded in the future is a fool's bet. Invoking your postponed dreams teaches the child nothing but bitterness. Making your child momentarily happy at the expense of principles is never a good thing. But most importantly, is buying the prom dress really a breach of your principles?

I'm sure that my daughter doesn't think so and will probably make quite a case for it next year.

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