…and I Think that Bodes Well for His Future
Before laying out this potentially controversial argument about the value in my child’s decision not to do homework, let me make an obvious disclaimer: I am not a parenting expert. I love being a mom, and it is my most important work, but my husband and I are just doing our best day by day to raise our boys. I don’t have any authority to speak to parenting tips.
Where I do have professional knowledge and experience, though, is with how adults make decisions with their money and their time. In my work as a financial planner, I see every day how people evaluate their options and allocate their resources. A recent conversation with my ten-year-old made me feel good about his decision-making ability, even though he was debating whether to do his homework.
We were driving home from baseball practice in the evening. He had gone to practice straight from his after-school program, so he hadn’t been home yet. I was thinking out loud about what we needed to do when we got home and asked if he had homework. Here is what he said, more or less:
“Yes, I have to do a math sheet and twenty minutes of reading on the computer. I don’t know, though, I might not do it. It is just a homework grade, which doesn’t count that much. I can probably do the math tomorrow. I will probably still get an A or a B in all my classes.”
I had checked his grades online the previous day and mentioned that his reading grade was low. His response was, “Oh wow. I have never not made the honor roll before. Okay, I will do the reading homework. Not the math, though.”
While I was tempted to assert my parental control and tell him that he was doing his homework no mater what, I also saw some value in his internal debate. Here are two things that make me optimistic about his future decisions.
He is empowered to decide for himself
This is the biggest point (and maybe the one that will make people question my parenting): he feels like it is his decision to make. Not only was he unafraid that I might veto his decision, he doesn’t feel the internal pressure that many others (including myself at times) feel to achieve just for the sake of achieving. He will not be a person who succeeds in a prestigious career only to find that it doesn’t interest him at all. At ten years old he can weigh his desire to play baseball and go to bed against his desire to get a decent grade.
When we work with individuals and families on a financial plan, our objective is to help them make decisions that will lead to happiness and satisfaction. A financial plan is not worth much if it doesn’t help you achieve what is important to you as a unique person. Sometimes when people come to us, they haven’t really given a whole lot of thought to the question of what will make them happy. They are by and large folks who have worked hard and done well in their fields. Sometimes they love their work, and sometimes not. My son’s decision making gives me confidence that he will do what he loves and make it work for him.
He understands trade-offs
My son seems to understand that his choices matter, and he can think ahead to the consequences. He took into consideration his current grades, how much homework factors into his final grade, and what the consequence might be of not doing the assignment. He gets that there are trade-offs: playing baseball means having to do homework at bed time. Going to sleep instead of doing homework means getting a lower grade. Understanding those trade-offs helps him decide what best meets his objectives. Baseball is non-negotiable in his mind, so the decision was between sleep and a school grade. He was able to consider the outcomes and decide what would lead to the greatest happiness for him. It seems like a small thing, but it is a critical skill.
The choices that you have made to this point have led you to where you are (not to ignore other factors outside of your control- but choices do matter). Perhaps you earn a high income and have saved a lot of money. You have made sacrifices to achieve that—you may work long hours and you have probably been disciplined in your spending and saving. On the other hand, you may find yourself with not much saved. Perhaps you chose a career that aligns with your passions but doesn’t pay as much as others. Maybe you have worked reduced hours to spend more time with your children, or you have supported a parent or another family member financially. You might have borrowed money to earn a degree and now are working to pay off your debt. Those are all valid choices. The only measure for the wisdom of those choices is how well they are helping you meet your own objectives.
Choices for the future are an important part of a financial plan. When we create a financial plan with a person or a couple, we start out by talking about everything they would like to do in life. We incorporate every financial goal: retirement age, school or college tuition, future weddings, new homes, vehicles, vacations, etc. Any lifestyle choice with a financial consequence is considered. Then we enter all the quantitative information—current income, savings rates, net worth details. That yields a “likelihood of success,” which tells how likely it is that those financial goals will be met based on the current financial situation and the trajectory.
If a plan’s likelihood of success is below 70%, we start looking at trade-offs to improve the results. Would you rather work five more years, or delay purchasing a vacation home? Would you prefer to reduce the cost of the home renovation in your plan, or forego travel for a couple of years? Are you committed to paying for all your children’s education, even if it means working longer? There may be a sacrifice involved, but your plan can help you choose the path that will lead to your greatest satisfaction.
Given that most of us must make decisions and trade-offs throughout life, I am glad that my son seems to already be equipped to think through them. Understanding that he has choices, that his choices have consequences, and considering future consequences in making a choice today, are skills that will serve him well. When he gets his report card, he will know that his decision to go to bed or to do the assignment led to the grade that he earns. For that reason, I am okay letting him decide whether to do his homework.