Q.I am 33 and happily pregnant, having waited three years to start our family. This gave me time to finish up an advanced degree and to travel and be alone with my husband.
He is a wonderful man and a successful businessman, too, so we live much more comfortably than my family did when I was growing up. While we never lacked necessities or standard comforts, we certainly weren't overindulged, and most of our wishes went unmet. We were raised to be independent and practical, however, so I've accomplished quite a bit in my field and I am still careful with money.
But how will I teach the value of hard work to my own child, who will never want for anything? My husband's two beautiful, sweet daughters from his first marriage spend most of their weekends and holidays with us, and I see that they do little for themselves, get whatever they want and don't work hard for anything.
This almost caused a crisis when my older stepdaughter -- bright, talented and athletic -- was away at boarding school and completed only some of her college applications. In the end, she was accepted to most of the schools she had applied to, but it was hard for me to see her take so much for granted.
It is also hard for me to watch the poor eating habits of my younger stepdaughter, almost 13, and see her routinely waste food.
My husband, one of nine children in a working-class family, is also frustrated by these traits but thinks that it's too late to change ingrained attitudes, that we shouldn't even try and that his girls will eventually work out these problems.
Now I am increasingly worried about my own child, which makes me increasingly critical of my stepdaughters. This, I know, is unhealthy.
How can I deal with these issues?
A.It's almost as challenging to rear a child in the ghetto of the rich as in the ghetto of the poor, for too much can be as bad for a child as too little. Affluent parents who are not used to having money often spend it ostentatiously, but you'll avoid big displays if you can curb the smaller ones.
Birthday parties are a good example. Don't have big, catered parties for your pre-K, with a clown and a pony, too, and don't spend much on the goodie bags, either. Instead invite only as many children as there are candles on the cake -- one guest for every year and one to grow on -- and ask parents to spend no more than $2 for a gift. Since some parents will always spend too much or duplicate the toys she has, you and your child should agree to give these presents to a shelter or a hospital unless it hurts too much to give one of them away.
Follow the same path on other occasions. Don't ask, "What do you want to get for Christmas?" but "What are you going to give?" and always remind your child to look for a book or a knickknack at a yard sale, so she will have a housewarming present to give to Aunt Tilly when she moves to her new condo.
Give your child an allowance, too, starting at 6, but make it small, have it go up by a set amount at the same time every year and see that she donates a tenth of it. This is easier to do if the whole family -- including your stepdaughters -- chooses a charity and tries to set a realistic amount for each of you to give. Your child may have to make and sell cookies to reach her goal or give up some of her allowance, but that's how she'll learn that the joy of giving is sweeter than the joy of getting.
And so it should go, all through school. You set the parameters, and your child must meet them, with fewer and fewer reminders from you. It's the only way she will learn to be accountable for her actions -- or inactions. If she should forget to send in college applications, so what? She can always work in retail for a year. Consequences teach a child more than any rule or any amount of nagging.
Too much money is only one kind of challenge. Children suffer if they get too much freedom or are involved in too many activities or given too much guidance, too much attention or too little structure. They also must have chores to do and skills to learn -- like cooking and sewing -- and they need time to hang out with the family or simply time to think.
A great new book that spells it out well is "How Much Is Enough?" by Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft (Marlowe, $14.95). You'll like it.
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