Q.We live under our means, in a normal-size home and without any showy possessions, but we are surrounded by jaw-dropping consumption.
The contrast is beginning to bother our 6-year-old son. The other day he asked me why his friends get $20 from the tooth fairy and he gets only $2. We are worried that he will want to live as they do. He already has asked for a bigger allowance, lavish birthday parties and a special playroom like the ones his friends have. I feel like we're holding back a tidal wave of peer pressure.
My husband and I grew up in large middle-class families where the basic needs were met but there were few frills, little waste and plenty of hard work. Everyone we knew lived the same way.
We also learned basic lessons: Don't buy on credit; save for a rainy day; help the less fortunate. This upbringing has made me spend conservatively, save diligently and appreciate the comfortable lifestyle we have today.
We want to raise our son with the same values, but they are uncommon in our neighborhood, where most of the homes cost more than a million dollars and bigger houses are being built all the time. We like nice things, too, and we buy some expensive clothes and furnishings, but we don't buy many, nor do we drive a Mercedes, a Lexus or an SUV -- what the teenagers drive around here.
We don't want to change our values, but we don't want our kid to feel like an oddball, either. Although the schools in our neighborhood are very good and the location is great for commuting, we wonder if we should move.
A.Judge your neighbors by their character, not by the size of their homes.
Big allowances, lavish birthday parties, special playrooms and super-big houses tell you that the owners probably have more money than you do and that they're not as frugal as you are, but you may find that they cook and dig in the garden with their children just as often as you do, talk with them as freely and read to them every night.
Or you may find that some of these parents stay in one wing of their super-big house while their child plays by himself, way off in a wing of his own. In that unfortunate case, he is essentially growing up alone and untended, but this can happen to a child who lives in a normal-size house, too, if he has a TV, a computer and a few video games in his room. Even the most diligent parent doesn't walk in and out of it to see what show her child is watching, what Internet site he has found and if he's still playing that video game.
So much uncensored screen time may lead to a certain loss of innocence, but mostly this child will lose the sense of unity and satisfaction that comes from being in a family.
A neighborhood should also provide you with a sense of unity and satisfaction, and if it doesn't, you might decide to move. Don't judge your community too harshly, though. There are some things that are right with almost any neighborhood and some things that are wrong with the best of them -- like those super-big houses. The wealth of their owners -- and the way they throw money around -- may make your son feel sorry for himself, unless you help him understand that you and his dad save some of the money, give some to people who don't have enough and use the rest to pay for whatever the family needs.
This may inspire him to tell you again that he needs a bigger allowance, and if he does you should ask him why he needs it, consider what he says and unless his reason is very good, tell him that he'll get an increase on his birthday, every birthday -- but not in between (because that's the family tradition) and never as much as his richer friends get (because he has to live within the family budget). Children want -- and deserve -- explanations when their parents say no.
If it makes you feel guilty to deny your child, read "How Much Is Enough?" by Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehoft (Marlowe, $14.95). It tells you what happens to the child who is either spoiled regularly or indulged often, which should quickly stop you from doing either.
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