Children’s Needs and Wants
My budget allows me to manage but does not allow for major luxuries. Our apartment is functional, not beautiful; my clothes are from a gemach and so are the baby’s. I can afford tutors for my children, though, and I make sure that my son’s private rebbi is paid properly. I tell my children about needs and wants, and I attend to all of the former and a little of the latter. I teach the older ones to earn their own money for luxuries by babysitting and delivering newsletters. But my children are ashamed of our attitude. For example, “everyone” in my 13-year-old daughter’s class has a digital camera — and she doesn’t. Should I change my philosophy due to my children’s embarrassment? Am I giving them good chinuch or just being stingy?
It is clear that you have your spending priorities straight. The question is whether your children are being impacted negatively by your spending priorities. You say you attend to all of your children’s needs and some of their wants. But how are you determining what their needs and wants are? Often, the barometer of a child’s needs is not what parents consider needs, but what the child’s social environment has established as needs. If most of your child’s peers have a particular item, then your child might have a need for that item as well, even if you don’t consider it necessary. Obviously, you do not have to allow your children to be swept along with every fad. But if a child has a legitimate need, it is preferable to supply it, rather than tell him, “We can’t afford it.” If money is tight, parents may have to use some creativity in finding ways to provide for their children’s needs — for example, sewing clothes, or buying clothes at thrift shops. Children should not have to earn money to pay for things they really need — even if the need is a subjective one. It is, however, legitimate to suggest that older children pay for, or at least chip in for, things they want. In the example of “everyone” in your 13-year-old daughter’s class having a camera, first find out if “everyone” really means everyone. If yes, then it is a need, and you should find a way to get it for her. If “everyone” means 20-30% of the class, however, then it is a want, not a need. In that case, you have to decide if this situation calls for teaching budgetary restraint, allowing her to use her own money, or indulging her.
How, you may ask, can you continue paying your children’s tuition and private Rebbeim if you have to supply your children with cameras and other whims? The answer is that as you become more tuned in to your children’s individual needs, you may discover that some of the things you thought were “needs” were not really needs at all. For example, the child who needs the digital camera may not really need the new school supplies you were planning to buy her.
If your children feel ashamed with the way you are providing for them, that is a warning sign that you might be depriving them of some of their needs. Deprivation is not chinuch; it actually accomplishes the opposite, by teaching children to crave material possessions. Material possessions should not be a focus, neither by their presence nor their absence. The less you turn money and possessions into issues, the more you prepare your children for a life focused on ruchniyus. We at Mesila strongly encourage families to create an atmosphere where money does not take center stage, where words like “expensive” and “afford” are used sparingly and histapkus bemu’at is not talked about, but rather practiced — happily. By fostering an atmosphere of excitement and appreciation for Torah and Yiddishkeit in your home, your children are far less likely to feel deprived, even if their friends have more “things” than they do. As important as it is to supply children’s material needs, it is even more important to provide them with things money cannot buy: attention, love, discipline, and security. Finding the right balance between exercising fiscal restraint and providing adequately for children can be challenging, and the balance shifts as family dynamics change. As in all aspects of parenting, we need to seek guidance and daven for the siyatta diShmaya that will enable us to meet our children’s needs in the best possible way.
The above section was prepared in consultation with expert mechanchim