Providing financially has been a key aspect of fathering through the ages. Until about half a century ago, almost all that was expected of a father was to protect and provide for his family. Today, most men realize that the cultural perceptions are changing: a good father also communicates with his children, expresses love for them, and is involved in many aspects of their lives.
This is progress, but we must not lay aside the importance of financial provision as a key part of effective fathering.
A committed father is compelled to contribute to his children’s well being—whether he’s a non-custodial father faithfully paying child support, a working father in a more traditional situation, or an at-home dad who takes care of his children while his wife earns the family salary. Financial issues bring meaningful opportunities to the fathering role; our task is to make the most of those opportunities.
Finding a Balance
We want to be good providers, but not be consumed by the pursuit of income or a workaholic lifestyle. If a dad is convinced that providing for his family is important, he might throw himself into his work at the expense of time at home. Before long, his relationships with his children start to wither away.
Our research shows that the most effective fathers don’t necessarily have the highest income. The level of income is not as important as a steady income that meets the family’s needs. An “A+” provider can have a “C” income. In this case, “average” is sufficient.
When a dad adopts this perspective, he is free to make career decisions based not on his neighbor’s lifestyle or his company’s standards, but on his life goals, his family’s needs and his children’s future. He’ll probably feel less tension between home and work responsibilities, and he’ll be free to turn down opportunities that promise more money but also demand more overtime.
Too many dads are waiting to meet certain financial goals, then they’ll spend more time at home. But often, when they reach their goals, they have established patterns at work and at home that are very difficult to change. And while they’ve been off working long hours or cutting big deals, their relationships with their kids have withered away. When they do decide to focus more on their families, there is often a shocking and sad recognition of what they have missed—and can never recover.
If you’re seeking “the good life” by pursuing wealth, you’re on shaky ground. No matter how much money you have, the best life comes from well-connected relationships. Providing well for your family means bringing home a paycheck, and it means bringing home a lively, caring, engaged father.
Planning for the Future
Wise financial management is all about anticipating and preparing for the future. So is wise fathering. Finances impact fathering in two important areas:
1. Handling the costs of today and tomorrow. Children bring many expenses to the family budget, and as they grow, so do the costs. The everyday expenses are easy to remember, though not always easy to pay. Many of them are ever-present: we’re very aware of how much we spend on diapers, clothes, food, summer camp, oboe lessons, child care, doctor’s bills, more clothes, and so on. But in our efforts to keep up with the everyday expenses, it’s easy to neglect important long-term goals. Or worse, in our consumer-driven culture, many of us go into debt because we want to increase our standard of living now, and in the process we’re mortgaging our future and our children’s future.
We can’t predict the future, but we can anticipate that certain expenses will come along at particular stages in our children’s lives. And we can anticipate that providing will only get more costly as our children grow. They’ll eat more food, wear out or outgrow more clothes, be involved in more activities, and need more equipment, health care and transportation. We need to plan wisely if we’re going to keep up.
That’s also true when it comes to our children’s economic future. An effective father knows what his child’s plans and dreams are and provides steady affirmation of those plans and dreams. Eventually, he may help provide the necessary education to support those dreams.
There are few gifts that are better for a father to give than an opportunity for a good education. Each family should agree on the approach that works best. Some parents, by plan or by necessity, require their kids to pay some or all of their college expenses; others save so they can foot the entire bill. Whatever your family decides, start preparing now. Use time and interest to your advantage.
Finally, preparing for the future should include life insurance, a valuable tool that provides for your family in the event of your death. Before you had children maybe you had an argument for not needing it, but as inexpensive as many policies are, there are no good excuses for leaving your family unprotected.
2. Teaching kids to handle money. We can never start too early. We need to talk with our children about money and model the right attitude about it.
One approach you might consider is sharing some financial matters with the entire family. What better way to teach your children than to let them watch you make decisions? You might even try turning a month’s wages into cash, so your kids can see how it’s divided among the various expenses. They’ll get a better understanding of your family’s limited resources and just how much it costs to run the air conditioner, feed the family, buy school clothes, etc.
Have a clear vision of what attitudes you want to teach and model for your children. Some good ideas might be: hard work, being content with what you have, delaying gratification, planning for the future, and practicing patience and perseverance.
Keep in mind that it’s important for your children to have money to manage. There are so many important life skills and lessons related to finances, and the goal is to let your kids learn a lot about money at a young age with small amounts, knowing that those lessons will continue to be valuable later in life, when the costs and the stakes are much higher.
How will they get that money, and how will they manage it? Here are five principles that you will probably want your children to learn:
1. Earn diligently. Earning money gives your child a sense of worth. Young children need to know they can make a valuable contribution and they have marketable talents, even if the current market is only in your kitchen or backyard.
This brings up a question that every father or couple will need to answer: Should your children earn all the money they get, or should you give them an allowance that isn’t tied to chores or other jobs around the house? Or some combination of the two?
Of course, the “earn what you get” approach has merits for many. Other parents provide an allowance so their kids can start learning those important life lessons, and they build in the expectation that their kids will carry part of the family workload without pay–and they’re free to earn additional income by other means. Use the approach that matches best with your values and priorities, or perhaps what makes sense because of your childhood experiences.
2. Save consistently—even if it’s just a little bit each month. Kids will marvel at how their accounts grow as a result of their modest but consistent savings plan. If your child learns to save something each time he gets some money, he has learned a valuable lesson that many in this generation have lost.
3. Give cheerfully. Early in life, children should learn the satisfaction of helping others.
4. Spend wisely. Whether they are spending money they have earned or spending an allowance, there are important lessons to be learned. It’s amazing how fast kids learn the difference between a wise investment and a waste of money when they’re spending their own dollars—especially when parents don’t bail them out of unwise decisions.
5. Receive graciously. Our joy in giving is multiplied because we know the pleasure of receiving. For some of us, receiving is uncomfortable because we don’t like to show any need or weakness. But our children need to learn that using the phrase “thank you” demonstrates strength, not weakness.
Being a Dad … Priceless
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a middle-income married couple whose child is born in 2015 will spend $284,570 (with inflation) to raise that child to age 18. That’s over $15,000 per year, $304 per week, or $43 a day.
What did we get ourselves into? A financial advisor might look at those figures and say, “Don’t have children if you want to be rich.” Actually, it’s just the opposite.
How can you put a price tag on feeling a child move inside its mother; hearing your new baby let out that first, glorious wail; or hearing “Da-da” for the first time?
What do you get for your $284 grand? How about a sticky hand to hold; a partner for blowing bubbles, flying kites, building sand castles, and skipping down the sidewalk; someone to laugh yourself silly with, no matter what else may have happened that day; and glimpses of God on a daily basis.
You invest all those thousands, and you never have to grow up—you get to finger paint, watch cartoons, play hide-and-seek, and catch lightning bugs. You’re a hero for retrieving a Frisbee off the roof, fixing a bicycle, or removing a sliver. You get a front-row seat for the historic first step, first word, first day at school, and first time behind the wheel. You get an education in psychology, nursing, criminal justice, and communications that no college can match.
You have the power to heal boo-boos with your kisses, scare away monsters under the bed, patch a broken heart, and love your children without limits. And, if you’re so blessed, one day they will return your love without counting the cost.
What do you think, dad, are kids worth all that cash? If we adapt the old credit card ads for fatherhood: being a dad might be costly, but the experiences are priceless.
What insights would you add? What’s your #1 tip for providing for your family and maintaining the right perspective on money? Please leave a comment and encourage other dads on our Facebook page.