My oldest son turned 14 this week, and that means there is so much waiting on the wings for him: important milestones and a huge helping of “this is a taste of what it’s going to be like when you are an adult, kid” is so close I can smell it.
I want to feed this reality to him in bite-size pieces. I want him to fly without spoiling him. I want to help him without hovering. I want him to look back at his teen years feeling empowered and think, I am glad my parents taught me those lessons and made me pay some of my own way.
His father and I don’t believe in handouts (probably because we never got any), but we don’t want to be assholes either. We want to support him, but we also want him to know the value of hard work and appreciating your possessions. Is there such thing as balancing all of that when you are a parent? We certainly try, don’t we?
Next year, he will start driver’s education. It’s not only a huge wake-up call that I will soon have to spend lots of time in the car with him as I weep tears of happiness because I can’t believe my baby is going to be able to drive me to Target after I’ve had a few drinks, but things are going to get expensive up in here.
And he can totally have a car of his own. We want him to have a car of his own. We are excited for him.
But he’s going to have to buy that car for himself.
It’s not because I am mean and want to ruin his life. And I’m all for giving my kids the responsibility that comes with owning a car, driving, and keeping up with repairs. I believe it is an important time in their lives, and I want them to learn how to value such things now before sending them off into the world after they graduate. That is less likely to happen if I am the one slapping down the greenbacks.
I don’t think he will realize what a huge responsibility it is to own a vehicle, and how much hard work goes into being able to afford one, and in turn, he won’t appreciate it as much. He has a part-time job he loves, and I’ve already told him it’s time to start saving. I also told him I believed in him, and if he wanted his own car, he was capable of making it happen.
Also, I have three kids. I can’t afford to buy three cars. So his brother and sister will be paying for their own as well. Fair is fair.
Of course, I will make sure he has a reliable vehicle — his safety is the most important thing — but he can find something that gets him places in his price range. It’s how my sisters and I did it, it’s how my friends growing up did it, and it will be how my children do it. It was a valuable life lesson for all of us, and when we wanted a newer, fancier car, we already knew we were capable of doing it on our own.
If he can buy the car, then I have no problem paying for insurance and chipping in for gas money sometimes (I’m going to need him to drive his brother and sister around, so I don’t have to). I do want him to focus on academics and extracurricular activities after school without feeling like he has to work every spare moment in order to keep his vehicle on the road, so I believe this arrangement is fair. I know he will take better care of it if money is coming out of his pocket each month. I am also hopeful it will cut down on things like speeding and careless driving.
So there will be no car in the driveway with a big red bow, unless he buys it for himself. In an article for Bankrate, family finance expert Ellie Kay says we owe our children food, clothing, health care, and a home, but if they want expensive clothing and cars they should pay for those things themselves as it cuts down on entitlement. The last thing I need to send out into the world is another entitled jerk, so I’m just doing my part over here.
Teenagers love their cars, and that love grows even stronger when it’s on their dime.