We each have a bank account for our kids. We put their allowance in there perhaps. Or savings for college. Some of us are fortunate enough even, perhaps, to have a trust fund for our children—extra money that will support them in life.
Parents spend a lot of time thinking about this balance they keep for their kids. What we all think less about, though, is the bank account we keep with our kids. You see, each parent/child relationship is itself a kind of ledger. There is a sort of natural deposit that goes at birth, funded by our biological connection. Deposits are made when we love them, when we support them, when we protect them. Being there, helping them, nurturing them, cheering for them, giving them space to make mistakes and grow—this is how we fund that account.
But we also have to understand that this balance can shrink as well as grow. Every time you get angry at your kids, every time you get frustrated with them, every time you speak to them out of that frustration, what you’re doing is taking a withdrawal from your relationship. Every time you miss something because you’re busy at work, every time you ignore them for the television, every time you project your own crap or your own expectations on them, you’re chipping away at the principal.
Is some of this inevitable? Of course—there is inherent conflict in parent/child relationships that stems from our divergent interests, from our understanding of what’s best and their desire for what’s expedient or easy. We are also liable to simply make honest mistakes and mess up.
Which is why it’s so essential that while we are in command of ourselves, we do a good job picking our battles. Is the pile of shoes at the door worth making a withdrawal over? You’ve not been taking care of yourself and now you’re grouchy…and now you’re being short with them. Hope staying up late watching that Monday Night Football game between two teams you don’t even like was worth it—because it just cost your relationship! Does the payoff from enforcing a pointless dress code come close to the cost of loss of connection down the line? Likely not. Do you get anything for your snide remarks or your passive aggressive comments about those little things that “aren’t a big deal” according to you but are, at their age, the world to them?
This is what is meant by the phrase “death by a thousand cuts.” Or in our case, bankruptcy by a thousand small withdrawals.
We must be aware of these withdrawals we are making. They add up. Quickly. Years from now, you’ll want a good relationship with your kids. Like retirement, you’ll want to be comfortable and secure. You’ll want a crowded table filled with kids and grandkids. Well, the way to have that is by saving, by making deposits, and by avoiding shortsighted withdrawals. Now, tomorrow, and every day thereafter.