The Cost of Conscious Parenting

I make a sincere effort to help my fourth-grade daughter understand the difference between needing things and wanting things. She has always been encouraged to earn her own spending money and save it for items or activities she wants that aren’t within my budget.

Recently, I’ve added a new process to the decision-making around her increasingly expensive desires. She must research the product on her own, not only for cost-comparison purposes, but to understand fully what the desired item may eventually require in supplies and upkeep. This is necessary because we aren’t talking about a trendy necklace or cool pair of shoes. We’re talking about pets.

The first experiment was related to the purchase of a fish. Emily underwent the expected research and took copious notes about the type of fish that could survive in a small tank without a lot of expensive gear or serious upkeep. She handed me a report that showed costs of the tank, the food, a few decorative items, water treatment, and the beta fish itself. She needed $26 after I approved the plan, and fortunately for her, the wait was short because she scored $20 from her Grampa for Valentine’s Day. Her room now sports a small tank with a bluish-green beta named Sylvester. New research, which she vetted with consultation at a local pet store, indicates potential for an African dwarf frog as a tank-mate in the future.

A natural animal lover, Emily continues to think about what kinds of creatures she can afford to add to her family of pets. On a recent trip to the Big R farm and ranch supply, we encountered a selection of spring chicks and she immediately began adding up the costs of having a chicken coop in our back yard. This plan was immediately thwarted by Gramma and Grampa who said they would move out of our shared homestead if we bought chickens. It was inconceivable to Emily that not even the promise of future income from selling fresh eggs could change their minds.

After a day of extreme pouting that we’d never have our own farm fresh eggs to eat and to sell, Emily began researching another breed of creatures. It had to be smaller than a dog (we don’t need another large animal), bigger than a mouse (I don’t like things escaping and hiding where I can’t get them) and more interesting than a fish (Emily can’t pet Sylvester).

As I read in the next room, Emily sat at the kitchen table with my laptop and asked how to spell “guinea” … as in guinea pigs. The next research project began, and a day later, I was presented with a pricing list. Fortunately for me, there’s going to be a serious waiting time on this acquisition. A guinea pig and all its requirements are going to cost about $125.

Ever determined, my entrepreneurial 9-year-old has ideas, and she dumped one of them on her unsuspecting mother tonight. I came home from a long day at the office to find our living room transformed into a spa-like environment. The incense was burning, there were pillows and yoga mats on the floor, bottles of lotion, nail polish … and chocolate. Emily instructed me to change into a robe, which I eagerly did, and then she set about pampering me. She put a hot rice bag around my neck; read to me; massaged my feet, hands and head; and gave me a fresh pedicure.

An hour later, she presented me with an itemized bill and asked for $16.

Now, being a savvy consumer, I complained about her gouging customers without explaining upfront what the cost of services would be. She agreed to a much reduced rate and gave me a $3-off coupon for my next visit.

Still, I have to be much more careful about falling for her spa treatments. Otherwise we’ll be welcoming a guinea pig to the family in no time.


My ex-father-in-law was a rather miserable person.  He’d had a rough childhood, ended up on his own as a teenager, fought in a war and came home to become an abusive husband/father and relentless alcoholic.  One of his two sons fled; the other stayed and followed in his footsteps.  When I married the latter, I was viewed as the family’s savior, there to rescue them from all the perils of their heritage.  Then five years later when those perils threatened the life of my newborn baby, I divorced them all and became the arch enemy. 

“Ron,” my former father-in-law, hated me with the deepest of contempt.  He cussed me out and called me every name in the book, threatened me, shook my very core as I learned to hate him in response.

Two years ago, the matriarch of the family died, and with her, the lies she had told in an effort to disguise the pain and misery of their home.  Without her around to carry on the charades and to protect the image of her sons as victims of heartless women, the truth came to light.  In short time, Ron accepted that truth.

He was a lonely old man without the strength to play the game any longer.  He wanted to know his darling granddaughter before it was too late, and to accomplish that, he had to be nice—to ME.

In turn, I had to be willing to accept him.  To stand inside the garage where he whittled away his hours smoking his hand-rolled cigarettes and to see gentleness in the crinkled eyes of a man who had hurt me, his sons, his wife.  He asked for forgiveness and I gave it.

For the next two years, I took my daughter to visit Ron and watched the way he smiled at her … a smile that came from deep within a heart that had changed.  We hugged and said “I love you” at every visit—something I never imagined would happen.

Last week, Ron suddenly dropped dead in that smoky garage.  Around him were pictures and drawings and gifts we had taken to him.  He didn’t die a hateful old man, but grandpa and friend who had found love again before it was too late.  He was redeemed.