There was a day when my blood would boil over the words:
“Wellllll, you can’t afford not to ______ for your child.”
The Extra of Life
A few weeks ago a friend was fretting over $2300 Swim Lessons that would teach her daughter to float on her back for 10 minutes. She was conflicted. The cost would completely spend their summer budget and eliminate the other activities planned for her family. So, as we all do, she asked if another option was available. The response was, “Of course, we have the regular swim lessons option. But, you really can’t afford not to do the entire program.”
The extra has taken over a few of the basic questions of a healthy household:
Is this a want or a need?
Does it fit within the budget?
Is this what is best for our family as a whole?
“Do I really need to buy an additional $100 of protective gear so my kid can play T-ball?” Wellllll, you really can’t afford not to.
“Can I really take away screens for the summer?” Well, if you do, then they won’t be able to connect with their friends… so you really can’t afford to do that!
“Do I really need to get my 6-year-old braces?
“Do I really need to buy a new car seat with each child?”
“Does he really need to play travel/club sports?”
“Do I really need to buy organic fruits and vegetables?”
“Do we really need to give up our Sundays to ball games?”
Surviving the Extra
The judgmental hammer echoes through our Mom brains and the devil whispers, “SEE, I told you! You’re not a good mom after all. What do you mean you can’t afford this? What do you mean the kids can’t do this? Why can’t the kids have this?”
I don’t know about you, but I grew up with the $25 group swim lessons, no car seats, seat belts were optional, organic wasn’t a food section, mobile devices didn’t exist, and we visited the doctor or dentist when there was a problem.
As I reflect on childhood, I realize that my parents also did the best they could within the parameters of needs/wants, budget, and the well-being of the entire family. My mom loved me. My dad loved me. I survived, even thrived, and I’d say my childhood was really great!
I’ve said “No, thank you” many, many times over the years as a Mom and I’ve come to appreciate tremendous benefits from being brave, setting the boundaries, and trusting my instincts over the guilt.
The Extra Reality
I believe that most of our hesitations when making decisions regarding childhood activities or care of our children has to do with finances. And, if we are really honest with ourselves, we know that most, if not all, of these items are ‘extras’. The guilt wasn’t due to avoiding what was best for the child’s well-being or that our decision may harm our child physically, emotionally, or mentally. The guilt is actually emotional distress from delayed gratification – being unable to financially afford the ‘extras’ on a whim. Rather, we feel confined to making wise adult decisions that honor the family as a whole.
The Extra Benefits
Here are a few of the benefits I’ve realized over the years:
Guilt provided a buffer – space & time – to truly think through the situation. As I was processing my feeling of ‘guilt’ I had to face the facts. I found that often my emotional reactions were unfounded and simply not necessary.
Guilt was momentary. It’s comical now, but definitely not at the time. My boys would throw a fit over something they wanted to do or something they thought they needed. Then, within minutes or sometimes a few hours, they’d forget about what they wanted and their tantrum over it. When they stopped asking for the ’thing’, my guilt disappeared.
Guilt kept me plugged into God and my own voice. Since this is a daily feeling during motherhood, as I processed these moments of guilt, I’d be considering my vision of what was, is, and will be important to our family as individuals and as a whole. With time and loads of prayer, I began to trust my instinct and vision more and more. The feeling of guilt became less and less to the point of nearly non-existent. Why? I had a vision and I knew what fit and what didn’t fit – my commitment to the vision guided decisions for my family.
Guilt has kept money in our bank account. Years of learning and reflection has definitely paid off. The apparent ’need’ at the time proved to be a ‘want’ after consideration. Impulse buying drastically decreased as I became a more mature parent.
The Extra Revelation
A personal revelation that I had is this: Mom Guilt doesn’t exist.
Perhaps what we refer to as ‘Mom Guilt’ is more of an internal struggle that is overcome with clarity of vision, choosing wisely for the family, and maturing as a wife and mother.
Regardless, motherhood requires bravery. We will need to determine boundaries, commit to our vision, and know exactly what is and what is not important to the well-being of our family. Then, we must be brave in our actions and decisions and courageously commit to our non-negotiables – what we have determined to be the most important and cannot be overlooked or ignored.
Over the years, I’ve wrestled with, written out, modified, and latched on to our family vision – some I wrote on my own, some with my husband, and other parts with our boys. Our vision for where we were going individually and as a family came about as we determined the non-negotiable that honored us as a family. When you know what is important, who is important and how to make decisions that honor your family, life feels so much lighter and full of possibilities.
“When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful.”
Proverbs 29:18 NLT
Invest the Extra with God
Spend time in prayer. Write out what God places on your heart. This is the beginning of your vision.
Ask God to help you determine what you stand for and what is most important to your family. Place these thoughts on paper and begin learning what is most important – your non-negotiables.
Continue through prayer and obediently take the next step towards his calling on your life as his daughter, but also as a wife and mother walking in wisdom.