As I write this article, my three year old son is perched on my lap with my arms around him. He’s playing with one of his favorite toys, a Transformer that’s easy to transition from a fire truck to a robot, and he’s telling me stories about them.
He’s happy and safe and secure sitting here on my lap. He’s not worried that there won’t be enough food for supper or that we might have to move because we can’t afford the house. He doesn’t hear Mom and Dad arguing about money.
He just climbed down onto the floor and is now driving his fire truck around my legs. I’m “jumping” each time the fire truck runs into one of my feet and he thinks that those little jumps are simply hilarious.
His laughter just fills up this little office.
One of the most difficult lessons I’ve had to learn as a parent is that my choices regarding my children need to focus entirely on what’s best for them, not what’s best for me.
For example, when I’m at the store, there are times when I would love to buy my son a special treat because I would enjoy seeing the pleasure that it would bring him. However, I know that buying him that toy isn’t the best choice for him over the long term.
When one of my children does something wrong, it would be easier for me to either just let it slide or to just get angry, but neither one of those are the best response for the child.
The best choice in a given situation is often not what it seems to be.
When we’re making personal decisions, it’s really easy to just default to whatever choice is best for us right now in the short term. A splurge at the store? Sure! A treat in the checkout line? Why not? Do something special for my spouse or kick back and watch this movie? Let the credits roll! Bumping up that retirement savings? Hmmm… it’d make my paycheck smaller, so I’ll wait.
The problem is that the little burst of happiness you get from the short-term choice quickly fades away. That treat at the checkout is devoured quickly. That movie ends. The few extra dollars in your paycheck are spent on completely forgettable things.
At the same time, the other things you care about suffer. You don’t have any pocket money when something you really value comes along. Your spouse quietly feels taken for granted. Your retirement account barely grows.
We usually don’t see those long-term consequences when we’re making the choice in the moment. Instead, we have to think about those consequences outside of the moment and constantly remind ourselves that, by giving up a little inconsequential thing right now, we contribute to something much better later on.
Boost that retirement savings a little bit. You won’t miss the few dollars per paycheck, but you’ll definitely be glad you have more retirement savings down the road.
Skip that treat at the checkout. You’ll find a few more dollars in your pocket at the end of the week which can either be used for something more meaningful or help you get your finances on track.
Spend an hour taking care of a task your spouse is dreading – and maybe cook a nice dinner, too. Your spouse will know in a quiet way that you really care and that will radiate throughout your marriage.
As I wrote this article, my son wandered into his bedroom and came back with another Transformer toy. He played with both toys on the floor for a while, but now he’s running the toys up my leg and whispering, “Daddy.”
He wants me to play with him. In this moment, I’d rather get some work done and then play a game with one of my friends, but when I look over at his smiling face, I recognize that, before long, he won’t be a three year old boy any more. He won’t want his father to play Transformers with him. As we play, I can look for opportunities to teach him little things, talk to him about his life a bit, and make him feel more secure.
It’s time to play with some Transformers.