Today I read a book. I like reading but since becoming a mum and even more so since starting a business from my dining room table, I don’t get to do it as much as I would like to. Last month I started a book club with two other ladies that live close to me. We have never actually met in person – we connected through a Facebook group – and we decided to start our own little club.
One of the other two women in the group picked our book for this month ages ago – the Midnight Library by Matt Haig and they both started reading in earnest. Me, on the other hand, well, I totally forgot that we’d formed a book club at all. After picking up my copy from our local bookshop, I placed it on my shelves in the dining room and promptly forgot that it existed. In fact, I was only reminded that I was supposed to be reading because of a message on our little Facebook chat on Friday, scheduling our book discussion for this Wednesday.
Cue panic. Slight shame, followed by more panic. How on earth was I going to fit in time to read a whole book by Wednesday? I have to write a blog post on Sunday, film Instagram content for Wednesday, prep for a client session on Monday along with two different article outlines and various networking calls on Tuesday. Fitting in a book as well?
So this afternoon, after my daughter’s afternoon bath and nap (yes she does have the schedule of a mid 19th century baroness…), I sat down and began to read.
I won’t go into the detail of the book for anyone that hasn’t read it (as I don’t want to spoil it), but in essence, it focuses on the multiple different lives we could have led, instead of the one that we are leading. At one point, the main character uses the allegory of a tree – with all the many branches and leaves, growing out in multiple directions, some straight, some windy, some long, some short – to give us, the reader, a moral lesson.
That our life, at any stage, is simply a choice. Every single choice we make creates a new “life”. Had we made the opposite choice from our very first decision, we would have had a completely different life. When you consider the fact that we must, on average, make millions of individual decisions in our entire lives, we had the option, therefore, to live upwards of a million different “lives” – if each different choice would result in a slightly different life.
This moral lesson of the book (which is, I must say, a great read), got me thinking about saving for children. A report from Brewin Dolphin shows that over 40% of parents do not save for their children, and an even bigger proportion worry that they aren’t saving enough. That they are doing enough. I want you to stop worrying- stop beating yourself over the head with a metaphorical savings target.
Whilst there is no doubt that it is nice to do so, if you can afford to, I wonder whether saving money for them is really the firm financial foundation that we, as parents, often aspire to.
Neither my husband nor myself had any savings from our parents. We bought our house (the house in which the dining room table I’m writing at, sits) with a 84.5% mortgage, and a deposit that we had saved over 13 years. Now I’m not saying that because we did it, others can. Far from it. In any case, there are thousands of other blogs on the internet that do that already.
What I am saying is that mine and my husband’s lack of parental savings (because, put simply, neither of our parents could afford it), didn’t prevent us living our lives – or choosing particular paths because we wanted to. The reason for that is simple. Although neither of our parents could afford to support us financially, they afforded us both something more valuable – awareness of possibility.
Children have infinite imaginations – their ability to believe limited only by the creativity of their mind and story-telling. Yet as adults we don’t have limitless imagination. Instead, we “fix” ourselves, our value, our “sphere of possibility” and ultimately, the growth of our branches; to money.
Although money has no emotion, no “feelings”, we pour all of ours into it. Our status is often felt through our bank balance, after all, who hasn’t fallen victim to defining themselves by material things? We aspire to bigger and better, to newer cars, bigger houses, better holidays, because society tells us that those things are the definition of “success”. Yet for our children, success isn’t defined by material things at all. For most children that I know, their definition of a successful day is going to bed feeling as happy as when they woke up. They don’t tie that happiness to buying something (although they enjoy a treat as much as all of us), but to filling up their emotional batteries – to finding joy.
Although part of my job does focus on helping new and expectant parents to feel financially prepared to be parents, it’s not the whole point of my job. In fact, it’s not really the main point of my job.
My job, my role as a coach, is to help people feel prepared. Note how I dropped the financially there. That’s because whilst it’s nice to save for your children, whilst it will smooth the path and it might make you feel more confident about having a baby; its not necessary.
I’m not saying don’t bother saving at all, nor am I saying that a baby survives on love alone – we all know that’s just not true. But what I am saying is that once you have the basics covered – once you know that you can afford to house, feed and clothe your child, your main obligation as a parent isn’t to grow their “money” tree, but tend their “life” tree.
It’s to provide them with the right environment, a roomy pot, in a sunny but sheltered corner of your life in which they can flourish, their roots can grow and become strong. Then, once your children have this firm foundation, then they can “branch out” into a world of possibilities – knowing that they will always be rooted in the well-looked after, and well-tended garden of your family.
So yes, do save for your baby, do plan out your expenses, cost out your strategy for parental leave and what happens after and definitely do “aspire” to provide the best that you can.
But remember that if all life is a tree, all our possibilities the branches and leaves; then as a parent you are responsible for the watering and creating the environment for your baby plant to thrive. Don’t just put money in the pot and hope that the tree you bring up will spend it wisely.
Charlotte Lidstone, Money Communication Coach