The family is currently watching the Winter Olympics, as I sit looking at the finances. I’m wondering if we can find a way to invest money so we could afford to go skiing one day. The kids are wondering if they can re-enact the skeleton bob using a tray and a muddy hill, while they leap and bound trying to do snow-board inspired somersaults from the settee to the chair.
I look at the finances and think how precarious the cash is. An unexpected redundancy, a run on a bank, a rogue investor – things largely out of our hands – could lead to us quickly going from being comfortable to struggling day to day. I don’t like entrusting the cash to others, especially given the recent reputation of our bankers. I’d feel happier squirreling the savings we have away, safe and sound under our mattress.
As I worry about the risks we are taking with our cash, one of the children falls after spinning around at least 50 times, trying to emulate the actions of an experienced ice dancer. I tell them to sit down, to watch the telly, to be sensible, otherwise, they will get hurt.
Every day, it feels like my kids take a huge amount of unnecessary risks. I have taken fewer risks with my cash in the last 10 years then they take with their bodies every day. Aside from three trips to casualty, a ludicrous amount of broken toys, and holes in the knees of every pair of trousers, their risks have, so far, paid off. The rewards are huge. The kids are strong, far more agile than their physique and age should allow them to be, they are interested and interesting and happy.
Yet, despite these tangible benefits, I often wish the kids didn’t take these risks. I wish I could squirrel them away under the bed together with the savings.
Their Dad, in his teenage years, spent evenings stealing corporate flags from the top of corporate flagpoles, leapfrogging letterboxes, and launching himself from the top of one phone box to the next. I think of my drink-fuelled antics when I was younger. I wonder, with a lurching stomach and fast-beating heart, how me or my husband are still alive. I worry what sort of risk-takers we have genetically programmed our kids to be.
I’m a pretty
boring steady human being nowadays. Nothing demonstrates this more than my chosen career path, where I spent years in Financial Services pootling around the periphery of various Risk Management departments. As a result, I ponder about risk a fair amount.
I think about how terrible we are at assessing risk and reward – how easy it is to convince many of us to buy lottery tickets, but how it is an uphill struggle to get us to buy life insurance and write wills. I think about how we view some risk-taking as nobler than other types – if one of my kids got fatally injured whilst skeleton bob-ing in the Olympics, that somehow this would be perceived as a ‘better’ risk than if something terrible happened to them after taking some drug of other.
More than any of the above, when parenting I think about something I learned while in paid work. This being that the riskiest thing you can do is to not take any risks.
It feels so counter-intuitive, but when it comes to money and our kids, we all know that squirreling either away under a bed is not really a viable option.
Think about it, put money under your bed today, in 30 years time it is likely to be worth very little at all. Try and keep your kids safe by storing them under your bed, odds are on you’ll end up raising an individual who is at best miserable (and riddled with rickets) and at worse, a severely damaged human being who is a rather large risk to themselves and perhaps even to society.
Take away the ridiculous ‘storing under the bed’ scenario and replace it with other ‘safer’ child-rearing options: driving places, rather than walking; staying in, rather than going out; hideous ‘soft play’ days, rather than time lost in twigs and muck; and sitting down to watch the Olympics, rather than re-enacting the action. At what point does providing ‘safer’, less risky options to our children actually start to make our society a more miserable, more dangerous place to be?
With kids, as with banks, I think we have become afraid to let them fail. So much so, economies and childhoods end up either unnaturally stifled or unnaturally cushioned when things go wrong. Sometimes, even with everyone acting in good faith and with the best will in the world, bad stuff just happens.
While there are parallels with how we let our kids and our cash grow, there are also obviously significant differences. I spoke to my Grandma about the Depression – I reckon we could just about handle that together as a family. On the other hand, if my kids made ill-judged risks, and the very worst happened, no matter how unlikely I am just not sure I want to, well, risk it.
What I think I must remember is what I see when I look at me and my husband now. In our younger days, we took a few risks and got burned a few times. Perhaps we were lucky that no serious damage, emotional or physical, befell us. Now we are happy with our fish and chips on a Friday, a sherry before Sunday dinner, trips to museums and the Sunday papers. We are
boring steady, but happy. If our parents hadn’t let us take a few risks, I don’t know that we would have ever reached this place of living a relatively safe life in utter contentment.
It’s counter-intuitive, but if I want my kids to become safe, satisfied adults, I am going to have to stand back and let them take those risks – skis, ice skates, tea trays and all.
How do you strike the balance of letting your kids take risks and keeping them safe? What did your parents teach you?