If there is one surefire way to make yourself unhappy, it’s living outside of your means. If you begin to push your own boundaries in an unhealthy way – whether financial, emotional, relational, or professional – you’ll find yourself overwhelmed, stressed, and feeling insufficient.
You need not be great at everything. Life isn’t about being the best cook, hottest wife, most disciplined mother, and tidiest housekeeper. There is no prize for projecting a false image so you feel better about yourself. In fact, living outside of your means (in many senses) will make you feel worse about yourself and more insecure about your place in life.
1. You are who you are.
I’m a fairly structured person. Is every part of my house organized and do I live by a minute to minute itinerary with corresponding alarms on my smart phone? No. However, I’ve never really been called spontaneous or “go with the flow” either. Routine and structure come naturally to me and that is a strength I bring to the day-to-day of parenting in our home. While I do believe routine is healthy for children, I will admit to being attracted to the idea of a loose flowing plan free day.
Some days we do this. We’ll go somewhere new, forget about nap times or normal food, and we have a blast. However, if I began to adopt this attitude as a general rule, it would be less than one month before I lost my mind and tried to find a job outside the home. I simply couldn’t cope. Would my children adapt? Sure. Is it within my emotional means to parent like that? No.
Parent within your own strengths and, unless it’s morally wrong or harmful to your children, don’t feel guilty about your “philosophy” and choices.
2. Your kids are who they are.
We all know kids who are little geniuses or tiny sports prodigies. They walk early, talk early, and absolutely love preschool, play groups, and school settings. Their parents are able to make choices based on their children’s gifts and needs, and that is right. But what if your child just doesn’t thrive at preschool? What if they are genuinely uninterested in sports? What if they love crazy colors and mismatch patterns?
There will be time when you have to parent within the means (temperaments, personalities) of your children. I’m not talking about depriving them of hard work, tough times, and reality. I’m saying that sometimes you don’t need to push your children to be who they aren’t simply to prove a point. Particularly since most of the people we try to “prove points” to don’t care and aren’t aware of our invisible competition.
Parent within your child’s temperaments, passions, and abilities. Trying to fit a square child into a round mold will leave them feeling insufficient and inadequate.
3. You have what you have.
I have friends who are loaded and I have friends who are not. Most fall in between and, you know what, the basics of parenting do not change depending on your bank balance. Sure, some children might get the fancy schmancy scooters while others get the cheap versions from Wal-Mart. Some go to the best private school in the county and others to the public school down the road. Still, both parents teach their kids to ride on the sidewalk and do their stinking homework even when they don’t feel like it.
If you attempt to live outside of your financial means you are bringing stress on the entire household. And don’t fool yourself into thinking your kids won’t notice. Your child might get a slightly better education at a more prestigious school, but if you are taking out restraining orders on debt collectors and charging your groceries just to pay the school fees, what exactly are you accomplishing? And is that a lesson you really want to teach your kids?
By living outside your means you are teaching your children it’s better to have what you want than to work hard for the things you have.
4. Learn to grow your means, not live outside them.
Living within your means is a fluid concept. When you’re in college your means are few. When you get married and both work full-time before children, your means increase. If you are a mom of small children, your capacity for activities or hobbies outside the home decrease. If your family is going through a difficult time, your capacity for service or commitments outside the home will change. That’s okay.
The goal is not for our means to stay small. The goal is to live within our means (big or small) and increase our means where we feel the need. If you are emotionally hung up you may need to get counseling or have regular talks with a friend. This will help unload some of your worry and anxiety, and thereby increase your emotional means. If your cooking know how is limited and dinnertime is a nightmare, you may need to take cooking classes or buy time-saving devices like slow cookers or a Thermomix to help you rise to the occasion.
If you know your means are too small, work to grow them. Pretending to have larger means than you do will not help you grow, it will bind you up.
I believing living within our means is important to be successful in life. Living within your means doesn’t mean you don’t grow, push the envelope or stop reaching higher heights. You can live within your means as your means and capacity increase. By sticking to your strengths, abilities, and resources you will be able to parent from a place of truth and strength.
Luke 16:10 says “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” There is no shame in knowing and living within your limits. There is shame in projecting an image of great means and being discovered to have very small means indeed.