I Grew Up Poor and My Husband Didn’t: Here’s How It Affects Our Daughter

Just when we’d bridged our different approach to finances in our marriage, our daughter came along.

Recently my two-year-old daughter and I were ice skating. As I shuffled around the ice, she held my hand and twirled about around in an imitation of the Disney On Ice show we had recently seen.

“Maybe you’ll play hockey,” my husband told her from the sidelines.

“No way,” I replied. “Practices are too early and it’s way too expensive.”

“That is never going to be an issue if she wants to try something,” my husband said.

I grew up poor — the type of poor where the lights went off occasionally and there wasn’t always money for field trips. I did band in middle school but stopped in high school because my saxophone belonged to the school and the high school didn’t have loaners. If I wanted to go on a school trip, it involved months of saving my babysitting money, not because my parents didn’t want to fund my adventure, but because they and I both knew doing so could mean unpaid bills or falling further behind on rent.

My husband never had those experiences. He grew up in a family that was comfortable financially. If money got tight, he never knew about it, because giving the kids what they wanted was prioritized. His family went away nearly every weekend. When they were home, my husband zipped around on his dirt bike or fixed up his car. He never missed out on experiences because of finances — and until he met me, I don’t think he realized that not all kids grow up insulated from family finances.

Our very different financial upbringings have forced us to talk openly about money from the start of our relationship. When he asked me to open a joint back account, we had to talk through my fears about not having total control over my money. When we bought a house, we balanced his financial confidence with my caution. He had been raised in a home where money problems always worked themselves out. I knew that sometimes they didn’t.

After eight years of living together and sharing finances, we’ve overcome most of our differences and generally agree on our approach to money. However, there’s one area where we still sometimes butt heads: our daughter.

My husband wants her to have everything she desires. He doesn’t think a child should have to worry about money or understand the financial burden of activities like sports or holidays. Those are issues for adults.

I disagree. I want our daughter to have great opportunities and objects that bring her joy, but I also want her to understand that these things come from hard work. I believe that understanding the value of what we want comes from sometimes being told no, or having to wait and work in order to get them.

While I never want her to miss field trips because of the money involved, I also want her to understand that activities aren’t free. No matter how stable a family is financially, everyone needs to learn to make responsible financial decisions, such as knowing when to splurge and when not to.

For now, our differences are easy to navigate because our child is young. A $5 puzzle or new pack of Play-Doh provides her hours of entertainment. Even so, my husband and I try to use her requests to talk about our different beliefs regarding when we should say yes — and when we should say no.

It’s easy to justify spending a few dollars on a whim to make your kid happy, but what happens when she moves from asking for a coloring book each time we’re in the store to asking for expensive new clothes? I can already see that these increasing “just because” treats will soon take too much out of our budget.

In the end, we reached a compromise. We buy things that catch our daughter’s eye, but stockpile them as rewards for good behavior. Sleep through the night? That’s a puzzle. Use the toilet all day? Here are some new markers, my dear. Without talking about money (which is a tough concept for a toddler to grasp) we’re teaching her that sometimes getting what you want requires waiting and a bit of hard work.

I’ve also started to look at my own reasons for saying no to my daughter. Am I denying her something she wants for a reason, or merely to prove a point? I’ve realized that sometimes I say no as a reflex, not because it’s what I really believe is best. When I heard Disney On Ice was coming to the area, I looked into tickets because my daughter is obsessed with princesses. Then I closed the browser — she didn’t need to go, and between parking, dinner, and the tickets, it would be fairly expensive. My parents would never have splurged on something like that.

But after someone gifted us tickets, we went to the show. It didn’t put us in any financial stress — and my daughter had a wonderful experience. Weeks later, she was still whirling and twirling on the ice when my husband said that finances should never hold her back.

And as I watched her spin, I knew we were slowly figuring out our middle ground.