Splurging on Kids: When It Works, and When It Doesn’t

Splurging on Kids: When It Works, and When It Doesn’t

Piggy and I have a general policy against giving childrearing advice.

It’s not because we don’t have opinions on the subject. Trust and believe: we have opinions on every subject. For example…

  • Opinions on land use in Paraguay? The Bitches say: Keep the grazing cattle in the Chaco region. Although we are Team Yerba Mate, everyone knows that the climate is just too arid—although better land management practices are needed to prevent desertification.
  • Thoughts on the performance of the current mayor of Fair Haven, Vermont? The Bitches say: We strongly approve of Lincoln, the Nubian goat. Eating the paperwork itself may be the best way to combat bureaucratic creep. Honestly, Lincoln the Goat 2020.
  • Was Paris wrong to give the Golden Apple of Discord to Aphrodite? The Bitches say: Absolutely! Athena clearly offered him wisdom because she could see he was sorely lacking in sense. Women are not prizes, Paris, so stop using your magical fruit like a fistful of arcade tickets you’re hot to trade in!

See? We’re a bottomless pit of opinions!

But because we don’t have children ourselves, we try to keep our big mouths shut on the subject. Especially when talking to actual-factual parents. We’ve lived the experience of mansplaining; we can only imagine that DINKsplaining is similarly annoying.

But today we wanted to explore an interesting topic for our readers who are becoming, thinking of becoming, or trying to become parents:

Think back to the times your parents “splurged” on you. In hindsight, you probably know which things you truly enjoyed, versus stuff you just put up with.

So which expenses were worth it? Which ones weren’t? If you could go back in time, what would you tell them to stop doing, or do more of?

“Zaddy, the polo ponies got into mumsie’s begonias again!”

Before we get started…

I was lucky to be born to (upper?) middle-class parents who funneled a lot of that down to fun, nice things for their kids. Their eagerness to spend has been a blessing and a curse. I got a great education and a generally cushy existence. But the good times weren’t consistent. Sometimes there was no money for groceries until payday. I had more than a few angry bill collectors demand that I put my mommy and daddy on the phone. Shit got realer and realer as I got older, and my family’s financial situation drastically changed with the times. That’s probably a pretty relatable dichotomy for a whole lot of young Americans. Too much and not enough.

I don’t want this article to come across as ignoring or complaining about those comparative advantages. But I’m feeling extremely navel-gazey today, so we’re going to do a WHOLE LOT of talking about riding ponies, playing tennis, and other rarefied nonsense. My hope is that it’s relatable and light, but if you are easily triggered by expressions of privilege, maybe best to read this one first.

Okay? We good? Good.

Worth it: Activities I liked


Baby Kitty pets a horsebeest. I honger for its love.

This is me. Really! Respect that barrette.

I was, and still am, a Horse Girl. I basically shot out of the womb with the Polly Pocket Bluebird Stable-On-The-Go clutched in my bitty baby fingers. My bedroom was a museum of Breyer horses, each with a telenovela’s worth of dramatic headcanon. I think the suddenness and severity of my Horse Girl symptoms confused my parents. Luckily my grandpa got it. He took me to ride horses starting when I was six.

Looking at photos of me riding, I look soooooo preposterous toddled up in the saddle. My chonky baby legs splayed so wide across the enormous beast’s back that they couldn’t even dangle my feet down to stirrups! Who authorized this?!

But I was always grinning when I was riding. I loved every second of it, and still do. I’m sure it was an enormous expense for my grandparents, but I got my (err, their) money’s worth.

Not worth it: Activities I didn’t like

I stopped riding around the time my parents divorced. I moved away from my grandpa. And my parent’s financial situation was a typical post-divorce shit show. But after a twenty year break, I just started riding again. And my instructor told me I was one of her favorite students.

When I asked her why (yes I was fishing for compliments, what of it?), she said, “Because you actually want to be here.”

Most of the people who ride at the barn are kids. And most of the kids at the barn don’t want to be there. Their parents want them to be there.

Parents push their kids into actives for all sorts of reasons.

And I think those reasons are benevolent (or at least neutral) far more often than they are abusive.

“I want my kid to develop their coordination / cooperation / grace / problem-solving / perseverance / confidence / athleticism / language / musicality / poise / social skills…” There’s enormous pressure on parents to provide an upbringing chock full of enough cosmopolitan experiences to satisfy a Medici princeling.

Yes, it’s me again. This time doing an activity I hated. Get a handle on your jealousy over this high-waisted lewk, and examine the face. This is a parent-requested fake smile. See the lack of smize? Dead giveaway.

My mind is boggled when I think of how much money my parents spent in pursuit of my well-roundedness. To the best of my memory, these are the activities I was enrolled in as a child:

  • Horseback riding
  • Tennis
  • Soccer
  • Swimming
  • Diving
  • Golf
  • Basketball
  • Tae Kwon Do
  • Ballet/dance
  • CCD
  • Piano
  • Choir
  • Handbells
  • Drawing/art
  • Altar service
  • Community theatre
  • Marching band
  • Summer camp
  • Girl Scouts

I bolded the four I actually liked, and would do all over again. The rest are things my parents wanted me to do, for whatever reason.

My attitude towards each ranged from tepid (loved swimming, just not competitively) to boiling resentment (footage of my basketball coach could’ve been used to make a stirring safety video titled How to Identify Lunatic Rageaholics That Should Never Be Allowed Near Children, Volume One).

Worth it: Activities that shaped character

Learning to ride horses was the single most formative experience of my young life. Realizing as a forty-pound child that I could control a thousand-pound animal opened a door in my mind that could never be shut again. I knew what it felt like to be powerful. To be listened to and respected.

If beasts could learn to obey me, men would too.

Look at this Lelouch vi Brittannia psycho motherfucking smile on my face. I didn’t know anyone was taking my photo. I was just living my best damn life!

Oh, are you blinded? Is the sun glinting off of my sword-lesbian sword too much for you? Well, you get no reprieve, because Piggy’s analogous beloved sport was fencing. And I can damn well tell you she was in it for the rush of power, too. Hide your girlfriends, weaklings! The Bitches are armed and dangerous; we read too many young adult fantasy novels and we have glutes sculpted of Valerian steel.

I really believe that the right activity can imbue you with positive qualities, help you mature faster, and build lifelong skills that aren’t always immediately, obviously valuable, but come the fuck in handy later.

Not worth it: Activities that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough as I was

Building character is a double-edged sword. Doing an activity you don’t like can still teach you solid life lessons. (That terrifying basketball coach didn’t imbue me with speed, agility, or teamwork—but he sure as fuck taught me what kind of person I didn’t want to be around!)

But it’s funny looking back at this list. My parents knew I was intellectually gifted. But most of the things they wanted me to try were sports and team activities. I think they were aiming to open me up to new things? But it definitely made me think that my most sterling qualities were the “wrong” qualities.

I did theatre stuff for a long time, and would’ve sworn that I loved it. But actually, looking back, what I loved was being surrounded by people with a creative, intellectual bent. I hated the way my soccer coaches and golf instructors looked at me, perplexed and exasperated by my disinterest and lack of progress. I thirsted for the validation of being around people who also weren’t good at soccer and didn’t give a shit about golf.

Even as a child, I could tell the difference between growing and going through the motions. One was intoxicating; the other was demoralizing af.

Worth it: Activities I could choose

I remember getting enrolling in a Christian summer school thing that allowed kids to select their own classes. Like college for pious babies. The two class I remember enrolling in were:

  • Woodworking
  • Investing

Two words: Sword. Lesbian.

For anyone who knows me now, they will recognize how on-brand those choices were. My parents never would’ve thought to sign me up for either of those classes. They were really leaning into the preppy sports thing. The freedom to choose definitely broadened my horizons.

The theme of this jazz dance routine was “jailhouse rock.” <buries head in hands>

Contrary to my long list of planned activities, I also had a lot of freedom as a child. I explored my town on my little purple mountain bike. I’d pedal to the store, to my grandparents’ house, to school, to the library, to my neighbor friends, and to babysitting gigs.

During a brief stint of mania, I even roused myself before dawn for daily Mass before school started. I thought I wanted to become a nun, but actually I was just becoming an atheist. CHECK THE BIO. I DON’T DO HALF MEASURES, GUYS!

I can only assume my parents were baffled and disturbed by this habit. (Lol, “habit.”) But they let me do my thing, and it was out of my system after a few weeks.

Not worth it: Activities I wasn’t allowed to quit

My other basketball coach (not the rageaholic, a different one) had a daughter on the team. When she missed a basket, he’d frown and pull her away from the team to run drills one-on-one on the far side of the court. He’d make her repeat the shot again, and again, and again, until she could get it right three times in a row.

Every time this happened, it cast a freezing pall over the team. We’d dart our eyes over at her to see her crying, struggling to jump higher, aim faster. If he’d physically slapped her right in front of us, I don’t think we would’ve felt any less horrified. It was one hell of an emotional slap.

It goes without saying that she wasn’t allowed to quit the team. I know that she tried.

I wonder how much she likes basketball today.

You know what’s underrated? The freedom to experiment and quit. Sports, hobbies, and activities are among the biggest blocks a child has for building their own identity. Before we get into sex, gender, careers, travel, and social autonomy, all we really have are our interests.

Any of y’all have that one aunt who buys you purple things because you said that it was your favorite color once, fifteen years ago? Mmhmm. It’s not fun. It doesn’t make you feel very understood as you grow and change.

Worth it: Once in a lifetime experiences

When she was a child, Piggy’s grandmother took her and her brother to Italy to spend time with their extended family. Describing the experience now, her eyes mist over. “Mama mia,” she whispers, “that-a was a spicy meat-a-ball…”

Those trips sparked several important lifelong interests for her: traveling abroad, learning to speak other languages, connecting with family, and telling everyone to stop doing that, you’re messing up the sauce cooking.

That experience was well worth the money her parents spent. And international travel is never cheap, unfortunately. (Unless you, like Piggy, have saved up enough credit card points to fly to Costa Rica and Portugal in a single year like that lucky bitch did in 2018.)

Not worth it: Paying through the nose for kid-centric vacations

I have an extremely murky memory of going on a Disney Cruise when I was, like, three? Five? Seven?

Literally the only thing I remember from the entire trip was a moment that I must’ve spent with some kind of on-site babysitter. She gave the kids crayons and asked them to draw the ship. I drew it from my imagination, with dolphins frolicking in the waves, and little lowercase Ms for seagulls. (Free pro-tip right there, that’s how you draw birds good.)

I remember this unknown adult being completely shook by the goodness of my drawing, and holding it up to show to the whole group.

… I legit remember nothing else. So instead of paying for flights and a cruise, my parents could’ve just given me some paper and acted astounded by my lowercase M drawing skills.

Marketers frame Disney vacations and their ilk to parents as experiences so magical you would be A Terrible Parent if you deprived your kids of this wholly formative experience. But I actually don’t remember it. And my face is blotchy from crying in half of these photos because I am a little kid who likes regularly scheduled snacks and naps much more than “once-in-a-lifetime experiences” I won’t remember.

Wait, what the fuck, this is actual Disney? When did I go there?? Why am I negging Cinderella? I have no memory of this. Cind, I’m so sorry…

And Disney ain’t once-in-a-lifetime. Shit, I have adult friends who go once a year. They get wicked drunk at Epcot, aka an awesome thing kids can’t do.

I retroactively proclaim myself worthless of expenditures of travel money until I was at least thirteen. The exception was sleep-away camp, which was excellent training for being away from home.

Not worth it: “The best” school

I went to a private Catholic school for my first six years. Their curriculum was rigorous. I was an excellent student. I had good teachers. Their programs were nicely funded, and my class size was tiny. Academically, I was absolutely set up for success. It was definitely the best school in the area.

Yet I remember those years as a greasy smear of miserable memories I’d rather forget. The culture at the school was vicious. With only fifty children in each grade, I couldn’t avoid the people I didn’t like, or look for new friends. There was a crystal-clear social hierarchy, and each child devoured the next one down the chain, like a grade school ouroboros.

The school was tiny and homogenous. Life was hell for anyone who was different. Punching down was a learned survival mechanism. I loathed it.

Knowing that my parents paid a premium to send me to this place sends a chill up my stingy spine.

Worth it: A school that’s a good fit

After six years of this, my parents gave up and suggested a transfer. I pounced at the chance. This bitch had nothing to lose.

I moved to a local public magnet school. And it truly felt like trading the Dursley’s house for Hogwarts.

There were gay kids, black kids, poor kids, disabled kids, and fat kids—but they were allowed to walk around freely, instead of cringing around in a constant apology for their deviancy.

Seeing a broader range of personhood, I realized that I could flourish here. Over were the days of being pounded into a pleasingly unnatural shape. I belonged. I made a fuck ton of friends across a broad spectrum of social groups, and I freaking loved it.

In my parent’s case, I think it was much cheaper for them to send me to a public school. But if the reverse had been true, it would’ve been well worth it to give me a chance to start over in a school with arguably weaker academics, but a much stronger cultural fit.

Worth it: Pets

Both Piggy and I grew up with pets, and we both immediately agreed that it was one of the best things our parents did for us. Her childhood dog, Ginger the Jack Russel Terrier, was loyal and intrepid and nosy and fierce. Mine, a yellow Labrador Retriever named Lucy, was dopey and sappy and lazy and protective.

Both of us know well the feeling of a pet’s love. Being with them felt like sitting next to a warm fire. I still remember crying into Lucy’s neck about the baby problems babies have. She was entirely too dumb to understand what I was upset about, but she understood that her job was to radiate a stalwart love so strong it drowned out my sadness. She was the only creature on this earth who was always on my side, no matter what.

My mother from another mother.

I’m sure our parents didn’t love dealing with the vet bill from a face full of porcupine quills (Ginger) and the angry calls from the golf course telling us our dog had chased balls into the pond again (Lucy). But whatever the pets cost, they were worth it.

Not worth it: Purebred pets

Listen, we loved those dogs, but we weren’t fox hunting and shooting ducks over a fucking moor. We were kids running around in our backyards. Any old mutt would’ve sufficed.

Piggy and I are both solidly pro-mutt. Even responsible, caring breeders add to the pet overpopulation problem, and the continued fascination with a bizarre Victorian sensibility about “breeds” that absolutely came from the same tradition as eugenics perpetuates the market demand that makes puppy mills an attractive business model <gasp> what a long sentence!

Working dogs aside, dafuq, go to a shelter and pick us up One Brown Dog to Go, Please!

Worth it: Busy parents

A friend of mine once expressed crushing sadness over sending her children to daycare and babysitters. “I don’t want them to think their mama doesn’t love them,” she told me, through tears. “All I want to do is spend time with them. We just can’t afford it.”

It made me think of all the times I’d spent in daycare and after-school programs, or with babysitters and camp counselors. And honestly?

I loved it.

One of my very earliest memories is of a woman named Irene. She was my babysitter, and she was so kind. She had a really, really good collection of My Little Pony VHS tapes. As I recall, her chicken nuggets were incredibly good—though they were probably just frozen, I was easily impressed. I loved going to Irene’s house.

I remember being thrilled the days my mother told me to stay at school until 5 p.m. The after-school program was free-form, so I got to do whatever I wanted. Our after-school program had an astonishing Perler Bead supply, and a Super Nintendo, and I got to eat motherfucking Dunkaroos. Instead of teachers, I got to hang out with college students who were cool and pretty and funny and smart. Man, it rocked. I could never understand why my mother tried to arrange her schedule so that I wouldn’t get to go.

Much later in life, both Piggy and I would rely on childcare as our first jobs. And we were totally dedicated to our kids.

As a nanny in college, Piggy was asked to role play as Ursula the Sea Witch to her charge’s Ariel every damn day. And boy, she came through with a consistently devastating performance. Her kid was addicted to her. She cried almost every day when Piggy left the house.

At the camp I worked at, I was like a benevolent trickster god. It was a right of passage to catch me cheating at Mancala.  I made the kids move the four-square court so that the King spot was over the back of one of those giant bouncy purple dinosaurs, and I ruled the court from his back, making up absurd rules with an iron fist, delighting when the kids would band together to take me down. Every day was Salute Your Shorts, pretty much.

I understand why a parent would prefer to spend as much time with their children as possible. Them things grow up fast! But in our childhood experiences, the more trustworthy, fun, loving adults present in our lives, the better. I loved having those supplementary caregivers in my life, and through them learned how to become one.

More evidence that I did go to Disney World as a kid? Still no memory of it. Clearly even when I was there, all I wanted to do was ball up on a damn horse. Future so bright I had to wear shades…

So what was worth it for you?

I’m really curious to know what your parents splurged on for you. When was it worth it? When should they have just saved their money? If you could go back in time and say “this, not this,” what would you say? And for those of you who have kids, how do you deal with the pressure to give them the whole world?

Tell us about it all in the comments below!

P.S.: This article was a little more personal that the ones I usually write! Did you like it? Are you into this soul-bearing shit, or nah? ALSO SHOULD PIGGY POST HER EMBARRASSING BABY PHOTOS AS A PATREON EXCLUSIVE?!? You guys, trust me, you want them, they’re solid gold, she looked like a fucking demon until she turned about ten, I am breathless laughing remembering it.

P.P.S.: Piggy here. She’s not kidding. My eyes were as black as my soul even from infancy.

39 thoughts to “Splurging on Kids: When It Works, and When It Doesn’t”

  1. For me, going to Disneyland (and Knott’s Berry Far!) were absolutely worth it. I don’t have many memories from either time, true, but I do look back on what I can remember fondly- and it helps that both times I was surrounded by family I really enjoyed being with.

    That being said: I’m actually pro-sticking your kids in multiple random activities they don’t get to choose and might not necessarily enjoy. And that’s because we may not think these gave us anything as adults- and we might not even remember 90% of the experienced. But they did; exposing children to a plethora of activities helps them develop self knowledge, particularly in a sense of what they DO enjoy- which is important, IMO.

    I can’t tell you how many times I wish my mother had forced me into ballet or violin as a child instead of leaning so heavily into my love of Soccer… Though I have to admit that their dedication to ensuring I could do something I loved (up to and including my mom coaching for several years when there weren’t enough teams to keep the kids league playing) was amazing; both are things I didn’t discover until I was an adult. And now, largely because of that, I struggle with the idea that it’s too late to learn them- as well as with the idea that I can’t learn certain skills unless it has a point to it.

    Still, some parents definitely take it too far; I don’t think kids should be forced to continue participating in activities they legitimately don’t enjoy, once it’s clear they don’t enjoy them… Though I do think they should finish out “the season”, if for nothing else than to teach them not to give up on something just because it’s hard- or not to quit something you’ve already committed to (also good things, in my opinion). Once the “season” is over, though, re-enrolling your children in an activity they hate doesn’t do anything for them. It just makes them miserable.

    1. That’s a really, really interesting perspective! (A thing which you always provide, I should note…)

      I think I was pretty stubborn, even as a kid, about what I would like and not like. And I was pretty much always right about myself. (Even as an adult, my partner is like “how are you so sure you’ll like something before you do it?” And I’m like “how can you NOT know if you’ll like something before you do it?”) But that self-knowledge was almost certainly aided in development by exposure to a lot of different things.

      Even with all that exposure, most of the hobbies I have today are things I never did as a kid. Writing, personal finance, gardening, cooking, chicken-keeping, video games… Really, horseback riding is the main one that stuck with me. And financial circumstances made me quit for twenty years! It’s crazy to think about…

      1. See I’m the opposite. A lot of what stuck with me was things I was either exposed to or encouraged in- like my art and writing, weapon’s training, etc… Soccer (the one thing I loved above all else) was actually what didn’t stick. But most of it was also stuff I picked up as a teenager from outside sources like friends, since I didn’t get much exposure to varied activity as a kid. It’s picking up new things as an adult that messes with me, lol.

        I don’t necessarily think the point should be producing hobbies that stick with you into adulthood, though. I think it should be more about providing a healthy range of experiences- both to help develop that sense of self, but also the sense of commitment and integrity… And maybe even a healthy dose of respect for people who do it and enjoy it, since they’re now keenly aware of what it takes (there’s a reason I think that, too- and it’s specifically because my mom forced me to become a cheerleader after I yelled something to the effect of “Cheerleaders suck, are stupid, and lazy” at one of my sister’s Cheerleading competitions… Needless to say that after one season I was absolutely dissuaded of any such notion).

  2. I love this breakdown! But in the interest of being That Guy who is like “my experience didn’t align with yours so I have to share my own anecdotal evidence”: I too was a child of working parents and I got shuffled around after school care and a whole retinue of after-school activities until I got old enough to become a latchkey kid. (Note: perhaps some of the reason for all those sports is that they are the most prevalent after-school activity to keep kids supervised during the adult workday? I know that’s why I ended up in swimming, karate, ice skating, piano lessons, clarinet lessons, and theater.) This is purely personality-driven because my brother close in age got the same treatment and he is an extroverted chill dude who was happy to be wherever so is *not* scarred by his childhood, but I hated it. Being carted from unfamiliar place to place with the barest adult supervision (because I went to wherever my parents could afford, and I was a quiet and well-behaved child, so they literally sat me in a corner sewing cross-stich samplers every day?? as a 7 year old kid slash 1840’s maiden??), waiting until I could go home and feeling powerless and lonely and bored and abandoned. Truly my only memory of preschool is of the window that looked out onto the driveway, because every morning I would stand there, sobbing, watching my dad back out the driveway and hoping he’d change his mind and take me with him. (Now looking back as an adult and thinking about having my own children, I can only imagine how heartbreaking that must have been for him.) What can I say, I was a raging introvert with a short emotional timer for being around non-family. I totally survived, but I think being constantly overstimulated and overwhelmed made me more timid, more melodramatic, and more worried as an adolescent.

    So, that’s all just to re-state the obvious–that every kid is different, and experiences that are enriching and great for one kid can handicap the development of another. And also that the quality of care a busy parent can get depends a lot on cost, because daycare on the cheaper end of the spectrum is not a nanny or babysitter or friendly enrichment program, but rather some lady’s dank living room with 10 screaming infants.

    I mean, now I’m a grownup and think my working mom is a badass (she put herself through grad school and trade apprenticeship with two tiny children and eventually started her own business while cobbling together childcare for the third), so I think having busy parents was the right decision for our *family* so I applaud them, but it was definitely not the right decision for *me* as a child.

    Anyway, THANKS for this internet therapy session!

  3. I’m only 22 so these things are arguably fresher, but my family also did the Disney thing when I was 9 (I think they told my sister and I in like, 2004 that we could go in 2006?), and I remember my first plane trip, almost all the park stuff, the Disney cruise that was the second part (mostly hanging out in the kids-watching area bc they had a playstation and the Incredibles game, and they taught us the history of chocolate chip cookies and about whatever flubber was, also, the super long safety briefing at the beginning). My sister is 2 years younger and I’m not sure what she remembers, but 9 was probably about right to be fun for everyone. The trips I remember less are Marine World, which was probably before I was 6ish? I fed a whale (two fish! the first one fell and the woman gave me a second!!!), was too small for the swings ride (and I’m still getting my revenge by riding every one I see at least twice), and the summer I was maybe 3 and had a broken arm.

    As for like, activities and stuff, I was allowed to choose my own for the most part. I did gymnastics as a really young child until I was tired of it (why I’m not tall today???), soccer for a summer (hated it), tennis (hated it, just let me hit the balls as hard as I want, okay?), volleyball for a while (eh), and girl scout summer camp for a few years (Brownie-Senior GS here, I aged in and out even as my troops dissolved around me). I think it was important that I was allowed to quit the things I didn’t like, or at least not have to restart them after the session was up. Not a sports kid, not a forced-socialization kid. I preferred, as I still do, to be more quiet and on my own. Let me swim in a lake, let me go into the trees and make up stories, let me craft or get lost in a book, but don’t make me run or work with a group. I can’t think of a single thing I learned from the activities I had to continue besides a love of cancelled dreaded plans.

  4. I’ve never commented before, but I’ve lurked for awhile and thought I’d comment here, since I come from a family of 10 kids (yes 10, I’m the oldest at 24, and the youngest is 8), so we’ve had a lot of experiences to go around.

    When I was younger, my dad was in the military, and at the time we just had 7 of us girls at home. We didn’t have a lot, but my stepmom made every holiday/event (think everything from Valentine’s Day to the Olympics) special by having themed food and diy (mostly kid-made) decorations and activities. That stands out to me as a “splurge” because we were definitely on the lower end of middle class with all of us kids and only one working parent. She also managed to take us on “girls trips” usually to stay with family and friends that lived out of state, and she always made sure we had lots of room to explore and try new things.

    My parents are doing much better financially than they were when I was a kid (they have 5 minors at home now, and my stepmom is a travel agent in her spare time) so things are a little different now. I have three siblings in drama (two that she pushed and one that chose to be there) and one in fencing (her choice), but I don’t think any of them would change anything. And we still do yearly vacations, and they’re still my favorite memories at 24, even if I pay my way now.

    All this to say, money is not the end all be all to help your kids make memories or be well rounded; supporting their interests and giving them room to explore the world around them goes much further.

    1. That’s EXACTLY my point. You can basically spend infinite money on kids. But it seems to be a crapshoot if they actually remember it fondly, or carry those interests forward into adulthood. And they’ll definitely absorb abstract skills and concepts, but will it be the ones you wanted them to?

      I suspect it’s similar to the studies that have shown money DOES buy happiness, up to a point (’bout $75K), but after that, ceases to have an effect.

      Also TEN!? Color me impressed.

  5. I played field hockey for years and hated it, mostly because my coaches took it too seriously. We were terrible – as in, won two games in all four years of high school terrible – and I mostly remember being benched a lot as the chubby kid who wasn’t particularly fast. I still think they should have let me play because what was the worst that would happen – we would lose? It’s not Friday Night Lights – the goal should have been to instill some modicum of interest in physical activity.

    It made me really resentful because I felt like they looked down on me as this useless chubby kid. I remember my coach being surprised when it came up that I was actually near the top of my class (because fat girls can’t be smart, obvs). Even at the time, I thought it was messed up because doing well in school was obviously so much more important than playing field hockey “well.”

    I actually did go on to lose a lot of weight and be pretty active but it always stuck with me as my insight into the sheer bullshit of sizeism.

    1. That makes me so fucking sad. And I completely agree. Fuck performance: all kids should have help setting an individual goal, to improve, be active, work well as a team, etc. If you ignore everyone but the star players, you’re not a coach, you’re just an obvious-thing-pointer-outer.

      My little brother graduated with a degree in sports and recreation. He’s super sporty and active, but also is a total nerd. He went to programming camp last summer, and he instigated little no-stakes soccer games. One by one, everyone started participating. He devised a way to form teams of even skill without shaking anyone. In their last week, more than one person told them they’d hated sports and physical activity because they’d been cruelly mocked in childhood, chosen last, etc, and had withdrawn into purely intellectual stuff. They thanked him for opening that world back up to them and making it positive again.

      Those hurtful comments and scornful assessments really follow people. It’s makes me so fucking sad to think of all the kids who are turned off from a single asshole coach.

      1. I am a lurker here too but I had to comment just to say: I was also one of those kids, and it’s taken me literally over a decade to overcome the idea that I’m just naturally unathletic or uncoordinated or “not in shape” because no gym teacher ever tried to engage the less athletic kids.

        Now I’m jogging almost every day because it makes me feel good, but I wish I could have been there earlier!

  6. Two stories about this kind of thing:
    1. I did dance pretty much my whole time as a youth, not stopping until I graduated high school. I LOVED it and the people. But I went to a very chill, small and cheap dance school, which honestly was the best for me. I was never gonna be a prima ballerina, I just liked dancing to musical theatre songs and hanging out with my friends. So it’s good to see where you can save a bit, not every skill has to be professional level. I also had one year where for some reason (I honestly don’t even remember anymore) I DID NOT want to do dance, and my parents let me sit that year out. While some people could see that as a “quitters never win” kind of thing, I realized that I missed it and signed up the next year and kept going for a long time. I really appreciate my parents giving me the time off I needed to learn my own preferences.
    2. One of my mom’s favourite stories to tell: We never went to any kind of Disney anything when I was a kid, just too far out of the budget. We went to Disney World for the first time when I was 13 and my younger brother was about 10. I had just discovered my love of musical theatre, the Music Man in particular. When we first got to Magic Kingdom there was a marching band playing 76 Trombones and I LOST it, dancing and singing along. The way my mom always tells it is that she felt really bad that she hadn’t been able to take us when we were younger, but when she saw that all her guilt went away. I think it goes to show that these really expensive things can be a lot better when your kids are old enough to remember and *really* appreciate it.

  7. I did soccer when I was really young, but in general our family didn’t have money for extracurriculars. As a result, once I hit high school I stuck hard to art, the thing that had always been available to me. Come graduation day, I felt totally disconnected from my peers (and still am). I immediately felt regret I hadn’t tried out school sports. I felt too behind to try out, I didn’t have confidence in my athletic potential. I didn’t get into sports until after college, and found I actually love them (and am decent at them when I get the chance to learn!). Maybe if I had the opportunities back then I wouldn’t have stuck with them, but in retrospect it’s the one thing from those years I wonder “what if.”

    Likewise with traveling. The first time I got on a plane I was 22 and we went to Ireland, our first family trip outside of New England. I had such high expectations for this to be this amazing, life-changing experience. And folks, just like when you have high expectations for a movie you heard was good, same deal with my trip. I got a lot out of it, but honestly it kind of sucked in a lot of ways. I think traveling earlier in life would have set me up with more confidence and ability to appreciate travel for what it is. PS It took until my 30s to have any idea how to navigate an airport confidently.

    1. I’m so glad you commented! I think you’re absolutely right: getting exposed to things early, having the opportunity to try stuff out and stick with what you enjoy, is all super valuable for kids. Traveling to Italy as a kid was so formative for me, and I’m glad it happened before age 22.

  8. My husband and I have Disney passes and go once a month. We love it. I also do not remember going as a three year old, although there are photos of me to prove I did …

  9. My parents were great at encouring anything I was interested in but never pushing me into anything. They also had a one activity only rule. During the school year I could have one after school activity per week and that was it. It really shaped how I view balance as an adult.

    I did art classes, figure skating, gymnastics, dance, horseback riding, piano, choir. Basically all of the arts classes. I was like Kitty. I knew exactly what I would like and went towards it. I still feel SO powerful horseback riding.

  10. Swimming lessons definitely. It’s just a safety thing, once the kid is old enough and a strong enough swimmer then they don’t have to be in the swimming club and having lessons anymore if they don’t want. Horse riding is good to get a feel for it but I understand it’s a lot more expensive in cities. Most things the kid only has to do once or for a few weeks to decide if they really don’t like it. I’ve been to 10 schools in my life (mostly from moving a lot but I went to all 4 secondary schools in my town) and the one ended up graduating from and enjoying the most was the public state school. I went from expensive boarding school, then family moved into town and went to slightly less expensive private school for 2 years, then the next slightly less expensive private school for 2 years, and finally ended up at the public high school for my last 2 years. Public schools are bigger (at least in my small rural town) and have more subjects and opportunities. Plus get your kid into a sport to keep them active, but if they don’t like the sport try a different one. I think a month is a long enough time for a kid to get used to something and decide if they really like it or not. Experiences are good but when the kid is under 10 they’re not going to remember or appreciate them. My family lived in a camper trailer for 6 months and traveled around my country, I was 6, I don’t remember most of it. But my parents mainly did it for them so whatever. Wow I didn’t mean to write so much.

  11. LOVED this post. Gimme more stories about your adventures as a camp counselor. I am DYING to see child Piggy photos.

    Also, the favorite color thing. Listen to this shit, Bitches. Last year, at my wedding shower, we played a “who knows Rachel best” game. Favorite color was a question on said quiz sheet. EVERYONE put purple, the favorite color of my childhood. Fun fact, it’s now red. Only my mom and my two best friends who have known me since the color was red got it right. And then they were all pissed because my favorite color USED to be purple. I was like, sorry guys, but have you seen my entire wardrobe? It’s red everything, everywhere, all the time.

    Sorry, that kind of turned into a rant. But the moral of the story: I feel your pain.

      1. 1. …YES. Let’s run away together! We can frolic through meadows.
        2. Here’s my 100% absolutely correct opinion: I’m not entirely sure about you and I don’t want to assume, but I am a smart, badass woman who grew up in a household where I was forced to do activities I had no interest in. Case in point: religion. I liked Sunday School well enough for the coloring, and the puppets were cool. But by the time I was a pimply faced teenager, I was questioning things. This is when the transition from purple to red began, and I firmly believe it was because the blue pill was no longer muddying the waters of my straight from infancy, red pill devouring, woke AF baby bottom (read: ass). (My high school having the colors of red and black are unrelated, I swear.) Take that, Matrix.

  12. My husband and I are/have been wrestling with this question since our wee one is now four. I’m totally absorbing everyone’s experiences/thoughts to help navigate this.

    Personally, I was the oldest of three in a family that lower middle class until my parents divorced when my mom became a single mom. There was never a lot of money for extracurricular activities so I usually could only pick one thing that cost money. I think because of this my parents were more willing to let me quit if I didn’t like something (after the season/# of lessons since “we are not wasting that money!”). I did swimming – that was a safety thing, but I never swam enough to be truly comfortable in the water until I was in my 30’s. I did 6th grade and 7th grade volleyball but was glad to stop – it just wasn’t me. We lived in the mountains for a while and my public school had a program where you could go downhill skiing at a nearby ski resort for (ridiculously) cheap once a week during the winter. THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!!!!!!! I was never going to be an Olympic contender but I loved the feeling of conquering the mountain … that was my “power” sport.

    I was in Brownies and Girl Scouts – have vague memories of that. My mom taught me how to craft – knitting, crochet, macrame, counted cross-stitch, embroidery, quilting, some cooking and baking. I still remember my dad and I working on my poster for the science fair (a.k.a. the potato battery). There was also music (both instrumental/band and choir). I also remember spending a lot of time by myself which was just awesome since I’m such the introvert. Books!!!!! The library! The best place on earth!

    I’d say that is what I liked the most … the times when my parents could spend time with just me to teach me something they were interested in too. I love being able to create things which stems directly back to their influence.

    Thanks for this topic/post – this makes me feel like a better parent than I sometimes give myself credit for.

  13. The single most worthwhile thing my parents splurged on when I was a child was language. English isn’t my first language — I’m originally from Eastern Europe, and in early 90s, teaching your kid English (or, in a pinch, another Western language) was considered to be #1 investment in their future. If I remember correctly, my parents paid for extra English classes for me for something like 16 or 17 years (= from 5 to 19 non-stop, then 2-3 odd years in my 20s so I could get a language certificate that can be put on a CV).

    (Side-note: I live in an English-speaking country now, and it just makes my blood boil when people here go: “Oh, you’ve just been here for 2 years? But your English is so good!”. UGH!)

    My only regret is that I was so focused on English I didn’t seriously try learning any other foreign language. Now that I’m fluent, and I could technically take up something else, any new foreign language feels endlessly frustrating, because I’m not immediately as good at it as I am at English. I don’t want to speak dumbass Spanish! I want to be instantly brilliant and understanding of nuance! Why didn’t I learn dumbass Spanish back when I was five and didn’t give a shit about my proficiency? What a lost opportunity!

  14. Just another perspective…
    I used to shake my head and marvel at the parents talking about taking their young kids to Disney (etc). Clearly the kids were not going to remember much if anything from the experience. Seemed like such a waste.

    Then, I grew into the understanding that the parents were doing it for their own memories of their kids as much as for creating memories for the child Watching their little one light up seeing a beloved character is something that many parents treasure. Adults and older children may have better memories formed by such an experience, but only a small child can give themselves so completely to the experience.

    Now as a parent to a little one, I truly understand the fleetingness of each moment. I am more sympathetic to parents trying to create memories.

    All that being said, you won’t find making memories at Disney, not my fantasy of choice. We are more likely to be playing in the kiddie pool in the backyard and exploring nature.

    1. I was going to comment just this! Early Disney trips are 100% about the parents. I come from a family that loves Disney and so made sure that we also took my parents along on the kids’ first trip. My parents still talk about it 5 years later. My youngest doesn’t remember it at all, but my oldest (who was three at the time) still talks about eating breakfast with Stitch. He likely won’t remember it when he is 20 – but he remembers it now. It gave everyone so much joy!

      Unrelated to the Disney – I’ve been thinking about enrolling my oldest in horseback riding lessons. He loves animals more than any child I’ve ever met and has asked about it several times. We took him to a farm last week where he got to hold baby chickens and ducks and he was so peaceful that he ended up with a pile of baby birds asleep in his lap. This post has me thinking horseback riding might really be worth it to him. As someone who grew up super blue collar, I’ve been feeling weird about such an upper middle class pastime and wondering if it would really be worth it. So thanks for this post!

    2. THIS!!! I think it’s perfectly valid for a parent to spend money on something their kid might not appreciate/remember because *it delights the parent.* Understanding that you get as much–if not more–joy out of the process probably leads to more reasonable expectations and conscious spending choices. Certainly as opposed to the knee-jerk panic of “oh shit I’ll fuck my kid’s life up if I don’t shell out this money right now.”

      I tried to throw away my dragon hoard of misc trophies/ribbions… They were mostly seventh place, eighth place, participant. Not meaningful, though I kept two riding ribbons I had great memories attached to. My mother DUG THEM OUT OF THE TRASH and squirreled them away in her bedroom, where they reside to this day for all I know. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  15. This article really resonated with me! My mum more or less forced me to continue with gymnastics for 8 years although I loathed it. Then I discovered horseback riding, and I have been hooked ever since! But just like Kitty, I’ve had to drop it because of financial circumstances. Living in London, studying and supporting myself through it definitely does not leave room in the budget for any horse-related activities. I know my uni has a equestrian club, but the price for those lessons are through the roof.
    How did you get back into horseback riding again? I stopped when I was 16 and I am turning 22 this year, and I miss it like hell!

    1. Yesssssss, Saddle Club: Personal Finance Chapter welcomes you. Because I live outside a major city, it’s excruciatingly expensive. Each lesson is $75. I’ve wanted to do it for years, but the price always held me back. My current workplace gives us $300 a year to offset the cost of a gym membership, personal training, sports lessons, etc. So I told myself I’d book a month’s worth of lessons so as not to waste free money. My mood was so lifted and my health was so improved that I just had to find a way to make it work in the budget.

  16. Ladies…you are so darn funny …no matter the topic!
    Thanks for sharing this…I have many similar experiences with “stuff that thrilled me to the core of my being” and “stuff that was so much more about my mom” than me! That’s life…and we can certainly chuckle about it now!

  17. I think that many parents use the spending of money as replacement to being a part of their children’s life. My father spent so much money of fancy holidays to historical places when my sister an I were under 5. As teens, when the family decided we were going to take a trip, my sister and I made suggestions like Rome, Barcelona, Berlin, and my dad shot them all down because ‘it’s boring to go places twice’ and was left completely dumbfounded when we told him that we couldn’t possibly remember those places now. I also don’t remember the trip to Disney or several amusement parks or holiday resorts.

    As much as all those holiday destinations where amazing, its really not worth splurging on holidays, trips or events that your children are too young to appreciate. I’m not saying that parents would deny themselves a quality time just because their children are young, but my father was so shocked to find that I couldn’t remember family events from before the age of eight. I think it was his first clue into how our bad relationship came about as those big expensive one-off gestures where really his only contribution to my life.

  18. I think I generally agree with all the points in the article. I haaaated swimming lessons, but we lived near a lake and my parents wanted me to know how to at least try to stay alive. And when they made a deal with me that I had to do speech team for at least a year if I wanted to do puppets, competitive public speaking was absolutely a preparation-for-life thing to do (plus it was something I was Good At for the first time, besides reading really fast).

    But at the same time I was pretty shy as a kid and unlikely to _ask_ to sign up for something, so I kind of wish they’d pushed me a little more into some activities. Like low-key middle school sports, for that early exercise habit. (Or gotten my eyes checked – I quit volleyball after 5th grade because I was afraid of the ball but it turned out I didn’t really have any depth perception.) Or pushing me harder and earlier to take flute lessons in high school when I was still really into band after 4 years (5th-8th grades).

  19. My parents were generally pretty even handed with activities for the first half of my childhood(3-9). I was in ballet for a while and my brother did karate. I think they didn’t push hard for extracurriculars because we went to a fairly expensive progressive private school that was a perfect fit for us socially and from my point of view totally worth the expense. My mom still calls us both “Miquon Kids” even though we haven’t gone there in almost two decades. Hell, I didn’t even get past first grade there (we had to move after my dad died) and it still the best school environment I’ve ever been in out of the 3 or 4 other elementary schools I went to before ending up “homeschooled”. Small PSA : don’t switch to homeschool unless you actually have a plan, trust me DON’T WING IT. You will probably fuck up your kid it you wing it.

  20. Not Worth It: Busy Parents/Daycare

    My daycare experience was like your private school and basketball experience combined. It still brings chills down my spine to remember. I was there all summer from dawn till dusk- I was the fist person there and the last to leave, and all of the adults were hellhounds. I remember crying every morning in the car. If you didn’t want to do an activity, they would punish you with timeouts or they would put you in the center of the activity, whichever was worse. I remember some kids getting locked in a closet. All of the children were much like the kids in your private school, except for myself and one autistic girl who couldn’t speak so everyone bullied her. When I stood up for her, the teachers punished me and said it was “what was best for her”.
    But my parents never pulled me out for whatever reason and I vowed I’d never put any kid through an experience like that ever.
    This was in the early 2000s by the way. I’m not sure how they got away with that.

  21. Not worth it: When I was 10, my parents bought me a $3,000 business suit (which I obviously didn’t ask for) and then forced me to wear it. Not only was this an extreme waist of money on my parent’s part, I absolutely hated wearing it. Not to mention that a 10 year old kid looks ridiculous in a business suit.

  22. The only activities as a kid that I remember disliking were swimming lessons (which I traded for piano lessons after it became clear that I would never progress beyond the entry level class) and Girl Scouts. I also stopped doing ballet after five years, not because I didn’t like it, but because I was bored and wanted to try other things – I ended up doing modern dance instead. So I ended up being in a lot of activities and I really liked all of them: not to the same degree, of course, but I didn’t hate anything.

    A lot of it ended up not being useful for anything than padding my resume – I am not, despite my parents’ best efforts, a marine biologist – but I did pick up individual skills along the way. I can still do a full lotus despite not having done Cambodian dance since I was nine, and I am dang good at projecting my voice because I was in theatre for years. And, because my activities were so diverse, I’m way less afraid of trying new activities than I know some people are. To compare: I have an ex whose parents were heavily invested in their children being math and science prodigies. They were, but this meant that all their extracurriculars were STEM-based, and because the kids were also homeschooled, they didn’t even have friends who did other activities and might entice them into trying new things. So while I, a creative person who likes to read and craft, wasn’t afraid of doing Science Bowl, my ex couldn’t do anything outside of that very narrow STEM range.

  23. My parents are both musicians, and so I started learning piano and violin very young; when they divorced I dropped both and did ballet for a year (I was 4), but wanted piano lessons after that, and at the time one thing was enough.

    I was on a school running team for a while, then took up another instrument. We moved every few years, which meant changing teachers a lot. I was also very involved in church stuff,mostly the musical side of things. When I was 11 my mum said “you’re getting a paper route” and so, well, I got a paper route. A couple of years later we moved again and I started teaching piano, too — just two hours per week, way less work than the paper route for rather more money. I had various odd jobs, too, babysitting and similar. It would have been more helpful for teaching financial skills if my stepdad hadn’t extorted a bunch of money out of me in my last year of highschool — instead I mostly learned that money I don’t spend might be taken away — but it did mean I had at least some “fuck you” money, and the experience of doing a bunch of different jobs.

    I mostly used to visit my father in the summer. He is a freelancer and his busiest time of year is September to December, so the summers could be kindof lean. But he always made sure I had a week of art school or drama school or some sort of thing booked (partly so he could do some work), and that was a good way to try out various activities without the commitment of school year things.

  24. Ha! This is funny… but in a way cool you got to try a lot of different things. I try to throw a lot of different things at my kiddo and see what sticks and try not to force. I appreciated your explanation about changing to a big magnet school for middle school. I was able to choice mine into a big school for middle. I could tell her public school which went from being 150/grade to 30-40/grade for middle wasn’t going to be a good fit for the exact reasons you discussed but I didn’t really think of it as a different culture but that’s exactly what it is. She is THRIVING there and can be herself. In a school with 310 or so per grade! Of course, it’s a little different now since it’s online, but whatevs – hopefully it will return to its full glory post Covid. I hate Disney – earned my parent stripes and took her once. Then took her to Universal studios twice – she asked to go for her 10th birthday so I obliged (it was the same price to buy a pass, so did the 2 trips to get my money out of it). She loved it bc of her love of Harry Potter. I’ll be interested to know how much of it she remembers in 5-10 years. lol. Y’all’s posts are fucking hilarious and thought provoking. I appreciate that.

  25. My parents were almost the opposite– rather then push us into a bunch of things, they limited our “extracurricular activities” when we were young to only two, mostly because all those activities can get really expensive! There was also a rule that you had to finish out the “year” or “season” of whatever you joined, but could quit afterward if you didn’t like it.

    Overall, though, their basic philosophy was “experiences over things.” We never had the latest and greatest stuff: I remember being basically the last of my friends to have a DVD player in their house, my first cell phone was a non-texting hand-me-down from my dad, and we didn’t have anything beyond the most basic of cable until I went to college (getting TBS added to our channel lineup was *huge* deal). But I DID get to go to New York, D.C., Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Alaska, Hawaii, London, and Disney, all before my 25th birthday. Not only did those trips really help shape me as a person, but they gave us shared memories as a family too.

  26. We went to Disneyland every few years when I was little. Part of the reason was that, even though I grew up in northern Idaho, my dad grew up in southern California (he actually helped build the building that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is in!) so we also visited his friends and the places he spent time when he was young. My mom commented once on how much they had to save to make those trips and how many hot dog dinners we had to eat to help save. My response was “well I love hot dogs, I have no bad memories of eating crappy dinners due to lack of money, and I have fantastic memories of all the California trips, so, worth it”.
    One thing I really wish my parents had done is push us into different activities. Obviously not in a “you must do this no matter what” way, but at least suggesting the activities and saying they’d help us get into them if they sounded good to us. Money was part of the reason they didn’t, but I also wonder if it’s because my dad was super into sports that are traditionally pretty masculine and he was raising two daughters. They let us try just about anything we wanted to, but they never said “hey you like volleyball, maybe you should also try basketball?” or whatever. The only thing they sorta made us do was swimming lessons, and that was likely mostly because we live near a real big lake. So neither of us did many activities until we hit junior high and I sorta regret that as an adult.
    They also had a rule that I did like quite a bit. We could try whatever and we could quit, but we couldn’t quit halfway through. We had to finish the semester or season or whatever. That also sometimes came down to money. When I came home out of the blue one day and said I wanted to play clarinet and my parents realized they could only rent an instrument for the full year, they said I had to play for the whole year before I quit (jokes on them, I played for six years, and my sister still plays). But money or not it’s a decent rule. They even extended it to college, when they dropped me off freshman year they said they wouldn’t come get me until at least December (I mean, if I’d been in danger or something that would’ve been different…). If they’d said come home any time I probably would’ve dropped out in October, but I stuck it out and ended up finding a bit of a home there. Sometimes you’ve gotta give something more than one day to determine if you actually like it lol.

  27. My family growing up wasn’t super well off. But my elementary school did a show every year and from the time i was the Cricket in The Mitten in kinder, I KNEW I wanted to be onstage. I mostly did theater through school but EVERY year I would audition my little heart out PRAYING for a role. I never got a lead in elementary *Shakes fist at third grade teacher* but the point was that it was something I LOVED to do. Theater has always been my passion. I eventually went on to go to a local performing arts high school and while most of the people there were pretty awful, theater allowed me to be in the spotlight for a while (which as a middle child it was something I was SORELY lacking in at home). It even gave me an opportunity to travel to another country and perform in shows and a few parades. So I would suggest an art (of some sort, my brother did band, my sister was into photography, my younger cousin is into dance) and an animal. Being able to cry into a ball of fluff that only wants to comfort you is one of the best things EVER (even if you’re allergic. just take a benadryl).

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