Parenting on a Budget? (Advice & Insight from Rabbi Barry Kislowicz)

Parenting in Perspective

Guest post by Rabbi Barry Kislowicz

Today I am honored to welcome a friend and outstanding educator, Rabbi Barry Kislowicz, the current head of school at Fuchs Mizrachi School. His wonderful family is moving to Israel this summer, but maybe I can convince him to keep writing guests posts for KOAB!

As my way of welcoming Rabbi Kislowicz to KOAB, I have a special opportunity for all of my readers: Save 25% off his brand new book, Parenting in Perspective, when you order from Koren and use the coupon code BK25 at checkout.

We’ve all been there… “Can I have some more? Please…”

It may be another lollipop, one more try on the video game or just five more minutes before bedtime. They’re asking and we are saying no. We may not particularly enjoy it, but we know that it’s our job to set appropriate guidelines and boundaries. Love and limits, as they say.

Yet the same exchange feels altogether different when we are saying no not because we want to but because we have to. To be clear, I’m not talking about the classic request for a new pony. While our five year old may think that that is a perfectly rational request, we know that few families have the wherewithal to add an equine guest. And so we are comfortable and confident explaining that we simply cannot afford a pony. The disappointment that follows is our child’s, not our own.

It is when our children ask for something that we believe we should be able to afford that we face a different challenge. David may want the latest basketball shoes which, though not exorbitant, are twice what the budget can handle. Sara wants to go skiing with her friends, but the equipment rental alone would put her parents in a deficit this month. Or it may be as simple as preferring the brand name snack foods when our savings plan is built on choosing the sale items and house brands.

These kind of requests bring with them a much more complex range of parental emotions. We feel guilty saying no to our children when it does not seem to be purely for their own good. We may even feel ashamed that we have not been able to provide them with what seems to be a reasonable request.

Shame and guilt are powerful emotions which beg for resolution. Most of us use one of two ways to regain our equilibrium. Either we simply say yes to whatever request has been made, convincing ourselves that we will make it up by saving more later or by finding some other way to balance the budget.

Or, instead of breaking the budget, we mask our shame with anger. We reprimand our children for having made the request in the first place so that we can assuage our guilt for having said no.

This is most certainly a challenging scenario. But if we change our perspective we may be able to find a healthier approach.

The first step is to correct a fundamental misunderstanding. We said earlier that our job as parents is to set appropriate boundaries. But good parenting doesn’t stop there. It goes further to include how we set these limits. What are the actions and conversations that occur as these limits are being set?

Think of it this way: You tell your ten-year-old to turn off his video game. He begs you for one more level. You stand firm. But what were you doing before you told him to turn it off? Were you in another room catching up on work or chores around the house or, at least on some occasions, were you playing with him?

Most parents simply do not have enough time in the day to get all of their work done. And it is not realistic to think that we can play with our child every time they turn on a video game or go outside to shoot hoops. Of course, I would argue that we should be doing that as much as we possibly can. However, the point here is a different one.

Think back to a time when you were doing something else and you told your child to shut down/wrap up/come inside. Now think of a time when you were playing with your child and you set the same guidelines.

Often (though not always) your child’s reaction was significantly different in the latter case. Why? Not just because they feel grateful that you took the time to play. Unfortunately it is hard to generate enough gratitude to override the whining instinct.

Rather, when you were playing with your child they instinctively understood that you were on the same team, that you were in this with them and not merely imposing rules from above. When you asked them to stop playing you were saying “we need to stop…” not “you need to stop,” and that makes all the difference.

Now take this one step further. Playing with your child on Monday doesn’t just help on Monday. If you make playing with your child part of your regular routine they will come to understand that even when you can’t pick up a toy and join in you are indeed on the same team.

Now apply this to when we need to tell our children we cannot afford those new sneakers. We need to figure out a way for our children or understand that we are not imposing a “no” from above. Rather, we are all one family, on the same team, and we need to help each other budget so that we can all have what we need.

This is actually not that difficult to explain, even to a young child. The trick is that if we wait until the child asks for those sneakers it will be too late. We have to engage our children earlier and, in a developmentally appropriate way, bring them into our family task of being financially responsible. Just as we should be playing with them on a routine basis, we should be sharing our financial choices on a routine basis.

Of course, I am not suggesting that we ask our children to balance the checkbook or pay the bills. The messages we share have to be age-appropriate. We can tell them when we decide not to buy something specific for ourselves, or we can take them grocery shopping and explain (in advance) why we will only be buying the items on our list…no matter how good that new brand of ice cream looks. Similarly, we can engage our children in some of the chores around the house rather than hiring someone else to do them.

Four important things happen when we engage our children in the family process this way:

  • Our children begin to understand that it is not “us” saying no to “them,” it is the family as a whole working together.
  • We have a better chance of letting go of our guilt because we too realize that we are all in this together.
  • Along the way, our children learn the kind of financial responsibility that will help them lead productive adult lives.
  • Most importantly, we turn a family challenge into an opportunity to strengthen our relationships with our children and build the bonds which will keep us on the same team.

Read more of Rabbi Kislowicz’s parenting insights in his book, Parenting in Perspective. Be sure to use the promo code BK25 to save 25% off and get free shipping.

Rabbi Kislowicz, Ed.D., currently serves as Head of School at Fuchs Mizrachi School in Cleveland, OH. More of his thoughts on parenting can be found in his recent book, Parenting in Perspective, (Maggid Books). He can be reached at


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