Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

December 6, 2010

Holiday Indulgence and the Chalk Line Maker

 At one point the red lines were all over the house.  With cabinets being hung, and lights installed, the contractors measured and snapped a chalk coated string onto the wall or ceiling.  Presto – a straight line appeared.  Marking a reference point and guide for all future work, the chalk line told workers where they could install an item, or how far above, below, to the right or left, a particular cabinet, tile, or light fixture needed to be.

Having survived black Friday and cyber Monday, we are full swing into the season to be jolly and the season of economic folly, indulgence and blurred lines. Children and adults are barraged with ads convincing them to cross all kinds of lines . . . insisting that there are items they absolutely must have.  For my boys, the worst were the Power Ranger years.   When I drove past a toy store at 7:30 am on the way to work and observed parents lined up around the block I momentarily thought I must be an unfit mother.  Not only was I not on the line, I had no intention of ever being on one.  Unless my children’s lives depended on it (I did not believe their impassioned pleas that without a Red Ranger they could not go on living) I would not stand on line for it.  I’m happy to report that I recovered from worries of parenting failure and my children survived many a holiday season without the must have item.  That toy store line was a reminder of what holiday and year-round indulgence looks like, and which lines our family would not cross.

Chalk lines are, my Dad told me, a simple string on a reel housed in a box filled with a reservoir of chalk dust.  Blue is apparently the most common, but many colors are available to help carpenters meet their mark in different conditions.  The darker pigment in red chalk lasts longer, and makes it a good choice for outdoors.  There are even florescent versions to make boundaries and guide lines really clear.

What was easy for carpenters comes much harder to parents and teachers . . . drawing the line and saying no.  It is never received well by the children in our charge, and claims that “you are the meanest …” or “everyone else has . . . “   are sure to follow.  Living in a country whose current economic crisis has evolved partly because of overstepped lines, today’s adults have an opportunity to help children learn not only to survive, but actually enjoy holidays within limits.    Financial planners can advise what to spend and how to budget.  As a psychologist, I think a critical component is simply teaching children how to set a boundary and live within it.  In the same way ignoring the chalk line when mounting a fixture can interfere with other parts of the plan, impulsive or desire-driven buying and consumerism can put many elements of our lives at risk.   

When teaching children fiscal responsibility, we have to balance how much information they receive.  Gaining the cooperation of youngsters by pleading poverty and instilling fear and panic about where their next meal will come from is rarely helpful.  I actually advocate financial boundaries even in good times when ample funds are available.  I think children should learn the critical difference between “I want” and “I need”.  Once that distinction is understood, “wants” can be prioritized, designated for holiday or birthday gifts, or as targets for children’s own saving and purchase.  It also helps everyone realize that December’s “must have” item may be off the list by January, replaced by some newer compelling need.

Boundaries, whether in chalk on a wall, or in our holiday spending, can keep us in check but can also inspire creative planning.   Imagine giving children a day of sightseeing, starting a tradition of family pajamas ‘till noon day, making your own video or having a Checkers tournament, scavenger hunt, or midnight soiree.  Giving of your time, energy and good spirit may cost no money and provide serious dividends.

Financial plans, like chalk lines are not set in stone.  They can be easily changed, adjusted and erased.  There is great value in teaching children that guidelines exist and that we establish them for ourselves just to keep our “wanting” in check.   And as our generous parent and teacher hearts think of all we want to give to our young charges, let’s consider the chalk box – the never ending supply of line and limit making the carpenter uses.  This season, and through the year, let’s teach children to give and receive within the chalked lines that limit our resources.  Children will learn the lessons of financial limits and thrive quite happily as long as we show them that the priceless generosity of our hearts knows no bounds.

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