Ask Your Father

My Son Wanted Money For A Game. I Gave Him A Loan With Interest Instead.

"I feel like I’m structuring this strange half world in my house that will ease my children into what the real world will be like."

A few months ago my 11-year-old, Tristan, asked to borrow money to download a game for our Nintendo, so we came up with a brilliant idea to offer him a loan. The game was around 60 bucks. Mel and I found a Family Loan Agreement online, made a payment plan, added a percentage, and consequences for missed/late payments. We even broke down how much more he'd be paying with interest. We showed it to him in a spreadsheet, and his eyes glossed over, and it was pretty clear that he didn't care about any of that, only the game, and all I could think about was the first time I signed a car loan. I told him that the payment would be close to 50 percent of his "income," and how that is never a good decision. He shrugged, happily signed, and then downloaded the game.

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Kid playing Nintendo

Well ... today it happened. He didn't do all his chores over the month, and he bought another game, along with some candy, so he missed a payment. He came into our "financial meeting" in the kitchen, Mel and I sitting on one side of the table, him on the other in his blue charter school hoodie, our family computer open with the payment information, the contract between us. We asked him about his missing payment, and he gave us a shrug that seemed to say, "What're you going to do about it? I already passed the game." It was then that Mel leaned forward, and read the second paragraph of the loan where he put his game systems up as collateral, and they would now be repossessed until he was back in good standing (minimum payment + $6 late charge).

I half smiled, looked at my wife, and winked. "Got'ya!" I thought.

But had we?

In the past several hours he's gone through a few emotional states.

Disbelief: "How can you do this to me?"

Desperation: "How much can I earn by picking up after the dog?"

Boredom: "I'm sooooo bored." (Times infinity)

Quiet distain: Glared at Mel and I for a considerable amount of time hopeful that we will crack under the shame of his eyes.

Isolation: As I write this, he's in his room, in bed, wrapped in a quilt.

Kid counting money. 
 Alohaflaminggo / Shutterstock 

Did we make the right decision? Gosh, I don't know. Right now I'm, like, 65 percent sure that my son hates me. Maybe 75 percent. Will he hate me forever? I sure hope not. Will he eventually have an AHA! moment and realize he learned a valuable lesson about finances that will keep him out of the red for the rest of his life? I hope so. At least, that's what I'm shooting for. Never in my whole life did I ever desire to work for a bank, issue a loan, or draft a contract. I'm not interested in making money off this deal. None of it is for my gain. In fact, I have no doubt that I will probably lose money on it, but that isn't the point. Sometimes, I feel like I'm structuring this strange half world in my house that will ease my children into what the real world will be like. I give them jobs around the house that I'd rather do myself because that way it would get done right, but my kids need to learn work ethic. I hassle them to do their homework because I know that they will need those skills too, even though I hate hassling them to do homework. Right now the stakes are low. I'd rather Tristan learn how a loan works by losing a gaming system, so he doesn't end up losing a car, or a house, or who knows what.

But the tricky part, with my kids anyway, is that I never really know what's going to stick, and each time I do something like this loan I offered Tristan, I honestly wonder if he will never learn the lesson, and end up hating me forever. And honestly, who really loves the loan officer or repo-man? No one! And Mel and I just became both. But I suppose these feelings are normal, right? I hope so.

What I know for sure is that parenting is a gamble: financially, mentally ... I could go on. So I'm sticking to the terms of the loan. I'm going to dig in my heels, and hope for the best, because as much as it sucks for all of us, I kind of wish someone would've done something like this for me when I was 11. Perhaps it would have kept me from, you know, getting that first credit card and using it for all those video games, DVDs, and burgers back in the late 90s. But the real catch is, I probably won't see the true results until much later, so all I can do now, is hold strong, and wait.

Clint Edwards is the author of  I'm Sorry. Love, Your Husband, and the funny and insightful No Idea What I'm Doing: A Daddy Blog. He is a staff writer for the very popular (and awesome) Scary Mommy. His work has been discussed on Good Morning America, The View, The Talk, and The Today Show. Everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to Sharon Osbourne to Kathie Lee Gifford has agreed with his take on parenting and marriage. He's also a parenting contributor to the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Disney's Babble, and elsewhere. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter

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