Dear Amy: I am in a relationship with a man who has two daughters, ages 9 and 10. At the end of his marriage, he and his wife filed for bankruptcy, partly due to her shopping addiction.
Her spending doesn’t appear to have changed, and I’m worried about how it’s affecting her children, now and in the future.
She immediately buys them everything they want to the point where there’s really nothing to purchase for birthdays or Christmas, because they want for nothing. She buys them more clothes than any child could ever wear before they outgrow them.
Recently she started giving them an unearned allowance of $20 per week, but she doesn’t “give” them the money. She instead takes them shopping so they can spend the money.
These children have so many things that they have no value in what they receive. They get a toy, play with it for the day then it gets tossed aside and eventually donated when their mother cleans out their room.
I am very concerned about the impact this will have on them in the future, but she is not someone with whom we can reason. I have tried to counteract by discussing with the girls the value of saving money, and we hope to set up savings accounts for them. These girls are with their mother two-thirds of the time, so I worry that our message won’t get through to them.
Do you have any advice on what we can do to counteract the impact this is having on them? — Not-a-Spender
Dear Not-a-Spender: Your most valuable contribution to these girls will be to lavish them not with things, but with experiences. When they are with their father, he (and you) should develop routines and traditions that reflect your values.
Go places together, cook together, play board games and read chapter books as a family. Spend time in nature. Volunteer to pet and walk the animals at your local shelter.
Given how indulged these girls are, there is no need for you to go shopping with them, but they might not know how to do much else. Be very patient with them. Being overindulged and basically having material things thrown at you is depleting and sensory-shifting. Think of their time with you as a gentle detox.
Set up piggy banks and saving accounts for both girls, encourage them to save and learn to spend wisely.
Dear Amy: Several years ago, my sister died, leaving behind two young children.
Now they are older and want to know what my sister was like growing up.
I don’t know what to say. My sister was cruel and violent to almost everyone. I don’t believe in criticizing anyone’s parent, but I really can’t come up with any happy memories. What do I say? — Conflicted Sister
Dear Conflicted: You should be circumspect in discussing your sister, but you also should be honest. Share any photos or letters (if appropriate) you have of the family during childhood.
You can say, “Honestly, she was a challenging person when we were kids. We didn’t really get along very well. But she loved you like crazy and I know she would be so proud of you.”
Do not say anything to these young adults that you might have to walk back later, but do answer their questions, if you can.
You could then segue to any memories you might have about your niece/nephew’s early lives (their birth, toddlerhood, etc.).
Dear Amy: I was very disturbed by your answer to “Toe the Line,” the young woman who was worried that her neighbors in upscale, liberal Northern California would call the police when her college friend, a male “person of color” visited the neighborhood.
Your response was so racist. First of all, you made the worst assumptions about these people, and secondly, you showed your liberal bias and racist attitude toward white people. — Disgusted
Dear Disgusted: Many people contacted me expressing a view similar to yours, a view I find bewildering.
There is ample evidence of both overt and covert racism in this country, including several disturbing recent stories outlining the very fear that “Toe the Line” expressed — people calling the police because a person of color was simply sharing their space.
I can’t discern how confirming this concern and answering this question demonstrates my anti-white bias. I am white, but I have children of other races, and I am quite aware of how life is sometimes quite different for them than it is for me.