Not long ago, my 16-year-old daughter started her first actual paying job. The night I watched Maggie limp away from her inaugural shift as a waitress at the pizza restaurant, I struggled with two different reactions. "No! She's too young to worry about earning a living," whimpered Nice Mommy. But my inner tough guy, who'd gotten tired of endless demands for clothes and makeup, hissed, "Yessss! Now she'll understand how many tables a night it takes to buy a pair of designer jeans."
Like many parents of teens, I'm guilty of sending my kids mixed messages about money. I'd like to boast that I've taught them lessons about earning, saving, and smart spending since they were little -- just like I'd like to say I've socked something away for their college education with every paycheck. Truth is, I've screwed up -- not by saying the wrong things, but by not saying anything. Maybe I dreaded sounding like my dad, whose constant "value of a dollar" lecture always ended with his turning down the thermostat and telling everyone to put on a sweater. Instead, I've tried to make my kids feel secure knowing that they will always be warm, fed, and clothed in something that is at least semi-cute. I've taken every opportunity to remind them that the world is rich with opportunity and potential. "Go ahead," I've often said, writing out the checks for karate and horseback riding lessons. "There's no limit to what you can be." Problem is, my bank account isn't bottomless.