This is a First Person column by Helena Wiest, who lives in B.C.’s Fraser Valley. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, see the FAQ.
On a Sunday evening, I entered my son’s bedroom where he casually lounged at the helm of his two computer monitors. I perched lightly on the corner edge of his double bed, giving me my familiar view of his maturing facial profile. He’s a handsome young man of 18 with carefully tended facial hair and luxuriously thick, dark hair that he had loosely styled to one side. He knew I had something important to say when I sat down. I saw from the open tabs on his screens that he was planning his next purchase of tools.
“Spending that big paycheque already, eh?”
“Yeah, I’m trying to decide which tool chest to buy. I like this one from Canadian Tire, but it doesn’t have good reviews, and this other one isn’t available in Canada,” he said as he flipped between the two tabs. I couldn’t tell the difference between the two, so I just said that I liked the blue one.
“I knew you’d pick by colour. You always do,” he teased me.
“And you always prefer the best your money can buy, don’t you?”
He’d been making good money for the past three months since graduating from high school with a carpentry certification. Now he had a full-time job and the freedom of his driver’s licence.
But there was a catch to his growing up that would affect our small family of three, and it was up to me to remind him of this — to lay out the expectations for his emerging role as a wage earner in our home.
I had the uncomfortable task of asking my 18-year-old kid to pay up. I wished it were a choice and not a necessity.
I wanted to let him be a young adult — earning his money, saving for his own goals, and enjoying his days off work. But as a family with just my income working at a public library and my husband’s CPP disability benefit to meet our needs, the marking of our son’s 18th birthday also meant the end of several government benefits that helped us make ends meet.
The rational side of me knew that he enjoyed our internet, our family cell phone plan and our food, so if he was now earning an income, why shouldn’t he contribute to this cost? I told myself it was the responsible thing to do — for both of us — so that I wouldn’t be shouldering our family’s expenses alone and for him to learn how to manage his finances early on. But if I had the choice, I’d give him at least a year after high school to continue feeling like a kid with few financial responsibilities. His bedroom was his zone — his safe place where he could escape from the stresses of our family life — and here I was in that room asking for money.
As my son turned to look at me properly, I could see his broad grin and the glint in his eyes that appears when he’s proud — in this case because he knew the ease with which he could make the purchase of the coveted tool chest. Seeing my opening, I asked him how much his last paycheque was, even though I already knew the answer since his account — opened when he was a minor — is still linked to mine.
“More than I expected,” he said.
I took the plunge and proceeded with my plan.
“Ah, I see. So that percentage we talked about for room and board … 15 per cent would be about right.”
He quickly did the calculations on his computer of what that meant for his bank balance. Without missing a beat, he turned to face me again with that proud smile and glint in his eyes even brighter now.
“Yep. Not a problem at all, Mom. I’ll set up the recurring e-transfers,” he said. “When do you want them — the first of the month or the end of the month?
Not wanting to get emotional with him during this factual conversation, I managed to mumble that the first of the month would be best.
My son may just be 18, but in this brief exchange, I see in his actions that we’ve raised a young man who is proud to help his family, and proud to earn his own way through the world, and that was worth far more than the actual dollars we’d receive.
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