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. She buys them everything they want to the point where there’s really nothing to purchase for special occasions. 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 a week, but she doesn’t “give” them the money; she takes them shopping so they can spend it.
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 and then it gets tossed aside and donated when their mother cleans out their room.
I have tried to counteract by discussing with the girls the value of saving money, but the girls are with their mother two-thirds of the time, so I worry that our message won’t get through.
Do you have any advice on what we can do to counteract the impact this is having on them?
Amy says: 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.
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.
No happy memories to share
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?
Amy says: You should be circumspect in discussing your sister, but you should also be honest.
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 that you might have to walk back later, but answer their questions, if you can.
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