I Put the Device Face Down If My Daughter Wants to Talk

Portrait of ron lieber

Now, how do I know Ron Lieber? I can’t remember how I met him. For a long time, I’ve been a big fan of his work. He writes a thought-provoking, helpful personal-finance column, “Your Money,” for the New York Times, and also writes for the Motherlode blog there. Recently, he wrote a post that got a huge amount of buzz: Why you should tell your children how much you make.

He has a new book that’s just hitting the shelves this week. The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, which is an essential guidebook for any parents who want to talk sensibly with their children about money — and about good values related to money. This subject is very interesting and important, and I was particularly intrigued by the title, because I’ve often asked myself, what makes a person spoiled?

I was very eager to hear what Ron had to say.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded?

Ron: That there’s an epidemic of silence around money in families, no matter how much they have and no matter where they live. Somewhere along the way, we decided that talking honestly with children about money is impolite or age-inappropriate or will scare them or cause them to be money grubbers. But having money or talking about it doesn’t subvert values. In fact, having the right conversations about it over a decade or two can actually imprint good habits like modesty, generosity and perseverance.

Given what you’ve learned, what habits do you think are most important for parents to try to instill in children?

We live in a world nowadays that conspires against waiting. You don’t have to wait through the commercials. You can pay to skip the line at the theme park. Everyone has their own phone line. Homes have more bathrooms.  But patience is good; it’s the foundation of saving, after all. Plus if kids have to wait a while before they buy and get things, the yearning just may pass (albeit on to the next thing that they must have right that very moment).

And let’s not forget curiosity. The primary job of a child is to learn how the world works, and it’s parents’ job to answer their questions. All of them.  Including the hard ones about money.

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Expressing gratitude.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Holding a device or facing a computer screen while my daughter is trying to talk to me. It makes me feel like a bad dad. I now put the device face down if my daughter wants to talk or physically turn from the desktop screen and lock eyes with her to make sure she knows I’m fully present.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, for savings, etc.)

Automating every possible financial transaction. For me and my wife, this helps reduce anxiety around missing payments or not saving enough.

Soon, we’re going to start automating allowance payments into a virtual account for our daughter so we never have to worry about forgetting to give it to her or not having enough singles to pay her on the appointed day each week.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

An Obliger. I do a decent job of meeting most people’s expectations of me, whether it’s editors or friends or family. But I’m not as nice to myself emotionally as I should be.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

I write a weekly column for the New York Times, plus a post every two weeks for our parenting blog, Motherlode. It is an enormous privilege, but the deadline looms each and every Friday. My midnight Thursday eating habits are, well, deeply problematic.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you changed a major habit very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

The Apartment Therapy “landing strip” riff has completely changed the way I walk in the door when I come home each day and has made the logistics of arriving (and leaving) much calmer. Everyone has to check it out!

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