Had I just used the profit motive for a less-than-fully ethical purpose? If I had a son, would I have gone to such lengths to justify the charity part of his sale?
+ + +
“Can we have a lemonade stand?”
As parent, you have probably heard this summery question at one time or another.
As a stay-at-home dad, I often helped my two daughters with their many stands during their younger years. To teach them about charity, however, I would insist that 50 percent of the profits go to our local food bank. They enjoyed making a little money, and I enjoyed their learning about generosity.
But one summer day my eldest daughter became more interested in making money for her own purchases, and she gently resisted the idea of giving such a high percentage to charity. In a moment I now regret, I responded by rehashing the value of charity for its own sake rather than nurturing a child’s naturally growing interest in money, budgeting and entrepreneurship.
I hadn’t considered that moment gendered or financial sexism until reading Ron Lieber’s The Opposite of Spoiled, in which he explains that studies show “parents are much more likely to talk to boys than girls about investing, protecting their personal information online, how credit card interest and fees work, whether it’s wise to use check-cashing services and what a 401(k) is. … And what do girls get more of? Parents tend to talk to them more often about giving money away.”
I kicked myself upon reading those words. As a father of daughters and no sons, I strive to root out any gender blind spots in my parenting. (My inner Lady Macbeth damns those spots when they arise.) While my wife and I model many role-reversals at home, how could I have missed this gendered charity-bias? Granted, the girls were young, but in hindsight this was an important beginning to their relationship with money that I failed to recognize.
Alas, all was not lost that day. After emphasizing the importance of charity, I decided to introduce the profit motive as well. I explained to my daughter that by having a sign telling potential buyers that half the profits will benefit the local food bank, she would actually attract more customers and thus make more money for both the food bank and herself. With some reluctance, she agreed to the sign.
Sure enough, a few minutes into the sale a woman saw the sign and declared, “I love that you’re giving half the profits to charity. I don’t even want any lemonade, but here’s two dollars for your sale!” My daughter’s eyes lit up and she gave me a big smile.
But I wonder what she really learned. Had I just used the profit motive for a less-than-fully ethical purpose? Or did the end justify the means? And if I had a son, would I have gone to such lengths to justify the charity part of his sale, or would I have welcomed his more aggressive financial attitude more than I had my daughter’s?
As a boy, I did not run any lemonade stands, and I don’t know if my parents would have insisted on a charitable component. But I know I was allowed to spend my first lawn work earnings as I saw fit. Some people rightly ask if it is even appropriate to make kids feel like they need to be charitable (and potentially guilt-ridden) at such a young age? One veteran parent I know thinks children just need to be well-loved at home and qualities like generosity and altruism will flow naturally in the future when they can better understand the needs of others.
Fortunately, I still have time to make up for my early overemphasis on charity and potential financial sexism. I am using several of Lieber’s suggestions with my now-teen daughters to provide a more balanced approach to their learning about both getting and giving, industry and charity. The tip I like most is to take your children backstage when they reach appropriate ages and understand family privacy. Expose the Wizard of the checkbook or online banking. Gradually reveal to both your sons and daughters how you earn, spend, save, and give.
Just be sure to keep an eye out, so to speak, for those gender blind spots, especially if you have daughters.