Q: I'm a single mother of two teenagers. This past year, I have been struggling financially. I am working full-time and part-time jobs and can barely make my monthly expenses. My sons have birthdays coming up, but I just can't see how I can afford the things on their wish lists. How can I help them have happy birthdays this year without all the presents?
Jim: There's no doubt about it: Times are tough. Your question moves me because it reminds me of my own mom. Like you, she was single, and she had to sacrifice and scrape just to put food on the table for me and my four siblings.
When it comes to their impending birthdays, I'd recommend sitting your sons down and explaining the situation honestly. Let them know that there just isn't money in the budget for big-ticket items this year. Offer some budget-friendly alternatives. They're old enough to not have the same sense of entitlement that a toddler would have. Your love for them and your desire to give them a happy birthday will likely mean more than any present.
In the long term, Brenda Armstrong, president of Mercy Tree, a ministry to single parents, offers some solid advice for those in your situation:
- Set goals. Write down everything relating to your finances, from income and spending to debts, and create a plan for achieving them. When a child asks about an unplanned purchase, say, "It's not that we don't have enough money, it's that the item doesn't fit with our goals right now."
- Involve your kids in creative ways to save money. Sell unneeded stuff on eBay, have a movie night at home and so on.
- Get out of debt. If at all possible, get rid of credit cards.
- Find support. Network with other single parents in your church or workplace.
For more, check out Brenda's book "Financial Relief for Single Parents: A Proven Plan for Achieving the Seemingly Impossible."
Q: Our 9-year-old grandson is a great boy, but has a problem with anger. He begins to wrestle in fun with his siblings and then something triggers in him and he becomes extremely angry. As he gets older, it seems to get worse. Is there something you would recommend to help him control his anger?
Leon Wirth, executive director of Parenting and Youth: It's encouraging see grandparents so interested in their grandkids' character development. Your grandson's mom and dad bear the primary responsibility for helping him manage his anger, but there are steps you can take as well.
Author Lynne Thompson has written about "Anger Busters for Kids." See if you can incorporate some of the following suggestions into your interactions with your grandson:
- Model anger management. Don't respond to his angry outbursts with angry outbursts of your own.
- Show respect. Don't participate by calling names or getting physical.
- Give him words to express his anger, such as, "I know you are disappointed ... or sad ... or frustrated."
- Identify with his pain: "I remember when I didn't get to go to a party ..."
- Set positive limits. Instead of saying, "Don't you throw that toy," say, "After you put the toy on the table, we can go have a snack."
- Redirect energy bursts that often come with anger. Encourage positive outlets like running, jumping or painting.
- Avoid power struggles. If your goal is to control, you will teach him to control others.
- Provide a cooling-off period by reading a book together or going on a walk. Then calmly discuss what happened and make a plan for next time.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.