Feature A summer of money woes has left one parent wondering when her children will stop relying on the Bank of Mum and Dad.
The only thing I can't bear about summer is the threat of bankruptcy. During the rest of the year my children are quite mercenary enough but, come summer, I cling to the romantic notion that, freed from school, they will spend their days peacefully (and cheaply) wandering down the beach or reading a book. Dream on. "I need to go out for a pizza with my friends"; "I haven't got a single pair of sandals"; "My friends are all going to spend a few days in X destination, can I join them?" The normal trickle of demands turns into a deluge during the holidays and it has left me financially frazzled.
Last week, I stopped the car, rang my 18-year-old son and shouted at him. "Don't you think you can just ask for more cash!" I ranted down the phone to Amsterdam where he was staying with a friend. "I don't care if you have run out. Just eat plain bread for a few days." At the other end of the phone he was struggling to get a word in. In the distance, beyond the drumming of blood in my ears, I could just make out that he was explaining that he had thought he could manage but there were so many unforeseen expenses. His excuses were many and some of them were plausible. They needed to take trains more often than he had realised. The parents of the friend he was staying with were so mean that they even expected him buy sugar and milk to go in his tea. The price of sandwiches is "unbelievable". Oh and, err, they had broken somebody's fridge and had to pay for repairs.
I wasn't really listening because his request for extra funds to be Western Unioned out to him was the latest blow in what had turned out to be not The Summer of Love, but The Summer of Money Battles. What really got me about this call for cash was that he had initially telephoned my husband, and not me. I shouted down my mobile, loud enough for the entire neighbourhood to hear: "You think he's a soft touch. You knew if you had called me I would have said: 'Tough, just walk to the airport'. So you deliberately avoided me."
I would have done no such thing, of course. Beneath the bluster I am almost as absurdly generous to my children as my husband. Frequently, I lie awake at night wondering if we are breeding a set of financial cuckoos who will sit in the nest for the rest of their lives, with their greedy little beaks open for me to pop juicy worms/cheques into them. I envy those people I know who have so little money that they simply cannot fork out. Some of my son's friends have been supporting themselves with evening and weekend jobs since the moment they turned 16, and now seem impressively independent and financially aware.
With four of my five children now in their teenage years, I am increasingly convinced that I began to go badly wrong some time back. If only I had insisted that they earned their pocket money by cleaning the house when they were six, I might not now be concerned that they will never get jobs. (Or, indeed, clear up.) If only I had been more energetic about getting them to craft birthday cards from an early age, they might now be on to a nice little earner, and show some artistic talent. Why should my children ever lift a finger, I fear, when they can always tap the Bank of Mum and Dad?
The richer you are, people say, the more difficult it is to deal with the issue of children and money. If that is so, I feel very sorry indeed for the wealthy because, even as a member of the struggling middle classes, it seems to me that my children are horribly spoilt and have no idea about paying their own way. They get some regular pocket money so that they can learn about managing it, but it is fairly minimal to give them an incentive to be entrepreneurial. The eldest girl does babysitting, the renegade boy teaches guitar, but neither of them has what I call a "proper" Saturday or holiday job like I did when I was their age. They are victims of our own prosperity.
Whenever I start talking in that vein - which is, I can see, enormously irritating - the children make faces. "All you ever talk about is money," my 12-year-old claims, with some justification. But money is not just cash, I reply, it's a moral issue. It's about self-sufficiency, delayed gratification and working for something you care about. The pair of shoes which you pay for yourself is far less likely to be a spur of the moment mistake than the one you buy purely because you wheedle your parent into buying for you. By the time I have got that far in my sermon I am invariably speaking to an empty room.
It is true, as they tell me, that many of their friends get even more generous treatment. I know, not just from the way they call me the Queen of Mean, but because no parent has been able to come anywhere near me recently without being quizzed about how they deal with the issue of money. On the day when I made a hideous fuss about giving my 12-year-old Dh133 (£20) to pay for her weekend's amusement, I watched slack-jawed as one of her friends rang her mother and asked her to come round. As soon as she arrived, the girl announced, "I need some money for shopping." Three hundred thirty dirhams (£50) was handed over without demur. Another then tried the same trick on hers and Dh530 (£80) was pressed into her eager paw. Divorced parents are the worst. "My dad gives me whatever I want," said one girl whose mother is onto her fourth husband, all of them wealthy. I wonder, what career path she will take?
But there are others who seem to have got it right. Over the road there is a family, all of whose members seem to do at least two jobs and still get top grades at school. How do you do it? I asked their mother. "I don't carry cash around with me and I just tell that we don't have any," she says. I have tried to do the same but always end up rushing to a cashpoint. If I don't, smallish sums continually disappear from my handbag, unless I keep it under my pillow when I sleep.
Another paragon of a father, with gainfully employed teenagers, told me: "The ones who get the work are those who really badger for it." He is right of course. What I should have done from the start was be firm and consistent about money. I should have told them exactly how much they would get and not a penny more. My husband and I should have never allowed them to play one of us off against another. It's never too late to change, he said.
While I attempt to reform, I comfort myself that the vast majority of children do eventually cease to be on the parental payroll. But I fear that, more exasperated with myself than them, I shall continue to blow up my grasping offspring from time to time. When I do, I shall try not to feel guilty about it. As a friend said when I confided in her my guilt about having roared at my son: "Don't worry. They all say 'I hate you', but forget about it the minute you have handed over some more cash."
She was spot on. When he returned from Amsterdam I learnt that my harsh words had slid off him like water off a duck's back - or, indeed, money through a teenager's hands.