Earlier this week, 20-year-old Jordan Zeidman of Nassau County, Long Island successfully sued his mother for $5000 of bar mitzvah money he claimed she owed him.
According to Zeidman, at his 2007 bar mitzvah, his maternal grandmother, whom the kids called “Baba,” promised to give him the same $5000 she’d given his older brother and sister on their big days.
In court, Baba confirmed that yes, she had made such a promise, but testified that she ended up not giving the money to Zeidman, nor to his mother to hold for him.
Zeidman, however, produced a hand-written IOU in which his mother promised to give him “$5000 from Baba.”
The judge ruled in Zeidman’s favor, finding the IOU binding and the mother liable for the amount, whether or not Baba had actually given it to her.
My first thought upon reading about the case was the instinctive, “Oh, great, a Jewish family haggling in court over money. That’s certainly going to lay the stereotypes to rest.”
Add to that the apparent fact that either Baba lied on the stand about never having handed over the money, or Zeidman’s mother lied about never having received it, plus the fact that the entire family is estranged (Mom and Grandma weren’t even invited to the bar mitzvah in question; they crashed it) and nobody comes out looking too great.
But my second thought was, “Wait a minute! This might happen to me!” (In between, I thought, “I must get this story to Kveller! Stat!”)
The fact is, I run what my kids call The Bank of Mommy.
Birthday money, holiday money, money that any of my three kids earn that’s paid out in cash, all comes to me. This is because money that’s left in my kids’ hands tends to go missing. Somewhere in the bowels of my oldest son’s teenage mess of a room should be an envelope with $20 that my brother gave him for the school raffle, and $80 that my husband and I fronted him for when he had to buy supplies to make costumes for his school’s annual SING! Competition. Now, maybe he lied to us and spent it on something else (my husband’s theory). I choose to believe his version, that he’s just careless.
So now, I put my kids’ money in a safe place with their respective names on it, and I dole it out. As I see fit. (My kids also have bank accounts where they deposit checks and any cash they feel like, but it’s the kind of account where they can’t withdraw anything without my permission.)
Most of the time, when my kids ask for their money, I give it to them. My 8-year-old daughter likes to buy an occasional ice cream cone (and sometimes treat her brothers). My 12-year-old son periodically needs hardware for his electronic and robotic inventions, and my oldest has a budget to buy his own clothes, shoes, and school supplies.
But I can envision a time when I might feel moved to reject their requests because I feel the item is overpriced, they don’t need it, or—Mommy’s prerogative—I don’t think they should have it.
Now it seems I can be sued for it.
I’ve written before about how much independence I give my kids. They stay home alone. They take NYC public transportation alone. They struggle with their schoolwork alone. I am very, very big on letting them make their own mistakes, failing, and learning from it.
But, every once in a while, I pull rank and make an executive decision. Because I’m the mom, that’s why. And I know more than they do. (At a gifted education conference a few years ago, I got a strict talking to from a man who overhead me telling my son that, no matter what his IQ, I would always be smarter than him, because I would always have more life experience. The eavesdropping man did not agree with my parenting philosophy. Anyone who reads me regularly knows how much I care about what other people think of me.)
I have my own opinions on whether a purchase is stupid/unnecessary/dangerous, and I reserve the right to put my foot down.
And I’m not certain that right automatically expires on the day my kids turn 18. I can easily visualize one of my allegedly adult, college-aged children coming to me for an amount of money that’s technically theirs to spend on something I disapprove of. And I can visualize myself refusing to give it to them. (Quite frankly, my husband’s and my entire strategy for keeping our kids off drugs is simply not giving them enough money to buy any.)
In an era when college students are being more and more infantilized via schools banning any controversial speakers who might upset them, instructor trigger warnings prior to reading potentially disturbing material, and campus websites that urge students to report anyone they catch saying or writing anything offensive (free speech, what’s that?), why is money any different? (Especially if they’re still living off mine?)
If a 20-year-old is so delicate and fragile that he can’t handle being exposed to a contrary opinion in the course of obtaining what should be a well-rounded and comprehensive education, then how can they possibly be allowed to decide for themselves what is or isn’t worth purchasing?
So while I let my kids read what they want, and watch what they want, and wear what they want, and think what they want, I think I’ll keep holding onto their money.
So sue me.