Repaying a debt builds self-esteem

When he was 21, my son, who was married and had a child, needed to quickly borrow $1,000 from me.

Knowing that he and his wife were "living on a shoestring," I was glad to be able to wire him the money.

But I became concerned when, after four months, nothing had been said or done toward payment of the debt.

This was less important than the lesson of respect to be learned about repaying a debt and honoring one's word, I felt.

After thinking about this deeply, I sat down and wrote my son and his wife a loving letter sharing my feelings.

I acknowledged all the positive things they were doing to get back on track financially and the fact that I knew they not only wanted to repay their debt, but would. But I also explained that I was concerned about the nonpayment.

To help them, I set some guidelines. Beginning with the next month, I would expect a minimum monthly payment of $10. If, for any reason, they could not make that, all they had to do was notify me. No interest would be charged.

Even as I wrote this, I half-expected the debt to drag on forever. There was a good possibility, though, depending on their track record, that as a Christmas present (about a year away), I might "forgive" the rest of the debt. But I kept these thoughts to myself.

The first three payments I received after I sent my letter were $30 each and on time, I was pleased to note. I acknowledged the receipt of each payment and even mailed them a stamped, self-addressed envelope for future payments and a record of their dwindling debt.

From then on, payments increased. My son and his wife became more excited and proud of themselves each month.

Shortly afterward, my daughter-in-law was offered a job to which she could take their baby. Before Christmas the entire debt was paid in full!

I sent them a "certificate" and a letter of congratulations and thanks for a job well done, mentioning many good points of their repayment. I also let them know I'd be more than willing to do business with them again, that they should feel very proud of themselves, and I was proud of them.

Although they were several states away, I could almost feel their growth in self-esteem from where I was.

I have now come to realize how important this experience was for them - not only as a confidence-builder, but as guidance that encouraged their best intentions.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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