‘I feel like I’ve been exploited by my own children’

Moral Money
Moral Money

Email or comment below with your own moral money conundrum and it could be answered in a future column. All our letters are genuine but writers are anonymous.

Dear Moral Money,

I took out a family phone contract to cover my teenagers’ mobile phones. It came with added benefits of parental controls and screening, as well as a discounted tariff. That was nine years ago, and now my children are 19, 23 and 25 – and I am still paying.

I’ve recently found out that two of them have “other” phones that allow them privacy, while continuing to take advantage of the family tariff when it suits them.

I was outraged when I discovered this, and feel like I have been exploited by my own children. Am I overreacting?

– Anon

Dear reader,

Having spoken to you about this, I know that your family has a tradition of giving your children a mobile phone on their 16th birthday. It started when your eldest turned 16. At the time, he’d felt like the odd one out because all his friends had phones, and you wanted him to prepare him for sixth form when he would be travelling further to school.

I understand the first phone wasn’t on a family tariff, and was lost within a few weeks! When you looked into replacing it and having it insured, you discovered the option of adding a child’s phone to your account, and then learned of the discounts for getting your husband’s contract included in the bundle.

It is fair to say you were gradually seduced by the clever marketing of the mobile companies to amalgamate your contracts with one service provider. Over the years you added your younger children’s phones to the family contract.

The phones have been upgraded as the years have gone on. Every 18 months or so you were encouraged to negotiate contract terms with your service provider, and so it has rolled on.

You tell me there were several occasions when you had considered deals that would suit you personally – a phone upgrade you fancied that wasn’t available via the family contract, a better roaming tariff for a particular holiday that wasn’t available either – but you didn’t want to disrupt everyone else’s service supply just because something would have benefited you. Little did you know that some of the group had already struck to make independent deals.

It seems it is the compromises you have made that annoy you the most. You thought you were doing your children a favour and in fact they had already rejected the restrictions of the family contract. It would have been nice of them to tell you they had negotiated their own phone contracts, and thanked you for the support that has helped them transition from dependent to independent.

What actually happened is your eldest son heard his phone ring and got it out to respond. It wasn’t his phone – oh no, wait, it is his phone, but it’s the other one. He answers the second phone while you watch on. When you ask him about it he nonchalantly informs you that both him and your middle child have had their own phones and contracts for months.

The second-rate handsets on the family plan that didn’t get upgraded often enough were not cutting  it, and they didn’t want you monitoring all their calls.

It is likely that your children compared phones, and once the eldest had the latest device, the others were going to want to upgrade, too. They probably managed to convince each other it was just normal behaviour and didn’t take time to consider if it might be exploitative or unreasonable.  I know my boys rarely gave much thought to anything except music, sport and girls at that age.


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I do think this is a classic tale of unmet expectations, and if that is the case then the solution to your angst can be found in lowering them.

Can we really blame the children for keeping the old phones going when it costs them nothing, and all the friends and family were still regularly contacting them on that number?

Equally, being in a position to choose the technology that suited them best was important and where you made a self-sacrifice when you were in the same position they acted in their own interest – were  you a martyr, or were they selfish?

Being a parent is full of responsibility and we can’t help but hope we are appreciated but, in reality, much of what we contribute is in the sacrifices we make that the children won’t even realise until they have children of their own.

I think you have a right to feel used, however, it is in changing the expectation that the children wouldn’t play the advantage for their own benefit that your comfort can be found. It’s just kids being kids (or young adults).

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll publish the best responses. Email us – in confidence – with your own Moral Money questions: 

Last week’s Moral Money was: ‘I’d like to go back to work, but my high-flying husband won’t help with the kids’

The best of your comments:

Steven Davis

Being able to personally look after your own children is only a dream for most people, letting strangers look after them for you is an unpleasant by-product of keeping up with the mortgage payments, she should enjoy it for the gift that it is, children soon grow up and to be there for all those firsts that every child goes through should be cherished.

Many men and women cannot face the day to day grind of child care but it brings its own reward not money or comfort but the satisfaction that you were there when you needed to be, you never know when you need care in the future it all may come back to you.

Roderick Cooper

If they have buckets of money then get an au pair / nanny, and a cleaner. If her husband were ever to lose his high flying job, then it’s good to have a second income to fall back on anyway. Some mothers love being at home nesting with Children, whilst others feel inadequate without a career and having to ask for money to buy things. Each to their own : Happy wife = happy life.

Jane Morris-Jones

I find it quite surprising that few of the comments below advocate the use of nannies as opposed to nurseries. If you are in a position to employ one-on-one childcare within your home, which it sounds as if you are, then why wouldn’t you investigate part-time/full day/live-in childcare according to a regime of your choosing? I have met many mothers who find this morally problematic owing to having themselves been reared exclusively by their mothers but there really are various other ways of rearing a happy and healthy child if you have means to choose.

Who is Sam?
Who is Sam?

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