Are you an ATM parent? Am I an ATM parent?

By Stew


I remember the first time I saw my father use an ATM or automated teller machine. I can still remember the name of the bank my parents used and picture the whole ATM setup in my mind – right down to the now-ancient looking digital numbers on the screen. I was quite inquisitive about how a machine could spit out cash. I mean, how much cash must have been in that metal and plastic box? Or did it print the money on the spot? Was there a tube leading from the bank vault that kept the ATM loaded with cash? Why was there a $200 withdrawal limit? Why were ATM bills so crisp? What if I watched closely and figured out my dad’s pin number?

I remember, though, that my father was careful to explain to me that this was not just money from a machine, but real money that came out of his bank account. No one had really ever heard of a credit card at this time, so the ATM was a pretty big deal in the cash or check society of that day. The other vivid memory that I have from this time period was paying for gas with a $10 bill and developing the skill to make the pump stop exactly on $10.00, so that you would not get a penny in change or have to search through the car for an extra nickel or dime. But I digress. (Boy, I sound old sometimes, don’t I?)

Even though my father used the ATM from time to time, he was most definitely not an ATM parent – at least when I was at home. By the time my younger brothers and sisters were older, my parents were earning a little more money and probably saving more, since I was not there to eat everything in the house. They were probably most generous in regards to my baby sister whose wedding is coming up in a month. She is 13 years my junior and let’s just say that if money was love, my parents loved her more. . . or did they? hmmm . . .

What is an ATM Parent?

From the context, I was pretty sure that I knew what an ATM parent meant, but let me develop and define this term a little bit. I am making assumptions and speaking in generalities, this is not meant to be completely literal in every part. The truth is probably that many of us will identify with some parts of this list more than others.

If the shoe fits, wear it:

ATM parents allow $5’s, $10’s, $20’s and $50’s to flow freely without accountability.

Children of ATM parents often know their Christmas and birthday presents in advance. The prospective toy is always something fantastic and ATM children love to proclaim it loudly at the lunch table or on the bus. There are times when I wonder if the future gift is something that the parent promised to the child in order to get him to behave.

ATM parents want to make everything in life as fair as possible for their children.

ATM children grow up thinking that tanning, facials, designer jeans, summer camp and expensive basketball shoes are not luxuries.

ATM parents are not necessarily rich, but most seem to struggle financially – whether or not they make $30K or $250K annually.

ATM children do have piggy banks, but they are empty.

ATM parents rarely say no, but they often make a counter-offer.

ATM children know that money does not grow on trees, however, it does bloom whenever they tug on a parent’s sleeve.

ATM parents feed the instant gratification habit rather than delayed gratification.

ATM children believe that saving up for something means telling their parents what they want a month in advance.

Does your child know that if ATM father says no, that ATM mother might be willing to contribute?

ATM children carry credit cards for which they never see the statement.

ATM parents assume that the automated teller machine should also pay for college and then room and board after college.

Can you add to the list? Am I raising children who have ATM tendencies? I hope not. Are you raising ATM children or – gasp!- Credit Card kids?!

By the way – there is absolutely nothing wrong with an ATM grandparent.

Photo by: frankh

15 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Are you an ATM parent? Am I an ATM parent?”

  1. DDFD at Says:

    My wife and I discuss this all the time. It makes our jobs as parents harder when we say “No.”

    These parents are setting their kids up for future failure and disappointment when their unrealistic expectations can’t be met . . .

  2. the weakonomist Says:

    I would say many ATM parents don’t struggle financially. In my experience many parents happily give up cash for their children but do not spend any money on themselves. The result is usually a decent savings rate for the parents. To a certain extent my parents did this, and my fiance’s parents did too. We both turned out fine and our parents are pretty much set for retirement whenever they feel like it.

    But this does require a bit of a change in the definition of ATM parents. Like you, ATMs were fascinating devices back in the day. Now I work at a bank and all the magic is gone.

  3. Miranda Says:

    My parents definitely were not ATM parents. And my husband and I aren’t either. I think the key phrase up top is “without accountability.” It is a good idea to teach children to be accountable for where their money goes, and teach them to make decisions on what they want to buy or have.

  4. Baker @ ManVsDebt Says:

    My parents definitely fell into the description. We weren’t regularly spoiled with large purchase, but could nickel and dime them to death if we really wanted.

    Luckily, my 13 month old can’t yet ask for money, but I’m not sure she’s going to like the response when she’s old enough to. Who knows?

  5. Debbie Says:

    I am most definitely not an ATM parent and my parents weren’t either. I say no to my kids on a regular basis. The don’t lack for anything but they aren’t spoiled either. My kids have started to tote the mantra, “that’s not a need it’s a want”. :)

    You are correct that there is no such thing at an ATM grandparent. I had a nice giggle about that one. My husband and I have conceded defeat when it comes to the grandparents spoiling our kids.

    Good post by the way.

  6. Travis @ CMM Says:

    Funny that you posted about this. Yesterday at church we showed a video of kids of all ages answering the question what is a mom.

    Most kids gave typical answers, they take care of you, feed you, read you books, etc.

    But one of our teenagers answered “My mom is an ATM that I can go to whenever I need money.”

    Classic. Got great laughs from the congregation.

  7. Wendy Says:

    man oh man- how timely is this? I used to be an ATM parent, and I am trying hard to undo the damage I’ve already done. Sigh. I do agree that I’ll give almost anythign for my kids, and go without for myself. GOtta work on that one, too!

  8. dramon Says:

    During high School my son was expected to pay for most items himself when he worked; he had is own checking account and was responsbible for it himself. During his first year of Engineering college, we are paying for most reasonable expenses. Personally I struggled with this, but my goal was to have the first year be successful. The expectation is that subsequent years he would be expected to have a job and to contribute to expenses. The accountability is grades. Bad grades = no money.

  9. MLR Says:

    I run into people all the time and think “Wow, you are #$# spoiled!”

    Now I know what to call their parents.

    Most of those descriptions are spot on, too, in re: to the designer jeans and fake tans and whatnot.

    Hopefully one day they learn financial responsibility!

  10. Tina B Says:

    An ATM Parent makes sure their child wins every school sales competition by either selling all of the candy or buying it all themselves. They also assure victory on any walk-a-thons by making large pledges themselves.

    Everything has a pricetag for an ATM parent. If the child is not compliant it is your fault because the prize wasn’t big enough. Grades, goals, shots, dental visits, medicine,…

    An ATM child has no idea what it is like to live with any sort of physical flaws. They don’t have to endure pimples, crooked teeth, or moles. Their parents rush them off to be “fixed” at the first sign.

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