Monday, April 13, 2009

Money Monday: April 13, 2009

This weekend, there was an article in a local paper on a familiar topic: What to tell the kids when you find yourself laid off.

The usual advice was being dispensed: Don’t lie, but don’t dramatize either. A few tips for how to put it in terms the kids can understand, then group hugs and on we go.

I’ve been seeing more and more such articles as this thing deepens and, well, continues continuing on a continual basis – and hearing more and more conversations around the watering holes about how to break things to the kids. How to tell them there’s not going to be a summer vacation this year, how to tell them we might be moving back to Grandma’s house in Texas, how to tell them that life as we knew it is officially over.

Curiously, I’m noticing a lot of my fellow parents around here are actually falling into one of those two extreme camps: They’re either lying outright (There’s no recession, everything’s fine, daddy just wants to take a break, ha ha ha, hey! Let’s go to the mall, kids!) or dramatizing big time (we’re all gonna diiiiiiiiiie, this thing is bigger than the Great Depression, we’re going to starve, we’re going to freeze, it’s The End, WAAAAAAAH!)

And something I never seem to see in the articles is the suggestion that your children can become something more than helpless, frightened little dependents – that they can, in fact, be your partners as we get through this (ahem) economic downturn…and subsequent adjustment to a less credit-centered lifestyle.

The articles and advice are always around explaining things to your kids, so they understand why their parents are perhaps freaking out, and to explain to them why they aren’t enjoying the same never-ending shower of goods and services they once did.

What they never seem to do is take that next step, where you invite the kids to be a part of the fight.

If you think about it, when we sit them down to tell them about these difficult things we basically tell them, “Yeah, see, there’s a monster under our bed.”

And then we say, “But don’t worry about it. We’ll handle it.”


We then tell them what we’re going to do. There will be fewer presents, there won’t be the summer vacation this year, we’re going to have to cut back and make sacrifices and blah blah blah.

A lot of parental gum-flapping…and meanwhile, our little dependents just sit there helplessly along for the ride.

I submit that there is a further step we should consider taking, and it is handing our kids a weapon and saying, “OK! So! We’re at war with this monster here – any suggestions?”

Bring them into the conversation. Ask them what they think we should do. Don’t just tell them we’re canceling this and ending that, put the numbers in front of them and ask them what they think we should do.

This is a tricky business, I’ll grant you. The balance between your opinion is respected and but I am the mommy and sometimes Because I Said So is going to totally trump YOUR vote can be a delicate one.

Furthermore, a lot of what they’re going to come up with is going to be, well duh, childish. They’re children, and for many of them the value of a dollar is shaky at best. Our Den Dollars system has given our kids a better-than-average understanding of just how much those Nintendo games and such really cost, but they’re still just kids.

They’re going to enthusiastically suggest lemonade stands, and yard sales, and clothing choices for daddy’s interview next week.

For frustrated parents who know a yard sale is going to bring, what, $300…and the mortgage is, what, $3000?, the temptation will be strong to say, “How cute! Not nearly enough, but cute!”

But I tell you what: You go ahead and have the yard sale, and keep on showing them the numbers. Let them see that not only does every little bit help, but they are helping.

Flip it on its head, too. Keep track of the things they ask for but then accept not in the budget right now without undue tears and lamentations. Show them how their maturity is helping. Praise them. Let them know that their help is important to you.

Kids need to know where they fit into things. They need to feel they are important, and in some ways this rough patch of road is giving those of us who are parents a marvelous opportunity to undo something I personally feel is just plain wrong: A childhood spent drifting from one momentary pleasure to the next, with your entire sense of importance being provided not through being part of the family pack, but by counting up how many toys your folks bought you this week.

The feeling of being needed by your family is a powerful thing. I was never prouder than in those moments when my dad would say something like, “Hey, good job – you saved me an entire afternoon’s work out here!”

Made every second of swinging that hoe worth doing.

My Denizens know what’s going down around here. They understand that our “vacations” are going to be limited to the occasional weekend here and there, that we won’t be doing anything “big,” that birthdays are going to be limited to one present and that a lot of things simply aren’t going to be happening at all.

Like us, they’re not particularly happy about it…but they understand, and they’re willing to pick up their own hoes and work with us toward better times…for no more reward really than the pride and gratitude of their parents.

And I tell you what, it’s a lot easier on us having to dispense pride and gratitude, rather than constant ‘not in the budget’ and other platitudes.


RaplhCramden said...


I have considered quitting being a Big Time Engineer and opening a shaved ice stand in Hawaii purely so we could have the kids (9 & 11) involved in the business. I don't have the nerve to do it, but really, I considered it!

Anonymous said...

You have hit on the one thing that has been missing from the child rearing practices of the recent past. Children MUST have a sense of value, a sense of purpose and the MUST see that what they do has value in our lives. BRAVO Tama, you are one of the few who get it right.

Another Joan said...

This should be posted on the
front page of all major papers and in every parenting column going. Pitch it - you could sell it along with your other great ideas and make some $$.

Minxie said...

The Wombat (3 yrs old) and I have had discussions about the finite nature of Mama's paycheck and how we can't buy everything we want RIGHT THIS MINUTE!!!!!

He was very helpful to me last weekend so I gave him a dollar. He then offered to take me to the movies 'cause "I have some money, Mama!" :-)


Minxie said...

P.S. He also offered me his pennies to buy the groceries. :-) He has the concept of using money to buy stuff but we haven't quite got the savings part down yet.


Science PhD Mom said...

It's also a lot easier on your kids, in the long run. They learn that they can make it through tough times, and they can thrive during them.

Galad said...

Great blog post. Looking at the changes as an opportunity to involve your kids and model some coping skills at the same time - awesome.

I worked with grieving children for a number of years and was always amazed by how astute children are when concepts are presented at their level of understanding. They do much better with honesty and involvement.

Kali said...

Thank you, Tama. You agree with my philosophies, so of course I think you are brilliant! Now if we could only get more people (not just kids) on this band wagon...

kimbobim said...

Honestly, why aren't YOU writing the columns for the newspaper? I appreciate real-world advice more than the media's standard whinging and shrieking that the sky is falling.

We are cutting back on vacations and birthdays, too, but we invovled our kids in the decisions and they're are fine with that. Keeping our vacations local is easy - we live less than four hours from Moab (we mountain bike and rock climb as a family), 40 minutes from the ski resorts, 2.5 hours from the family cabin at Bear Lake. We cancelled our gym membership and instead got a pass to the National Parks - for the price of one month's membership, we have an annual pass to some of the premier rock climbing sites in the world (with countless routes from 15 to 30 minutes from our house).

marit said...

I SO agree with you! Please offer this blogpost to a newspaper (or ten...)- this is sound advice, and it is time more people figure it out!
Take care, and good luck!

Steph B said...

Bravo, bravo!

Gina J said...

This is an article that needs PUBLISHING!!!