Parenting Traps

Money matters

Talking about tight times with kids.

By Shawn Peters
August 16, 2009

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As we drove by her favorite all-you-can-eat sushi buffet, our 8-year-old, Hazel, pressed her face against the window. Sara and I braced ourselves for pleading, but to her credit, our daughter didn’t utter more than a wistful sigh. Only a year before, such a scene was almost unimaginable.

When the markets fell last fall, my wife and I were caught carrying two mortgages, fruitlessly trying to sell our old house during the worst economic downturn in 75 years. Bad planning? Yes. Bad luck? Absolutely. Bad for the kids? I’m not so sure.

Sara and I are keenly aware that we’ve been guilty of spoiling Hazel and her little brother, Teddy, who is 3. While we don’t regret putting the kids’ happiness first, it’s inarguable that we’ve said yes to a parade of unnecessary snacks, toys, novelties, and notions simply because we had no reason to say no.

But when we were suddenly strapped, we had reason. At first, the kids simply couldn’t understand why a trip to Target resulted in nothing more than new socks or underwear. We weren’t sure what to say. Was it advisable or even fair to tell the kids that money was tight? Yes, according to Needham clinical psychologist Robert Brooks, coauthor of Raising Resilient Children. “You have to discuss it openly,” says Brooks. “The more open parents are, the more coping strategies children have. It’s a chance for kids to learn they can’t have everything they want.”

So rather than hide our situation, we recruited the kids to help. Instead of raising their stress levels, this gave them a way to actively participate in a family mission. The requests for treats slowed to a trickle as their enthusiasm for trips to ready for another open house grew. We were in this together. And on the rare occasions we did splurge, they truly relished it.

In May, when we finally became a one-house household again, I thought nothing could top signing those papers. “Can we go for sushi?” Hazel asked while the ink was still drying. “It’s a special occasion.” Saying yes felt even better.

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Do you talk to your kids about family finances?

Next week: My son joined the Army. Whew.

Last week: Dressing a wee diva.

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