As I have shared with you previously, most kids are not actively taught how to handle money but instead learn from observing how their parents handle their money, both good and bad. This is just one of the many reasons that I strongly believe couples must be open with each other regarding money matters. Too often I see couples grit their teeth and say nothing when they feel upset about the way their spouse handles money, until one day they explode. And every grievance, money related or not, comes out. Not only is this incredibly scary for your children, it adds unnecessary stress to your marriage.
In my post, Couples Financial Therapy: 4 Keys to a Happy Marriage, I shared the importance of good communication in a marriage to help ensure you and your spouse are on the same page money-wise. I also shared an interesting infographic on Financial Infidelity. And I specifically want to address two areas: “Don’t tell …” and defining money transparency in a relationship. Today I am going to focus on the ever popular, “Don’t Tell” phenomena.
It’s almost become a joke—right? We see TV shows, movies and commercials filled with examples of moms and dads advising their kids to “not tell …”. We’ve all overheard someone (or been that someone) telling their kids not to tell mom or dad about what they bought.
Please note: Don’t confuse telling your child to keep a present secret as financial infidelity. It’s not, although be prepared for young children to immediately blurt out the big secret anyway. 🙂 But don’t just say “Don’t tell Mom or Dad I bought this” without an explanation as to why it’s a secret. It’s their birthday present, anniversary gift or an I love you treat. The why is what matters and just like you always need to share the why when you say “no” to an “I want” moment.
I’m going to be blunt here—if your child cannot tell Mom or Dad about what you bought, then why are you buying it? I’m guessing because you are spending money you shouldn’t be and know your partner will not be happy to find out about your splurge, essentially you are making your child a co-conspirator to your financial infidelity.
So let me paint a picture for you. You take your kids shopping with you to pick-up needed items. You notice your favorite store is having a big sale that you can’t miss. So you pick up a few things, even on sale, but know you can’t tell your partner about your shopping excursion without starting an argument. So you tell your kids “don’t tell Mom or Dad …”
How does this feel?
Now imagine the scenario but instead of telling your kids, “don’t tell”, you instead say, “I can’t wait to go home and show your Mom or Dad what I bought!”
Does that feel different? I sure hope so!
Some of you may still be wondering what the big deal is. Well, there are a few reasons why it’s a big deal.
Please know that having said “don’t tell Mom or Dad” in the past doesn’t make you a bad parent. Most of us have said it before and it’s not my intention to make you feel bad for past mistakes. Nobody is perfect, including me! We thought it was cute or harmless and never considered the unintentional lessons being taught. But going forward, I strongly encourage you to think long and hard as to why your kids need to help you hide purchases from their Mom or Dad when you find yourself tempted to ask them to do so.
I love shopping with the girls and telling them that I can’t wait to get home and show their Dad what we bought. I’m demonstrating to them how using money in alignment with my values and goals feels good. There is no guilt or shame or resentment behind my purchases. Just joy.
Next Monday, I will talk about money transparency in a relationship, specifically on setting up a system to balance freedom to spend while still being held accountable.
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My kids do try to use us against each other, though. My four-year-old is bad about it. If dad says no to something, she sometimes asks me. It's gotten to the point where she gets in trouble for asking the second parent for anything that parent #1 said no to.
I have seen this as well.. And I think it's very common in unhealthy relationships. It tells your kids that dishonesty is okay, and that is certainly not a lesson that is going to serve them well.