A common thread I noticed in the comments from last week’s post, How To Talk to Your Kids About Family Debt was the desire to ensure any conversations about family debt didn’t scare your kids, which is completely understandable. The conversation shouldn’t scare your children, but reassure them that you’re in control and confident in your plan. But what I suspect you truly fear is actually having one of these conversations with your kids.
As parents we want to protect and shelter our kids from all the bad things in the world, including debt. We created our debt, so it is our burden to bear, not theirs. This is why many parents will choose to not talk to their kids about family debt.
I hate to burst your bubble, but your kids most likely already know. Yes, very young kids may not, but elementary age children and above will have a sense that there are undiscussed money problems. Kids are very good at picking up emotions. And getting out of debt brings out a multitude of emotions in adults.
I remember being a young girl and pulling my Mom aside before entering a restaurant to ask her what we could afford to eat. My mother never told me money was tight, but I knew she worried silently about money, which in turn caused me to worry silently along with her. Since I knew she would have saved for this meal, I wanted to be sure that I didn’t order anything she couldn’t afford. She assured me that I could order whatever I wanted, but I didn’t believe her, so I ordered the cheapest item on the menu to spare my Mom any embarrassment when the bill came.
From my own experiences and from talking to clients, kids observe so much more than most parents ever realize and can misinterpret what they witness. You may think you are putting on a brave face and delivering an Oscar worthy performance, but your kids can still tell something is wrong. And when you don’t talk to them about it—this causes stress and allows their vivid imaginations to run wild.
In the end, even though your intent was to shield your kids, you still caused fear and perhaps, even more fear than you would have by being upfront with them. And those fears will shape some of their core beliefs, such as: money is a taboo topic; money is scary; money makes people fight; money makes adults secretive, etc.
At the same time, I also think there is a deeper reason why you don’t want to talk to your kids about family debt—you are ashamed. You are no longer the happily-in-debt person who was unaware how living beyond your means jeopardized your family’s financial well-being to the person who does know and regrets their actions deeply.
Please stop beating yourself up. It’s like crying over spilt milk. It’s already spilt (you’re already in debt), so let’s focus on cleaning it up. You now recognize your past mistakes and are committed to eliminating your debt, which is what really matters. And if you really, truly want to protect your kids, then tell them about the family debt, so they can not only become your biggest supporters, but also learn about the dangers of consumer debt at the same time. Otherwise, the first time they may learn about debt is when they acquire it themselves via credit card.
Some of you have had the good fortune to never experience debt or eliminated it before having children or while they were babies. Congratulations, but you still have to talk to your kids about debt. 🙂 Next Monday, we’ll take a closer look at debt and how to teach kids to think about it.
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At the same time every child of course is different in that some may sense there is a problem in the house around money and some may be oblivious to it. So perhaps the conversation should begin with asking kids what they "think" is going on first, and then casually weaving in a chat about the true situation.
I know when financial troubles hit us we were honest with the kids about it and reassured them we would be alright but that changes were necessary. Thankfully it all turned out okay :)
Great post Shannon!
Kids can handle a lot more than most adults think they can. They'll generally let you know when they've reached their limit. In fact, they can barely help themselves.