This is not your normal article about money and your children. We won’t be talking about allowances, budgeting, piggy banks, or tuition. Instead we’ll be talking about, well, words.
The words we use around our children have a lasting impact on their attitudes or emotional “load” around money. In our consumer culture, things can easily become more important than people. The value or worth of people can become measured by their wealth or appearance of wealth. Keeping up with the Jones’ can hold kids and their parents hostage on a never ending treadmill. Parents in frustration may give up trying to withstand the pressures to buy more and more so their children will not feel left out or less than their friends. Parents may feel like hostages to the billion dollar industry that creates pressures to buy from all sides. Two income families may try to make up for the lack of time they can spend by buying children things.
A Poverty Consciousness
While it is true that money struggles occur and affect children, that is not the same as a poverty consciousness. Children can be raised in households with average incomes or even less without feeling poor. Likewise children raised in upper income homes can develop a feeling of entitlement in which nothing is ever enough and likewise feel like they are losing out and mistakenly think more and more money would fix it.
Moreover, many couples
may not have discussed their inherited beliefs or attitudes about money. It is estimated that money is the major topic for marital arguing and children can feel the tensions even if the arguing is not overheard. Each partner may have different emotions tied to money and self- esteem or concept. Men are particularly vulnerable to the idea that money is a measure of their manhood. But it may come as a surprise that a poverty consciousness and a wealth consciousness are not related to the actual amount of money a couple manages. Instead our routine statements around purchasing, commercials, and other money events can pervade our children’s ideas about our parenting power and money. It is important that parents are aware of the messages about money they grew up with and, if they don’t feel good about them, find new ways to relate to money that are affirming. Money is a human creation of exchange, no more. We often think we want money when what we want is what we think it will buy: security, belonging, peace of mind, etc. There are many non-money ways to gain these.
Tangibles do not create intangibles.
For example, we may reply to our child’s begging for the latest toy with the answer, “we don’t have the money for that right now.” That signals a one down position around money. It gives a message that we are somehow at a loss rather than more important than the money we have. As a single mother of three, I began looking at how I talked about money around my kids. It was surprising to me how much better my children felt when I would say instead, “I have already decided how I am going to spend my money this month. That is not part of my priority” or “That is not part of my plan.” This sends the message that I, the parent, am in charge of money as an instrument, and that money is not calling the shots in our home.
We are entering the 6th decade of mass advertising in our culture. A popular program in the original days of television was “Mama’s Bank Account.” Whenever funds seem to run low and her children may become a little anxious, she told them not the worry. She would go to her bank account. Of course, the audience knew there was no bank account but the way she spoke with her children about having or not having money helped remove any anxieties or fears they might be feeling.
The 1-10-10 Plan
Another simple practice is the 1-10-10 plan. The simple rhyme goes like this: “For every dollar that you get, you save a dime and give a dime and use the rest.” In this way your child always has money saved, money to donate, and money to spend. This creates an empowering feeling about their ability to manage and does not let them feel they are the victim of whether or not they have money.
A Christmas Story
It is important to use conversations about money as opportunities to turn your child’s attention away from things as the most valuable aspect of their lives to relationships and human values as the most valuable. These can also be opportunities for creating family positive memories. For example, when a single woman had to divorce because of the chaos of her husband’s refusal to get treatment for schizophrenia, her three small children felt “less than” at Christmas time. Money was tight. The mother realized they needed to get outside of themselves. So when they looked at the Christmas trees for sale, she knew she couldn’t buy a regular one. In the back of the lot, however, were scraggly ones that were ready to be discarded. She told the children, “Oh look, there’s an orphan tree that no one wants to take home. Let’s give it a home!” The children eagerly agreed. Each Christmas thereafter, no matter how well off they were, they always got an orphan tree. In this case a family cherished tradition came out from not spending money and the value was much greater than the cost of a regular tree would have been.
Pointing out to children that their previous possessions have not made them happy will not work. Instead, direct their attention to what it is they are feeling or trying to achieve with the item they want.
To be continued….