Now that the gooey, gauzy, post Election Days of euphoria are creeping away from us and we’re back to the grim news of a tanking economy – the Big Three automakers begging for a bailout, Citibank’s announcement to lay off more than five times the population of Wasilla, Alaska, and Spam factories are running 24/7 because in hard times Americans flock to processed meat in a can (see last Sunday’s New York Times) – I wonder how we parents explain to our kids the dire situation America is in without completely freaking them out.
My friend Allison, a very sensible and fiscally prudent mom of three told me that she matter-of-factly explained to her seven-year-old son that we’re in tough economic times.
I was intrigued. At what age can you discuss these things? And how do you do it without giving your kids nightmares?
Because I grew up in a family where money (and lack of it) created tons of stress and anxiety, I am much more hesitant about talking to my children about the precarious nature of cash flow. My kids don’t need to know about what’s in my checking account – or do they? With my children I’ve always embraced the economy in more Kumbaya terms of social responsibility – you give to those who have less than you.
But what happens when your neighbor loses his or her job? Do you explain this to young children? Discussing money seems sort of like discussing death. It’s something we try to avoid talking about unless you really, really have to. So how do you create sensitivity and awareness in your kids without creating panic? And with the holidays approaching, how do you explain to your kids why buying a Wii or an American Girl doll just feels excessive?
Because fortunately my husband and I still get paychecks, have our flu shots covered and can pay our mortgage, the economic crisis hasn’t sacked our family. No, we will not get bonuses or raises this year and when I got my kids’ camp bill in the mail last week I broke out into a cold sweat (camp was always paid with bonus money). But I know that we are the lucky ones.
Living and working in the New York area many of my friends or friends of friends have been laid off or believe their jobs are at risk. It’s a surreal time and everyone’s feeling tense. So even if you still have a paycheck, planning a family ski trip or holiday in Belize seems well, wrong. In fact in New York where fashion, style and money is the City obsession, “Cheap” is apparently the “New Chic” and “Recessionistas” are all the rage – at least according to New York Magazine – the snarky authority on all trends in New York.
I’ve always felt strongly that kids should know that money is earned and they don’t just get gifts to squelch the whining while standing in line at Target. (Although I have been known to buy candy to quiet the maddening “Mommy, please can I have…..!?!?!?!)” But I think my kids still believe that money is made in ATM machines and I can’t say with any real conviction that they appreciate the difference between something that costs $5 or $100 – although in my mommyhood experience they seem just as happy with toys costing under $5 than the pricier ones.
So how do I get my daughter to embrace her inner Recessionista without explaining the cold facts of the convulsing economy? And with my highly sensitive, older son, how much is too much information? The Great Depression affected an entire generation of children growing up in the 1930s – let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself.