Do You Tell Your Kids You’re Broke?

December 2, 2015  |  

“Can we go see ‘The Lion King’?!” ask your five-year-old daughter, while you’re getting her dressed for school. It’s a question that comes up every morning when they start showing these Broadway theater advertisements. Yesterday it was ‘Cinderella.’ Usually you tell her that you’ll be going soon, but today you just wanna be honest. “We don’t have the money.”

Holiday shopping is not always a spending spree. Sometimes you’ve just got to tell your kids you’re broke…

She looks at you like, not that again, we never have any money. You want to say something comforting, but the truth is, money has been tight and a lot of those fun things you used to do when money was more plentiful have been put on hold. The money issue is being addressed, but you and the hubby are doing well to put three square ones on the table a day. It’s a reality that you would like to shield her from because while you want her to know that money is necessary to do and buy things, you don’t want her to start feeling poor, that without money she can’t have a life. It’s a concept that you’re still coming to terms with as an adult. One that started when you were young and saw your mother struggling to make ends meet.

So you have a real question about how to deal with your daughter during this challenging financial time. Do you tell her when you don’t have money for things or do you just say no without an explanation like your mom did you? ‘No, because I said so,’ was her go-to answer.

It’s a question you pose to your girl Milla during a play date. Milla is originally from Hungary and off of one paycheck, holds down a family that consists of her unemployed husband, two kids–ages four and seven–her hubby’s out-of-work brother and two-year-old niece. She is never not broke. What does she tell the kids?

“Just last week I bought them some new clothes and didn’t realize that I had dipped into our grocery money. So I explained to them that milk for cereal was more important and I took the stuff back.” She promised to get the clothes on her next pay check. “It’s important that they know it takes time to buy things. That’s why I give them money for chores. Even if it’s making their beds and brushing their teeth. I want them to know the value of money.”

On one hand you get it, but is seven and four-years-old too early to start earning their keep? What if they start wanting to be paid for everything? “Look ma, I wiped my a*s. Where’s my $5?”

Perhaps it’s wisdom from someone older that you seek. You call your friend PaMela who you know from a California Goddess group. She’s got four grown kids and from prior conversations you know she went through it.

During the toughest times, what did she tell the kids?

“Well,” she recounts, “There were times when I had to tell them that we couldn’t afford a tree or presents for Christmas, but we would eat well. That was my motto. As long as they didn’t go to bed hungry. During those crucial times when our lights got turned off I told them that no one knows our situation unless you tell them, so always keep your head up.” The good news is the kids didn’t get too scarred because they’re all doing well. Two own their own Daycare business, one is a news anchor on the number 1 news channel in Hartford, Connecticut and one is a cable tech.

Okay, perhaps you’re making too much of this. It sucks to be strapped for money, but nobody is dying. The kids always have something to eat and they will survive you having to tell them no for a while. Sometimes you will explain that the reason is money, other times they won’t get the details. When you really think about it, a lot of times money isn’t even the reason you tend to say no. Sometimes what they want isn’t necessary.

Once again, this is less about them and more about you and your insecurities around money. How it starts making you feel like your wealth as a mom is dependent on how much you can spend. It’s not true. PaMela shared a story about how they huddled around a candle and played cards when the lights got shut off. Far be it from you to romanticize the situation, but it sounds like it brought them closer together as a family. Maybe this is an opportunity to get creative and do some things you wouldn’t normally do. Funny, because just the other day you pulled out a deck of cards.

Game of Fish anyone?

Check out Erickka Sy Savané’s column, Pop Mom Daily, right here or visit PopMomDaily.com. Before Erickka became a writer/editor, she was a model, actress, and MTV VJ. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Jersey City. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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