Have you ever been faced with a question like this from your child? How did you reply?
My two younger children, six and eight years-old, have asked us a lot about money lately. Most recently, as we sat at the dinner table and talked about our family trip out west, and a visit to the largest mall in North America, my son asked point blank if we were rich. My husband, a baby-boomer who was raised in a middle class family that owned their own home in the suburbs of Ottawa, quickly replied NO. He was clearly uncomfortable with the question. I answered that yes, we are rich, making my husband even more uncomfortable.
There are two influences at play here. One is perspective. Quite different from my husband, I was raised in a working-class family. We rented and moved every year or two, except for a longer stint when we owned a trailer for about 5 years. Later in life I was a single mom of two kids. There were times when I had to choose between groceries and gas for the car, because I couldn’t afford both. Today, from my perspective, we are rich.
The other influence is the social conditioning we have around money being evil, and guilt for both having it and wanting it. This can be a religious conditioning found in many of the world religions, but I also see it socially with the whole “we don’t talk about money in polite company.” I certainly want to teach my children that there is so much more to life than money and what it can buy. I also want my children to have an appreciation of everything in our lives that money cannot buy. But I am not sure I want to raise my children to feel guilty or dirty when it comes to money.
I am conflicted myself sometimes. I do wholeheartedly embrace the fact that the more money you make, the more you are able to help others. You can employ more services like a housekeeper and more frequent hair dresser and esthetic appointments, which helps increase their earnings (and if you have read Half The Sky, increasing a woman’s earnings helps with their independence. Great book. Highly recommended.) You free up more of your time to volunteer, and you are able to donate to causes you hold dear. But I also remember where I came from. I never want myself or my children to connect a person’s worth to their income. Too many of us have that prejudice running through our subconscious. And then we either avoid abundance, or feel guilt for it, because we don’t want to be, or cannot believe we are, better than others.
I truly feel that my husband denying that we are rich is because he doesn’t want our children to think they are better than others.
In all honesty, my children are at the age where they are visiting my family of origin’s homes, and their friends’ homes for play-dates, and noticing that we all live different lifestyles. Just like my two older kids knew we had little money when I was a single mom, my younger kids are asking if we are rich because they see a disparity. My husband saying that no, we are not rich, is only going to work for so long until they start making up their own mind. His discomfort around talking about money and embracing our abundance is also going to influence our children. While I don’t want them to feel superior to others, I am not sure that I want my children to wear feelings of guilt and shame.
This blog post is not a “how to”, and it is not about me providing you with answers. I decided to write this because if I am struggling with the concept of money and abundance after having lived in both poverty and the middle class, I am sure you probably have too. My only solution at the moment is open communication. Telling my children that we are not Oprah-rich but that we do have more money than some of my family, and stressing that it does not make us better people. Explaining that by doing a good job and earning a good living we are doing a good thing, because while we may have more nice things and a bigger house we are also helping a lot more people.
Part of my way of helping people is with my free ebook and weekly Sanity Saving Tips. Those are much more how-to oriented and more about finding the balance in your life. You just need to pop your name and email address in the form at the top right of the page.
Has the money talk been raised in your house? How do you talk about money with your children?