Money Talks? Save Your Energy For Really Tough Discussions

by | Money, Uncategorized

How do you answer your children’s questions about the world you work and live in?

We had a tough series of questions last week that caused me to reflect on the easy ones – that too many people overthink.

Top easy ones are how much money do you make and how much does our house cost.

Talk of money in America causes too many parents to freeze up and fills their head with fears of what telling them will mean for their child: Will a dollar amount sap all their motivation? (Not on its own.)

The first answer to a child’s question is always the same: Why do you ask?

And when you know that, you can tailor the message. Usually, they’re asking out of some combination of curiosity and comparison.

On what you earn, they rarely have any context to know what it means. The significance of earning $50,000, $500,000 or $5 million is lost on them without context.

Consider a $500,000 salary. If a high school biology teacher earned $500,000 in a year through some combo of school salary and an outside project, that would be remarkable and that outside project would be significant.

If a portfolio manager at a large hedge fund earned $500,000 in a year, he would likely lose his job, for having done such a poor job the past year.

Same amount of money, different outcome.

As for the value of the house, the internet has already told them – same with your car and the cost of your vacation. Besides those questions can almost always be boiled down to: Why is our house bigger/smaller than my friend’s house and/or why do they have a “fill in the blank” and we don’t?

Those are easy questions that our adult brains make hard.

A hard question that our adult brains struggle to make easy for our kids  – now that’s a challenge. Four years ago, the mother of one of my daughter’s friends was killed by her ex-husband in our town. My wife and I struggled to understand it with our adult brains. It was near impossible to explain in terms that were understandable to an elementary school student.

This week we heard a teacher was arrested and charged with possession of material that is deeply disturbing. How do you have the discussion? How do you protect them? How do you arm them with knowledge? How do you do all of that when as parents we are struggling to process the how, the why, the when of it all?

We’re fortunate to have a good friend who is a therapist trained to help people through traumatic situations. She helped us craft age-appropriate messages and it opened conversations with our older children around protecting themselves as women.

It was also a reminder that we should answer the easy questions directly – and everything to do with money fits that – so we can save our emotional and intellectual capital for the difficult ones that matter more.

How have you handled difficult situations with kids that you were struggling with?

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