3 Tips for Parenting through Financial Adversity


Financial adversity can hit your family from so many different directions. Some of those are within our control, some are not. When it comes to raising kids, there’s often no room for already tight margins and my experience is that like Parkinson’s law, the cost of raising kids always rises to be just beyond your financial reach no matter how much you make. What to do when that happens can be a source of conflict within the parenting process and this post is designed to throw some posterity out there and let any readers know they are, if nothing else, not alone.

There has to be something dreadfully wrong with you as a parent if you don’t want to give lots of stuff to your kids. After all, when it comes to kids, there’s probably nothing they’d rather have than stuff; and as parents, the millennia old drive to provide for your offspring has gone WAY beyond just food, clothing, and shelter – at least in America. But even America is not without its seasons of decline, it would seem, and the most recent of these, we are told, is on its way to mending. But what if you are not among the lucky experiencing the release of that budget pressure valve? How do you parent through financial adversity? What are some tips for maintaining the calm when money gets tight? I can think of at least three that helped me, I’ll give them to you now. I’d also love to get your thoughts on what worked and didn’t work for you!

1)Increase your levels of GOOD communication:

First off, when it comes to tight money situations, it is important to remember to maintain your relationship with your co-parent or any other adult who helps you raise your kids with whom you might be more apt to fight when things get tight financially. Whether you are single or divorced and raising kids “alone”, married and co-parenting, gay and not allowed to be married but co-parenting, or divorced and remarried, the people you trust to help you raise your kids are the first people you are going to fight with over money.
According to the CDC (yes the Centers for Disease Control have data about divorce – no comment) divorce is still common with finances cited as a key reason. Also, did you live together before you were married? Odds are these days, you did; and the odds also say that if you did your odds of getting a divorce more than doubles.

“Among the findings in the report: unmarried cohabitations overall are less stable than marriages. The probability of a first marriage ending in separation or divorce within 5 years is 20 percent, but the probability of a premarital cohabitation breaking up within 5 years is 49 percent. After 10 years, the probability of a first marriage ending is 33 percent, compared with 62 percent for cohabitations.” -CDC.gov

My wife and I have seen our fair share of financial hardship. From the time we spent as “starving artists” on our legendary move to Southern California from the Midwest (legendary to us, mostly) to the days just after each of our children were born, our cycles of scarcity have ebbed and flowed perhaps more than they should have. In each and every one of those tight times, I’ve found that more communication was key. There is a caveat to that, however. It’s not just more communication that matters, but more GOOD communication. Just spending more time bickering and arguing over the tightness of financial adversity is not helpful at all (duh-now I get this.) Good communication, however – increased moments talking about OTHER things besides money (and yes, it was hard to find things to talk about that were not in some way related to money) allowed us to be on a more even keel with one another.

It kept those lines of communication fresh and open so that when we DID need to have those tough conversations (“sorry, we have to wash dishes by hand this week because we have no cash and we’re out of detergent for the machine”-last week) it was somehow less painful and required less to “get there” without a fight.

2)Involve your kids in the process:

I don’t know about your kids, but my kids tend to ask an inordinate amount of questions. Regularly. That makes sense to me because, well – so do I. As much as I love talking with my kids, sometimes the questions can get a little out of hand – especially when they are about topics that are hard to talk about. One way I found of getting through those moments was to pay attention to the way I framed issues- with my son in particular.

Rather than saying something like “We can’t afford to do that” I would try to say things like “We’re going to try and save that money for other fun things later.” This allowed me to explain to my “at times overly inquisitive” son why we were not going to buy a particular thing he expected we would be able to buy (swim lessons, wii games, Lunchables, take your pick) and also teach him some important lessons about saving money.

3)Find ways to remove the stigma for yourself and your kids:

It’s so hard to raise kids in this day and age that don’t feel the pressure to judge their own self worth according to how much stuff they have or how much their parents can provide. Granted, as parents we often contribute to this process simply by doing what we’re naturally inclined to do – provide for our kids. We make that sense of provision a supreme priority in many cases and they see that. They see it as so important because we have shown them that it is. Beyond that, we often take it a step further and hide financial difficulty from our kids or mask it in a way that they can read as “having been masked and therefore important.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we suddenly stop providing the best we can for our kids. In a certain sense, making sure your kids are better off than you were is part of the point of parenting. What I am suggesting is that we remove the stigma of financial struggle by being honest about the realities and intricacies of balancing budgets and thriving. That being said, depending on your kids’ age, there may be some inapproachable complexity. But in my experience, being more open with my kids is never a bad idea as long as I do it with the proper care and attention to detail. Think about when you’re going to talk about it. Is it a good idea to have a conversation about it in the aisle of a store after arguing for six aisles about the fact that they will not be getting a toy today? Probably not. After dinner or during a game of checkers? Maybe better.

There’s something so private about money that makes it really hard to talk about or be honest about. I feel like, as a man, of all the things that can question what kind of “man” I am, money has always been the part I’ve felt weakest on. That’s really saying something for a scrawny, nerdy, socially awkward, sci-fi lover that doesn’t really like sports and married his second girlfriend. Well, technically third, but that’s not germane. What I’m saying is that of all the ways I can feel inadequate as a man, the only one I have not been able to deal with is my ability to make the dollars a priority. I think I learned too well from my anti-materialist upbringing the lack of value inherent in the “things.” That was fine to have as a principle when it was just me scraping by, but ambition has had to factor into my overall good parenting strategies. This if only in order to better prepare my kids for surviving in the economic landscape of the future. I don’t want them to be starving artists, by any means, but I also don’t want them to be materialist assholes.

If you find yourself wrestling with these same issues, let me know in the comments. I’m interested to know what other folks have dealt with and how. Do my three tips for success ring true for you?


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