How do we talk to our kids about our financial problems?

Should we?

As I read the umpteenth story about the difficulties people are having in this crazy market, I can’t help thinking about these downsized, 401k-drained, foreclosured, bankrupt workers’ children. What sense are they making of all this? Are kids scared of losing their toys, their dreams, their homes? Their families?

When I searched for articles about how to talk to kids about financial difficulties, I found that most articles suggested parents talk directly and openly to their kids about the money problems their families might be facing, while making sure to offer reassurance that everything will be okay. On first thought, that seems like the right approach; honesty and transparency are usually best when talking to kids about difficult issues. I certainly don’t believe a parent should just avoid the issue; obviously, kids will know if the parents are stressed out about money or job security. And I’m a big fan of openness and honesty in all aspects of parent-child relationships.

But I also feel that part of our job as parents is to protect our children from adult worries, so that they can feel safe and secure. I want our kids to get to be kids!

I have so many friends whose parents used them as confidantes when they were children, burdening them with too much information about their own problems, financial and otherwise. I don’t ever want to lie to my daughter, or hide real problems from her, but I also want to make her feel safe and secure. I don’t think it’s her job to worry about our finances, and I’m not convinced that a tepid reassurance about how everything will be fine adequately protects children from such worries.

So what is a responsible parent to do if he or she is facing serious, lifestyle-altering financial problems?

I don’t have any absolute answers to this one. For myself, the best I’ve been able to come up with is to create a real safety net for our family (savings, investments, debt reduction, emergency funds, etc.). That way, if our family ever has to face a drastic financial situation, I’ll be able to honestly say that everything will be okay because we have the resources to manage it.

But I’m still not comfortable with the idea of burdening my kid with my money problems.

This got me thinking about the larger issue: how do we talk to kids about money, without dragging them into adult issues? My own parents never talked to me about money. We were were raised to believe that we should make enough money to never have to worry about money. In fact, even talking about money was viewed as tacky in my intellectual household! Of course my parents had their fair share of money worries, but the kids were never told anything about them. But we figured out what was going on, of course. Now that I’m an adult, I know that EVERYBODY worries—or at least thinks about—money: rich, poor, and middle class folks alike. Instead of avoiding the subject, I try to think creatively and consciously (and conscientiously) about my family’s finances. I plan to talk openly with my daughter about our general finances, without overburdening her with the details.

Perhaps if money is already a part of our family’s conversations, it won’t be so scary to talk about it if we do face financial difficulties.

Queer parents perhaps have more experience than most in talking about charged or difficult subject matter (such as homophobia) with children. I know we’ve all worked hard to find ways to talk about this stuff in a way that is age appropriate, honest, and respectful of a child’s right to innocence and safety.

So, Queercentsers, does anyone have some tips for how to talk about money problems with kids? What have your own experiences been? Did you use some of your strategies in approaching issues of homophobia, difference, sexuality, etc. to discuss this sensitive topic?