Originally posted Dec. 5, 2008
Our "First State Quarters of the United States" Collector's Map
may never recover from my looting of the colonies, which I raided
for milk money one rainy day when my kids were still in
diapers. The map serves as a reminder that the wolf is never
far from the door, and that hasn't been truer for some folks than
in recent months. I haven't resorted to pillaging the Wild
West since the economy took its latest dive, but I have thought
twice about unnecessary spending and about how to talk to my kids
about what the latest belt-tightening means for them.
For example, Holly wasn't content to wear last-year's
Halloween costume (she's in a new school ...no one would know)
and begged for a new one this year. She wanted to be a
devil but nothing in the 'magic box,' our cache of costumes, would
do. Cringing at the prospect of investing $24.99 plus tax on
a new one, I offered to dust off the sewing machine and whip one up
myself. Holly had her doubts, so we were both thrilled when
her Daddy surprised us by snagging the same exact costume at the
Goodwill for a mere $2.99.
For some, though, clever financial problem-solving isn't always
so satisfying. Does saying no, or does setting limits by
saying yes instead to shabby-chic or gently-worn leave you with
residual feelings that you just can't name, that feel familiar but
which you can't quite explain? Perhaps emotional financial
baggage is getting in your way. Revisiting, recognizing and
managing old messages about money can help, especially at holiday
time when expectations are often at their highest.
For example, perhaps it just doesn't feel like Christmas to you
if a ginormous mountain of loot isn't piled up around the
tree. Maybe it's been important to your family to always wear
the latest styles and be the first family on the block with the
hottest gadget and newest patio furniture at the lake house.
Have you grown weary of keeping up with the Jones' or even with
your own family's expectations?
Maybe your cash flow is far greater than your parents' ever was
and belt-tightening feels too much like the old days so you reject
the notion, fend off your dread and keep up appearances.
Or maybe you grew up watching your Mom lick her wounds by
shopping 'til she dropped, and acquired a taste for acquiring
things as a method of self-soothing when times get tough.
What if, though, you've recently lost your job or worry you
might? Take away weekly binges at the mall or otherwise
living beyond your means and what do you do to tame those
unconscious feelings of negative self worth or that quest for the
latest and greatest? Now that we're mired in an economic mess
just how will you model another way to deal, for your kids'
During times of crisis I remind folks that the written Chinese
word for "crisis" is actually comprised of two characters: one
represents "danger" and the other, "opportunity." There is no
doubt that an economic crisis can be frightening and invoke
uncertainty. But opportunity? Yes, I think so.
Begin by finding and expressing gratitude, a powerful antidote
to your legitimate panic about the rising costs of bread and milk
and your badly bruised 401K. Do your kids have any idea how
fortunate we Americans still are compared to the rest of the
world's inhabitants? Illustrate it for them: if we took into
account the various ratios that exist today and shrank the earth's
human population to 100 people, 40 would have substandard housing,
40 would suffer from malnutrition and 20 would be illiterate.
Only five would be American but they would possess more than half
of the entire world's wealth. Can you imagine a community
where 5% of the people have most of the food and wealth while
half the people are impoverished? Let's take this example
home. Suppose your family consisted of five
people: two of you would go hungry and one of you would be
illiterate. Wouldn't you jump at the chance to share with
Not everyone can be like the complete stranger
who recently bought a Texas woman's foreclosed
home at auction and gave it back to her, but how 'bout getting your
kids to clean out their closets so they can donate their
old toys and clothes to the Goodwill, for other kids to
use? Lifting others up can lift you out of your own
worry and energize you to problem-solve your own solutions.
Give your kids the gift of this perspective this
TIPS FOR PARENTS:
Reassure children that your family will survive economic
challenges, one way or another.
Give kids a reality check: allow tweens and teens to peek at the
basics of the family budget.
Curb unnecessary spending on your kids and dole out allowances,
instead. This inspires children to be discerning, set goals
and sacrifice to meet them.
Adopt a family needier than yours this Christmas. Empower
your children with a 'can-do' attitude and the gift of
My favorite poem is "The work of Christmas" by Howard
Christmas begins when the song of the angels is
when the star is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks.
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild nations,
to bring peace among people,
to make music in the heart.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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