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. 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.
Does saying no or does setting limits leave you with residual feelings that you just can’t name or 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 to be the first family on the block with the hottest gadget.
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 shop ‘til she dropped and you acquired a taste for buying things as a method of self-soothing when times get tough.
During times of crisis I remind folks that the written Chinese word for "crisis" is actually comprised of two characters: one represents "danger," the other "opportunity." There is no doubt an economic crisis can be frightening and invoke uncertainty. But opportunity? I think so.
Begin by finding and expressing gratitude, a powerful antidote to your legitimate panic about rising costs 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. Let’s take this example home. Suppose your family consisted of five people: two of you will go hungry and one of you will be illiterate. Wouldn’t you jump at the chance to share with them?
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 holiday season.
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 holiday season. Empower your children with a ‘can-do’ attitude and the gift of perspective.
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Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia. She has been a clinical member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy since 1995 and is a featured blogger at ChicagoParent.com.