DON’T MAKE MONEY A TABOO TOPIC
When our older daughter was about nine, she bounced up on the bed beside me with a question:
“Why do I look like you, Daddy? “Mama told me to ask you.”
Having two younger siblings, Mama’s role in shaping her nine-year old body was obvious. My role was not.
A few weeks ago I asked my daughter, now a mother herself, if she remembered asking that question. She didn’t. Nor do I remember how I answered. Her adolescent daughters overheard us and giggled.
I like a three-step approach to children’s hard questions:
First, affirm the child’s curiosity. “That’s a neat question. I’m glad you look like me!” Be careful about creating a taboo, “That’s a naughty question!”, or ridiculing, “That’s a silly thing to ask!”, or putting them off, “You’ll understand when you’re older.” If we don’t attempt an answer now, they’ll probably suspect there’s something sinister, or else we don’t trust them with the information.
Second, answer truthfully. Forget about the stork. If you aren’t sure, do some homework. “Let me think about until tomorrow.”
Third, answer within the child’s current ability to understand. A nine-year old doesn’t need to know everything yet.
Though most modern families can talk about sex, money seems to be the last taboo for family discussion. Suppose my nine-year-old daughter had asked, “Daddy, are we rich?”
I would reach again for the same three-step approach.
First, affirm curiosity, “That’s a neat question — everyone’s curious about money.”
Second, a truthful answer. Here’s a chance to recount our blessings.
“Most people in the world don’t have what we have or live like we live. We have a house, a car, a TV, good food, good schools and good health care. We are free as anyone, and safe as anyone from dangers and dictators. Lots of third world people would say we’re rich. Lots of third world people live on less than two dollars a day.”
“But Daddy, are we rich Americans?”
A character in my book, “Raising Rich Kids,” says you’re a rich American if you can maintain a high lifestyle indefinitely, without working and with minimal risk of losing what you have. Most nine-year-olds can understand that. A truthful answer needn’t go into the numbers.
Of course there’s the risk of over-explaining. Our son once asked his Mama a question. Trying to be helpful, she replied “Why don’t you ask Daddy?” She got a thoughtful response, “Because, Mama, I don’t want to know that much about it.”
A heads up: most kids begin to develop lifetime attitudes about money between ages eleven and fourteen. If parents don’t talk with them about money, they’ll take their cues from peers, television and movies, the Internet, and from their early adolescent perceptions of their parents’ behavior.
Don’t make money a family taboo.