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When talking to your kids about the economy, try the truth

Submitted by on Monday, 8 December 2008 6 Comments

Folks in the Bush Administration aren’t the only ones the recession is catching by surprise.

Exhibit One: A preteen who declared last week that she’s getting a Blackberry for Christmas.

OK, so $100 isn’t so bad if it’s the bulk of the holiday allotment. But then consider that the monthly bill’s eat at least $80 — that’s if the kid can keep it to 15 minutes a day. Plus seniority will dictate that an older sibling deserves a Blackberry if the younger one is allowed. And consider that one of the kids’ parents just lost a job and the other works in a recession-sensitive business.

The kids know that, but they seem a little unaware of the impact of not having as much money coming in.

That’s a choice some parents are making today.

“Eventually, they will grow up and face the same stress and challenges we all face,” a parent told The Associated Press. “What’s wrong with spoiling them now? These sweet-spirited innocent years are so fleeting.”

It’s a choice some experts even advise.

Marybeth Hicks, a Washington Times columnist and author of “Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid’s Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World,” recently told MSNBC that parents don’t do enough to shelter kids from harsh realities.

“Parents of very young children — up to age 7 — ought to simply reassure their children that the economy often goes through big changes, and that the family will always work together to take care of everyone’s needs.”

Except that would never fly with Big Guy. He’s already seen the impact around him — Mommy’s staying at home and friends are moving from two-story houses to apartments. So I’ve opted to tell the guys the truth.

Why did it happen?

Well, a bunch of silly people spent more money than they had on big houses, pricey cars and expensive vacations. A bunch of other people — business folks and bankers — who were either crazy or crooked helped them. Mommy worked in a business that’s failed to get its technological poop in a group for a decade or more. Everything went boom.

Even I admit that’s a little too much to lay on a 5-year-old. So I sanitize.

Mommy’s not working at her office anymore, so money’s a little tight. We can’t afford to do everything we used to do, but we’ll still have fun. And I’ll be able to pick you up after school.

Most days he accepts that. He’ll pout once in a while because he doesn’t get his weekly McDonald’s trip — who says there aren’t big benefits to the downturn — but he recovers quickly as long as he’s offered an alternative.

A few weeks ago, he was ticked when I nixed a trip to the donut shop.

“Let’s make our own instead.”

“Oh, come on, you can’t make donuts at home.”

“Oh yes, I can. Pumpkin ones, even.”

Saturday, he was steamed briefly because he didn’t get to go the mall with his aunt. He recovered quickly, though, when he remembered there were ripe lemons in the backyard just waiting to be made into lemonade. That project — and the accompanying cleanup — occupied the rest of the evening.

Tonight he was a bit put out because he’ll have to limit his Santa list to four items.

“Four? Just four?”

“Yes, but if you make it four good things, you’ll have plenty to play with. So think hard.”

As long as Santa remembers to stuff his stocking with caffeine-free diet Pepsi — the only one he’s legally allowed all year, though I know his grandmother sneaks around the ban all the time — and people come over for “his party” he’ll be fine.

We all will. Especially now that we’re making fewer McDonald’s trips.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Genevieve said:

    Oh, a tight Christmas all around. My kid’s list won’t be four items even. I’ve had chats with my oldest son – he hears about the economy and sees us with very taunt purse strings and gets worried. I remember this happening a time or two when I was growing up — so explained to him those moments and how it got better. Seeing the ups and downs in a historical sense helped him out greatly.

    Course, he still wants McDonalds. ;)

  • ParentingPink said:

    I feel the same way. Though we are fortunate that our family has not been overly “effected” yet by the economy, we are downsizing this Xmas. It’s a good lesson for my daughters to learn and at their ages, as long as one or two toys are on their list, they’re ok with that.

    I like the way you are honest with Big Guy. I think honesty is the best way to approach issues with our kids, especially when they can understand what’s going on around them. Hurray for you!

  • Rob McAlister said:

    Thanks for sharing this story. It’s really good to know that folks are trying to do the right thing instead of insulating kids in a dishonest way from tough times. I think it makes it really hard for them to learn.

    I found that my kids wanted to know all of the details with hows and whys. They’re a little older than the guys (daughter is 11 and son is 12). It made them understand the financial crunch and its impact on our lives and others so much better. They’ve grown a lot more grateful as a result.

  • Debra said:

    Thanks, folks, for all your comments! They help a lot, because my tactics still haven’t won widespread acceptance among the extended family. But, dang it, it works as long as I don’t paint life as all gloom and doom.

    And you’re absolutely right, Rob. They are a lot more grateful for what we are able do to, even at their age. Hopefully, the good side of this meltdown will be in creating a generation a little less entitled and a lot happier with living within their means.

    Big Guy’s pared-down Christmas list, meanwhile, is cracking me up. It consists of 1. the skateboard 2. Wall-E 3. Pepsi 4. A pizza.

    The last one I never would have guessed would make the Top Four. I just have to figure out what’s the latest a pizza place that will agree to use my smuggled garlic-free sauce is open on Christmas Eve. Gosh, this is so simple and so inexpensive, and the sight of a whole pizza that’s all his is going to send him over the moon.

    It’s making me really kick myself for all the superfluous junk that’s now the Ghost of Christmas Past. :)

    A pizza? Happiness could have been as easy as a PIZZA?

  • ShyTrbleMaker said:

    Tight for us too. Focus is going to be on getting us home for the holidays. Bus ticket is going to get paid for first. But then I see all the stuffed animals, and cars. Cute Dora PJs. Books. It’s more that I want to give her things, than she wants things. She’s happy with junk mail! Hmm. Just had a thought. Gran had a huge video collection and I’ve got my share at my dad’s, maybe I’ll have him wrap them for her for Christmas. She won’t have a clue that they’re “used”. Oh, and I have a huge basket of Beanie Babies! Yay! Glad you made me think of this Debra!

  • Debra said:

    The videos will definitely work! The guys inherited a collection a few months back from an 8-year-old cousin who’s too sophisticated for Dora and Care Bears. They were thrilled!

    It’s amazing how many times I project my own desires to get them “stuff” onto them as wants. Last Christmas, we had a blast painting the shipping boxes with water colors. Big Guy actually cried when Dad threw them away in the spring. I can’t think of a single toy from Christmas that was lost, broken or given away that triggered that type of reaction.