Since the pandemic started, parents have been worried not just about the virus, but also about the mental health of their kids. Disruptions to school and routine have had a big impact on little ones. But it turns out that missing their classmates isn’t the only thing that kids are worried about: financial stress is also getting to them.
As a kid, I was always picking up on my parents’ financial situation. It wasn’t hard to miss — when the cabinets were bare, I knew things weren’t going well. Since financial strain was ever-present, I knew not to ask for extras, like piano lessons or new clothes. At the time, it just felt like I was being part of the team, but as an adult I can look back on how much extra stress I was carrying thinking about money at a really young age.
So, when I saw a recent study from the Child Mind Institute and the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health my heart broke for kids living through pandemic-induced financial insecurity. The study found that financial uncertainty is a major source of stress for kids. I remember too clearly what it’s like to be a kid carrying the weight of the family’s financial situation, but not wanting to add to my parents’ stress levels by asking them about it.
The study also made me think about my own daughters, who are growing up with more financial privilege than I could ever imagine as a kid. I take pains not to spoil my six-year-old, but she regularly has riding lessons, private online academic classes, and other experiences that are costly.
Thinking about the financial challenges that some families are facing right now — and how my family is lucky to be insulated from that — made me reflect on the lessons that I want my girls to know about money.
Recognize Financial Diversity
It’s important to me that daughters recognize that not everyone has the same financial security that they enjoy. For now, that’s a fairly straightforward conversation, but eventually I’ll make sure that we explore the idea of privilege, and recognizing that they have it.
When different financial situations come up — if we see a homeless person or donate to the food pantry — I remind my daughters that some people don’t have enough money to meet their needs. Others have the money to address their needs, but not their wants. Others, like us, can meet their needs and some of their wants. I hope I’m planting a seed of recognition that money is a resource that is distributed unequally.
Socioeconomic Status Isn’t A Reflection of Worth
In the West there’s a narrative that if you just work hard enough, you’ll be financially secure. But really, most of us know that’s not true. Systemic barriers make it difficult for people to escape poverty, while helping the rich get richer. The pandemic decimated jobs, making it even more clear that it takes more than just hard work and determination to get ahead.
I’m open with my daughter about my experiences growing up poor. I’ve told her how we used the fireplace to stay warm, because it was cheaper than running the heat. When she points out my love of pasta, I tell her sometimes it was all my family had to eat. I want her to know that at one point I was poor, and now I’m much more financially secure, but that neither of those positions are a reflection of who I am — mostly it’s just down to circumstance and some luck.
Money Can Be A Tool To Help Others
Hopefully, my daughter will always have financial security. As someone who didn’t always have that, I want my daughter to know that money can be used as a tool to help others. I’ll never forget my mom handling $20 — a fortune when I was a kid — to a panhandler. When I asked her about it, incredulous, she just said, “She needs it more than I do.”
To set the same example for my girls, we give when we can. We always donate to school drives. Every holiday season we “adopt” a family, buying them gifts. I want my daughter to recognize that all people, regardless of their finances, are worthy of the same things she is.
The glaring financial disparities in the West are really difficult to talk about. I really hope that my girls learn that all humans, regardless of their finances, deserve respect and dignity. If they ever have the chance to help others feel honored and respected, or give them a little financial peace of mind, I hope they do.
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