Should You Tell Your Children about Your Financial Struggles?
By Michelle S. Lazurek, Crosswalk.com
My parents were always business owners. My dad owned a restaurant, and then he went into business for himself as a transportation broker. Before the Internet, companies relied on transportation brokers to connect loads with trucks. Then they would get a commission once that load was delivered. Once the Internet debuted, however, transportation workers were no longer needed as business owners could use the Internet to find trucks and loads. It was in the middle of this that my parents were suffering financially. They weren't getting paid because they weren't getting the work they once had. When I saw her crying at the kitchen table, I asked her what was wrong; she said we would probably go bankrupt. At that moment, a million thoughts ran through my head:
Are we going to lose our home?
Are we going to have enough to eat?
What are my parents going to do for work?
Although my mother believed I could handle that news, the reality was it made me anxious. I waited week after week as paychecks never came in. God was good and provided for our every need; my parents weren't going bankrupt. That was a tough year for my parents. If you have children and you're struggling financially, you may have wrestled with the question: should I tell my children about our financial struggles? Although at that moment I became scared, I'm not sure I would have reacted any differently if I had been a few years older. Because my family was not close, we didn't usually have good family conversations. Hearing my mother be vulnerable with me about the state of our finances was comforting. I couldn't do anything to change the situation. However, I'm glad they were able to share their struggles with me. Because I knew they were struggling, it made it easy for me not to ask them for anything frivolous as they could not afford it.
If you are struggling with your finances, you may ask yourself: should I tell my kids about the situation? Although you should do what you believe God is calling you to do, here are a few things to keep in mind if you struggle with this question:
First, ask yourself, "How much do I need to tell my kids to be authentic yet not allow them to worry?" When my mom said the word bankrupt, I had never heard it used in terms of actual people. I had only heard the word bankrupt on television or in Monopoly. Being bankrupt came with it several negative connotations. I may not have worried as much if she had not used the word bankrupt. If you want to tell your kids about your struggles, seek to tell them about the situation so you can be honest but don't use words that could create unnecessary fear for your children.
Second, consider their age. At what age can they handle this type of information? Teens can handle bad family news better than a five-year-old. Parents know their children the best. Knowing what they can and can't handle can be a huge weight off you as you can talk to your family about it, but also allow the children to stay in the loop about the struggles. At ages 5 or 7, children can handle knowing a little about your situation. For example, you can say, "Money is tight. We can't buy you everything you ask for, but we will supply everything you need."
The difference between needs and wants is a blurry area for children. Kids are egocentric, and when they see something they want, they equate it to a need. Kids need to understand the difference between needs and wants at that age. As they get older, however, what they want gets more defined. Kids who want a car for their 16th birthday may struggle with realizing that their parents can't afford it. Kids can separate their needs and want to that point.
Third, older kids can assist in a financial situation. For example, working teens who are 16 years or older can contribute some money to the finances. For example, they can save up for college, and when they do, they can give part of that to their parents to help make ends meet. When children become adults, some parents require rent money from their kids to teach responsibility but also help them understand that the house is not a hotel. They must contribute to have the things they want, just like everyone else.
Fourth, watch that you are not giving your kids anxiety and fear over situations they cannot control. Consider if this financial problem is just temporary or if it will be long-term. For example, when we were going through COVID, no one knew the extent that shutting down businesses would have on our economy. Although those guidelines are still unclear, kids can feel the weight of inflation as they struggle to buy groceries or get gas. Companies also struggle with this as they are trying to recoup their losses. Use your financial struggles to grow closer as a family. This may be difficult because it may be experiencing many negative emotions. But if you choose to let your children know about your financial struggles, use it as an opportunity to pray together as a family. Jesus taught the disciples how to pray and asked them for their daily bread. Jesus wants us to rely on him every day in every season of our lives. However, America has clung to the American dream that allows people to be independent and not ask for help or determine whether things are what they want or need. Ask the Lord to provide over and beyond what you need. When we pray together as a family, we allow God access to our situation. All the family can utilize budgeting and practice learning to rely on God for everything.
Fifth, if your children are old enough, you can have them assist with the monthly budget by doing extra chores or even going around the neighborhood for work. Gone are the days when people met together as a community. This is a great way for kids to learn financial responsibility but also know that every dime they make cannot be used selfishly. As they work, they can learn that they need to contribute to a monthly budget and that this is part of a healthy family dynamic. Real struggles, particularly financial ones, can be challenging to navigate. Use discernment to discover what your kids can handle and what they can't and communicate accordingly. Do your best not to frighten your children by using words they don't understand, but rather let them know that there is a struggle, but there is also hope.
Use this difficulty as an opportunity to lean on God for his provision. His provision comes in ways and through people you may never expect. As kids see the generosity of a local church or friends and family allows them to keep their heads above water, they know that God is a God who heals, sees, and knows all. God wants to give good gifts to his children. And he will provide for you in ways you may never expect.
Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.