69. Your Financial Life

How’s your financial life? It’s a question that’s often complicated in its own right, and it’s made more complicated when you have children who are curious about it. There’s a few generations whose parents experienced the Depression, and for many of them (myself included), talking about finances with the children was a no-no. Children grew up with no idea how much money their parents earned, how much their homes cost, and so on.
I think there were a few reasons for the secrecy. One was that parents did not want to raise children’s anxiety levels. Parents figured that children who didn’t quite understand what a thousand was would worry needlessly when they heard that their parents owed thousands of dollars to some bank, which owned more of their “secure” home than the parents did.
Another possible reason is that adults worry that children will talk to each other, and then other parents will get wind of private financial information. As a child, I once told a friend how much my house was worth. Actually, I had no idea how much it was worth, but my friend was impressed. So was his father, a real estate agent who was instantly eager to help my parents sell the house, and called them right away. That night, I learned that my parents would rather not have me discuss family finances with people. That meant I should stop making up stories; I had no idea what the family finances were.
And then there’s the Jones family that we’re all supposed to keep up with. If children know about their parents’ finances, it won’t take long for them to figure out which are the Jones families, and which are the families that are supposed to try to keep up with them. Neither is
a good position to be in, and the complicated social world of the child could get even more complicated if financial matters enter the picture.
When my children were growing up, of course I was very open about our finances. When people experience what they consider the wrong approach, the tendency, among some, is to figure out the opposite approach, and use that. Perhaps one of my daughters will some day write an article letting me know about problems that may have caused.
I think children should get a sense of how money works in our society. They should learn it as they learn many other things – by asking questions and getting answers based on the actual substance of the questions. The old-fashioned lecture about the birds and the bees didn’t work for sexuality, and a similar approach wouldn’t work for finances. The children will get curious about our own finances, and each of us will have our own take on the privacy issue, but I think it would be destructive to let the subject of money remain taboo.

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