When I was growing up, I was never made privy to my parents’ financial affairs. I never knew if things were “bad” (primarily because we were lead to believe they always were “bad”) and we never really knew if they were “good” (if for no other reason, because we assumed it was bad). We still had a black and white Zenith TV with no remote (unless you considered me being the remote). We were a one car family. We did not have cable TV. And we also did not face foreclosure.
If we had, I imagine there would have been some sort of a ‘family meeting.’ After all, if my parents were going to lose the family home, I would want to know why. I would want to know why I would have had to move into a new house – why I might have to change schools – and would want to talk about what I might have had to tell my friends. Of course, that was then; the black and white TV is long gone.
I have had clients who have had to face the reality of losing their home. Why? There are no easy and clear cut reasons as to what lead to it. The only common answer is that at the end of the month, there is not enough money to pay the mortgage. Contrary to what you believe in the media, it’s not just the subprime meltdown that is causing people to go into bankruptcy and lose their home. People are still finding themselves in debt because of the high price of food, fuel – and just about everything else. People with health crisis and unemployment still have face a tough time. And if the economy continues its decline, we can expect job losses, salary stagnation, and other problems to affect the household’s bottom line.
Parents have told me that they do not want to talk about financial issues with the kids – because they are young and innocent. I often hear that “they wouldn’t understand.” If you ask me, this is exactly the time to discuss it, especially if there is a possibility that the family home cannot be saved. If there has not been a family discussion about the value of a dollar, there should be one very soon. If the cell phones need to be shut off, discuss it. If the phone is ringing off the hook because bill collectors are calling, tell them. If the cable needs to be downgraded or eliminated, talk about it. But perhaps most importantly, be prepared to discuss the reasons why.
That last part might be a little tricky. Parents may have had things happen beyond their control: a lost job or a health care crisis. The kids are likely to understand those things.
There are some things that kids may have a tough time understanding: parents may have also made some decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time, but now…not so much.
If parents are feeling as if they have failed, discussing that with the kids can be a tough and heartbreaking experience. My clients have told me so. But I have learned that this can be a time where kids can learn a valuable lesson from their parents. And perhaps, if you’re lucky, you parents may learn something from your kids.
Storm Preparation is a weekly series appearing on Wednesdays and offers tips and information to people who think they may need bankruptcy protection in the future. Please do not take these recommendations as a substitute for legal advice, and please be sure you read the Terms and Conditions of the Site. Questions & comments about or topic suggestions for Storm Preparation can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.