by Anne Slepian, editor
When we attempt to shape
the next generation's values about money, we tend to run
into some predictable challenges, whether our role is
as parents, relatives, teachers, spiritual advisors, financial
managers, or simply as friends. Below are three common
difficulties, with a few suggestions on how to deal with
them. We offer these opinions humbly, aware that every
adult-and-child relationship is unique and there are no
1) When our own choices
contradict some of our values.
Life is full of difficult
compromises. We might value racial diversity yet choose
to live in an all-white neighborhood. We might believe
in public education yet send our children to private school,
or espouse earning a living yet live on an inheritance.
Living in well-to-do neighborhoods
isolates us and our kids from the lives of many people,
and can create a cocooned lack of perspective where even
we adults forget how unusually rich we are. No wonder
our kids take it utterly for granted! Still, it is possible
to enrich our children's perspective (and our own) through
modest steps. With our children, we can volunteer with
service projects, go live or work in other cultures, attend
religious services other than our own, and stretch beyond
our comfort level to make friends. We can openly admit
the tensions in our values and explain why we have made
certain choices. We can talk about society's view of rich
and poor, and use our children's help to figure out ways
to move our lives, even in little ways, into more congruence
with our deeper values.
2) When our skills and
qualities as parents are tested.
"Jenny, can't you
see I'm working? Talk to me some other time." Time is
one of the major challenges to our parenting. It takes
time to even be aware of what we most want to teach,
much less figure out how to teach it. What will enable
us to step beyond being preoccupied and overwhelmed
with our own lives and work, and make teaching values
to our young people (about money and everything else)
a higher priority?
"Stop lecturing me,
Dad, I've heard that ten times before!" Without meaning
to, our teaching efforts often just seem to generate
resistance in our kids, and so we give up trying to
influence them (or repeat the same ineffective rantings
again and again). It's not easy to get into our kids'
shoes and think creatively about how to meet their interests,
but we can improve our abilities through parenting courses
and books such as those listed below. Especially as
our children become teens, we may need to get help from
others who can teach them with less tension.
"I hate you, Aunt
Sally! You NEVER let me do ANYTHING fun!" Many of us
need greater skill with emotions. We need to be able
to warmly accept children's intense disappointment or
anger with the limits we set-neither put them down for
their feelings, nor get pushed around by these outbursts.
(I remind myself that most children encounter a hundred
small disappointments and feelings of powerlessness
every day. Although they tend to release those pent-up
feelings at the most inconvenient times, it's healthy
and often has little to do with me or the current incident.)
Most of us also need ways to process our own emotions
constructively and heal unresolved pain from our own
childhood more fully so we can respond flexibly to young
"Why do I have to
spend MY allowance on it? You've got tons of money!"
Kids seem to sniff out any areas of guilt or ambivalence
we harbor. They can be brilliantly manipulative. Whatever
uncertainties we feel-that perhaps we are "depriving"
our children of things or not having enough time for
them--we can bet they will attempt to use that to get
what they want. When we feel upset or confused by a
child's complaint, we can note to ourselves that we
have some personal homework to do, and commit to resolving
our inner tensions at another time.
We also want to model flexibility
and respect for young people's preferences. When I've
just said "no," I have coached my son to ask me, "What
will help?" instead of whining at me. I then think out
loud: "Well, on one hand, I want you to learn how to budget
your own money and save it for things you most want. That's
a really important skill in life, one that lots of grown-ups
don't know well enough. That's why I ask you to use your
own allowance for it. On the other hand, this isn't just
candy or a toy, it's something you could use for school,
and so I'd be willing to pay half if you really want it.
But I'll want you to pay me back if it's wrecked before
school starts!" Sometimes, by thinking out loud, I find
creative ways to address whatever concerns led me to say
"no." Other times, I conclude "Sorry, it seems nothing
will help. The answer is still no." He's still mad, but
he can see I'm not just being an arbitrary authority.
3) When the culture around
us doesn't support our values.
"Whattaya wanna do?" "I
dunno. Go to the mall?" Unless we live in isolated or
protected environments, our children are swimming in messages
from the wider culture we may dislike. It is painfully
true that as they grow we become a smaller and smaller
part of their world. What can we do about this?
We can remember not to sweat the small stuff.
If we instill the important basics while they are very
young, chances are these fundamental values will endure
even though they may seem hibernating between the ages
of 10 and 28 (or so my friends with children over 30
We can clearly express when and why our values
about money differ from the dominant culture. For example,
we can participate with our children in consumer boycotts,
or create holidays centered around relationships rather
than consuming, and explain why these are important
to us. If we model being joyful and generous with our
abundance (rather than denying it or smothering it in
tension) our values might even seem appealing!
When friends share our values about money,
we can encourage them to spend time with our kids, so
some of the same messages can come from several different
We hope this issue helps
you find your own answers, and bolsters your courage to
keep asking important questions.
Throughout it all, we need
to be gentle with ourselves, and remember we are dealing
with forces far larger than any one person or family.
Still, never doubt that you can influence the development
of young people, not only your children, but all children,
including future generations.
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