Teaching Financial Responsibility
Money is one of the greatest stressors for married couples and often leads to separation or divorce. This does not disappear after a couple splits. In fact, couples after divorce must stretch their already limited resources further to support two households.
In our current economy, resources and stability are even scarcer for single parents, especially around the holidays. If they're not careful, single parents can miss the importance of being realistic monetarily with their kids, which can perpetuate a cycle of financial distress for them. For this reason, it is imperative that they take steps to teach their children financial responsibility instead.
Develop an honest, but encouraging attitude with kids. Kids learn resourcefulness and personal responsibility when they develop a desire for something and must figure out a way to get it. Attitude, however, is a larger part of whether or not your "no" will produce successful results. If you simply say, "No, we can't afford that," in a depressed, angry or accusatory tone, it will likely have a negative effect on your kids. However, if you acknowledge and affirm your child's desire for something reasonable for his or her age, you can still say "no," but follow it with a conversation about how your child might work toward that goal. All of us are willing to take something for nothing, but the things we really are passionate about we will find a way to get or achieve at any cost.
Expect work for rewards. Since good parenting should always mirror the real adult world, start young and be clear about what is expected for exactly what amount of reward. Some parents take the attitude that they will give their kids money when asked as long as they do a set of chores regularly. As children get older, though, their activities and requirements get increasingly expensive. The strategy to simply give money when asked in exchange for household chores will probably become less like reality as they age.
For toddlers, who cannot grasp the concept of money, exchange age-appropriate chores each week for a grab in a dollar-store toy bag. For elementary school aged kids, a weekly allowance is appropriate in exchange for their chores. For teens, regular chores should be seen as simply their part in keeping the household running, and money should be negotiated and given for special projects like yard work, cleaning the garage and washing windows.
Be a good role model. Single parents often worry that if they don't keep up with what the other parent is spending on the kids, or keep up with other parents in the community, their kids will see them as unloving or uncool. First of all, kids will never understand why you cannot afford something until they are adults and have to manage their own money. So give up the idea that you can rationalize this idea with them. Instead, be a good example of being financially responsible. You will lose your integrity with them if you say you cannot afford something, but then you charge something extravagant on your credit card and have to suffer to pay for it.
Kids don't need to be brought into the details of your finances, but it's OK to share with them that you are saving for something you want, such as a vacation or a car. In fact, get them involved in the excitement of delayed gratification. Put a chart on the refrigerator that chronicles the money you have saved so far for the item you are buying for the family, such as a new computer or television. They will learn from you that things you work for are more meaningful and enjoyable.
Create expectations for adult responsibility. Kids who at a young age know that nothing in life is free will begin to prepare early for their adult future. For example, a child who is told in middle school that you intend to help pay for college for four years, but that you expect him or her to get loans or work to pay for a portion as well, is more likely to work for scholarships or state-run programs to achieve his or her goals.
Even parents who have been responsible and have saved for their kids' college should put restrictions on that money. For instance, you might ask them to get their own loans for college, knowing the money you saved will be there to pay them off as long as they finish their degree. Then you can release the money to them upon graduation, and they can decide whether or not to use it to pay off their loans or to buy something like a home or car. By contrast, children who assume mom or dad will fund their post-high-school career at any cost are not likely to be thinking about how to achieve it.
Diane Chambers Shearer is a licensed marriage and family therapist and parent educator in Atlanta, and author of "Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families."