Most of us don’t-learn about money the same way we don’t-learn about the birds and the bees: from our parents.
Yup, it’s sad but true that most of our parents never taught us nothin’ ’bout sex and never taught us nothin’ ’bout no money (though some of them were big on teaching us to not use double and triple negatives . . .) (and to not split infinitives . . . ).
But not all parents are like that. And, indeed, most of the parents with whom I work are quite explicitly looking to teach their children well.
To which I say: Yay. And to which I add: Parents, you are, indeed, feeding them on your dreams — as well as on your fears and your hopes, as well as on your no-go’s and your yes-go’s, your hesitations and your gitty-ups, your perfections and your foibles . . . and on and on and on . . . and your everythings.
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The other day I was speaking with a couple who were, indeed, teaching their child about the financial world out there and about the financial self we each grow within our selves, often with our parents’ unwitting help, starting at about the age of . . . what? . . . one or two years of age maybe? . . . starting when we are with, typically, mommy at the store and we say/think/gesture a simple utterance, sans subject but with a single, very-clear, very elemental notion:
with the Full Monty, I WANT THAT, waiting until sometime later, and with the urge-brought-to-near-full-fruition AAAAGGGH, I WANT THAT NOW OR ELSE! being in the not-too-distant future.
It was during the conversation with these smart parents that I realized, in some ways all anew and in other ways all over again, that teaching your children well about financial health brings up a much broader range of topics than simply money.
It brings up hope, it brings up endeavoring, it brings up possibility, it brings up every yearning we have as children and every yearning we will have as adults, etc., etc., etc. And it definitely brings up what it means to be living in the material world.
So how could a simple discussion about a toddler having a piggy bank get that broad? (And, while we’re at it, who did the piggy bank branding work? Excellent job!)
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The answer to that question is that the conversation went big and broad when the parents and I were discussing how to best talk with their child about giving money away to others who need it — to giving charitably. We in turn were talking about that because, as part of teaching their daughter about money — the saving of it, the spending of it, the storing-it-away-for-a-rainy-day of it — the parents wanted to also include the charitable-giving-away of it.
Nice job, parents!
While discussing this topic I suggested to the parents that they frame the giving-it-away part for their child in terms of how, if there’s something out there the child really, really cares about, then there’s probably some people out there devoting their entire life’s work to that particular something, and who could really benefit from the child’s charitable gift of some quarters, dimes and nickels
Your child cares about homeless animals? I asked.
There are countless animal shelters that will be happy to accept your child’s quarters, I say. Have her hand her quarters to someone at one of those shelters, and maybe they’ll even take her for a (gentle) behind the scenes tour.
Or: Your child cares about homeless animals of the human being variety? There are lots of organizations out there providing ’round the clock caring for those folks, especially here in the Little City By the Bay ( . . . that might reach 90 degrees today, even by the ocean) where our homeless population is notoriously large.
Or also: Your child cares about ponies? There are plenty o’ pony organizations out there, too.
Etc., etc., etc. — with the point being that, whatever it is that this couple’s child cares about, there are, no doubt, lots of charitable organizations involved that’ll be happy to accept her quarters, dimes and nickels.
* * *
And, presto-change-o, just like that, we adults realized that we were also simultaneously talking about helping their daughter learn that she can devote her endeavoring to anything she cares about — that she can follow her passions, wherever they might lead, and that deciding where she wants her giving-it-away quarters, dimes and nickels to go is not all that different, really, from deciding where she wants her life’s-work’s-energy-units to go.
In fact, maybe they’re the same thing?
At which point this financial advisor sat back and grinned, once again marveling at how, to talk earnestly and deeply about our financial lives is, invariably, to talk earnestly and deeply about our lives, period, full stop, with no narrowing-modifer preceding the word lives needed.
And that, gentle reader, is how the teach-your-children conversation, which started out by looking at teaching a child about charitable giving, ended up as a conversation about helping the child further understand that she can do anything in this lovely — if rather toasty — ol’ world of ours that she wants to do.