We have recently experienced some significant financial difficulties which require us to change our standards of living. Up until 4-5 months ago, we were living what most people would consider a wealthy lifestyle. The reasons for the downturn are not important but it has been very rough on us as a family. This has caused my husband a lot of stress and has impacted our marriage as well. We are also having a difficult time explaining to our children (ages 8, 11, and 14) why things have changed so much. Why we can no longer go to certain places and buy certain things. I feel that it is important to shield the children from these financial issues, but I don’t see how it is possible that they don’t realize what is going on. I would appreciate any advice you have on getting through this difficult time.
It sounds as if the issue for you relates to the impact that your financial situation is having on your marriage and on your children. Though you state that your husband is having a hard time dealing with the lifestyle change, you don’t refer to yourself in this context. I imagine that it is difficult for you as well, but your main focus is on the family.
With regard to your marital relationship, the issue seems to be the stress that your husband feels. His stress—in addition to more concrete issues—probably causes you to be stressed as well, leading to emotional exchanges between the two of you. This stress may be related to the lack of a sense of stability. Aside from impacting on your marital relationship, kids can easily pick up on this type of tension and the fears related to it.
Children often adapt much more easily to financial and lifestyle changes than do adults. What children most need is a sense of stability and equanimity. They need to feel that they are safe and secure. Though this can relate to finances, children mostly need to feel that there is nothing to be afraid of. Your husband and you may be afraid of going (further) into debt, or of not being able to maintain specific luxuries. Children, however, usually don’t concern themselves with these things unless they associate them with a lack of security.
If children are given the sense that the financial changes are directly associated with unspoken fears, they can begin feeling anxious about these changes. This is usually not because they are worried about the changes themselves. Rather, it’s usually due to the associated fear of the unknown. Discussing with your kids the fact that, despite changes in your circumstances, their safety and security will always be assured can go a long way to making them feel comfortable with the new situation.
The change in your relationship with your husband may actually be a more significant factor in causing your kids to feel insecure. When parents are not getting along, this can cause children to feel anxious. If your kids don’t fully understand the causes for the change in your relationship, this can add to their sense of confusion and uncertainty. Depending on each child’s reactions, age, and maturity level, you can decide how detailed you want to be, and to what extent you want to discuss changes to your lifestyle and the stress that is impacting on your relationship.
Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
Brooklyn, NY | Far Rockaway, NY
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317