I blame Kit, the plucky American Girl Doll who survives the Great Depression. Ever since my daughter Maxine read the Kit books, she’s been asking, “What would happen if Daddy lost his job? Where would we live if the bank took our house?” And she most wants to know: “Are we rich or are we poor?”
A lot of kids ask that last question, says Kiki Schaffer, an education director at the YMHA in New York City. The trick is figuring out what your child is really asking.
She might be seeking reassurance that she’ll be loved and protected no matter what the future holds. But if, like Maxie, your child really wants to know about family wealth, why not grab the teachable moment?
I’ve been explaining to Maxie that even though we have enough for our needs, we try to not to waste money. We spend wisely. We work hard. We help those in need (in our tradition, we give tzedakah).
Maxie goes to a public school where 40% of the children qualify for free lunch; there, we’re pretty well-off. But she also goes to a Hebrew School where many families outearn us many times over. (I watched one middle-school girl show her shoes to another student, saying, “They’re my mother’s, they’re Prada, you touch them, you die.”)
This dichotomy, sometimes being the kid with more and sometimes being the kid with less, is healthy, Schaffer says. “You can explain how some people have less and are happy and others have more but are never satisfied.”
In other words, wealth is, quite often, a state of mind.
Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet magazine. Live, well. How did your parents discuss money with you?