What do you tell your kids about another family’s trouble?

I was talking with a mom the other day about a situation she had recently encountered in her neighborhood.

Her son was playing with another little guy down the street and the kid basically said so did you hear why so and so had to move? They are poor now. My mom told me.

The family was foreclosed on and moved to a different house in the area. I believe the family is still in the same elementary school and still running in the same social circles.

The mom that I was talking to was outraged. She didn’t feel like that mom had any right to tell her child what was happening with their friend’s family. She didn’t want the friend’s children embarrassed at school, and she just thought it was poor form by the other mom.

Now obviously in this economic environment, parents may be told or are going to figure out when a family is in economic trouble, especially if they are foreclosed on and have to move. But is it appropriate to tell your children what is happening to another family?

This mom’s point was that the parents could have easily just said they moved – with no other detail or make up a reason – they needed more/less room.

So then we expanded the conversation: Is it appropriate to your child about a family’s trouble if:

The marriage is in trouble and the parents are fighting a lot?

If they are getting a divorced?

If the dad/mom has moved out because of the divorce?

If the family can’t afford to do things like go to movies or parks due to money problem? What do you say about inviting them places and why they can never come?

What do you say about a family moving away? Do you say it’s due to foreclosure?

It’s such a tough call because A. You don’t want to be gossiping about another family; B. You don’t want their kids to be ridiculed or hurt at school or in the community because your kids knows what is really going on and tells others.

But on the hand: A. Could your child be offering support to their friend if they knew the truth? (I guess that’s if you were certain the child had been told by his own parents what was happening.) B. Could your children be learning from these things – are these teachable moments that you are missing by not sharing what is happening to avoid embarrassing the family?

So what do you think? Was this mom in bad form talking to her kids about her neighbor’s problems? How have you handled similar situations? How much do you share with your child about a problem their friend’s family may be having?

25 comments Add your comment

Penguinmom

March 14th, 2012
1:51 am

We have friends who are currently going through a difficult financial time which has lead to serious marital difficulties. My kids are friends with their kids. We have not given them a complete run-down of everything that is happening in that family, but we have mentioned that they are going through some difficulties. We went through major financial difficulties and still don’t always have money for what the kids would like to do so my kids understand that situation.

The way we approached it with our kids was that the family was having a hard time similar to what we had experienced. That they should be supportive of their friends and should be available to listen if the need arose. That they should pray for the family and the situation. We also emphasized multiple times that this was not something to be discussed in general with other people.

I think some of it depends on the children’s ages and their individual personalities. If they are too young, don’t give them any more information than is necessary. Just a simple “they moved to a different house” should suffice. If the child is older, and they have demonstrated some level of discretion, a little more information can be given especially if you think they will be helpful in supporting the other family’s children.

I suspect it is just as likely that the mom was talking to her husband or another friend and didn’t really think/didn’t care about the child over-hearing her conversation.

shaggy

March 14th, 2012
6:32 am

It’s the “Reality TV & Facebook Generation”…everything on display to be gawked at and “Liked”.
We only care about what someone else is doing. “Mind your own business” has lost its meaning, with civility and manners lying in the dust bin.
It is natural for children to engage in crude and rude behavior, but the adults want to play to. The adults see nothing wrong with it, as long as it’s not them being the subject.

catlady

March 14th, 2012
7:09 am

I don’t think another family’s woes should be the subject of discussion in your home. Is it okay to speak in generalities? Yes, with great restraint. Just how much “help” would a 7 year old be to another 7 year old? Counseling them? Taking up a collection? Teach your kids to be nice to everybody, and stay away from gossip!

Anj

March 14th, 2012
7:28 am

Seven is a little young to be learning life’s lessons, other than to be kind to people who are having difficulties.

I remember being older than seven and thinking everyone I knew had at least a good life, if not an idyllic life. I thought my family was the only dysfunctions, problems, issues. We were told you don’t tell anyone about what goes on at home. Never! So I spent my teen years feeling inferior because I thought every other kid had a stable, secure home with two doting parents who adored each other.

Later in college, it became clear that this was not the case. The Perfect Home(tm) didn’t exist and most of my classmates were dealing with less than perfect situations. It was a relief to me that I didn’t have to hide my Terrible Family Secrets for fear of being rejected and ashamed.

Yes, it’s okay to talk about significant events in a family’s life: death, illness, job loss, divorce. Do it in a compassionate, nonjudgmental way.

Augusta

March 14th, 2012
8:14 am

First of all, that was NOT me who posted about the withholding sex comment yesterday. I would never do that to my husband, or to US..

Second, in this article, I believe someone is sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong, and spreading gossip to a child (I guess to make them feel better about their situation). How low is that? Unless you are involved in the situation, you have no business spreading rumors that you are not 100% sure about.

I read this the other day “If we all threw our problems in a pile, and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back”.

I don’t spread gossip. I don’t fuel rumors. I have taught my children to do the same. Unless you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you have NO right to judge.

motherjanegoose

March 14th, 2012
8:38 am

With small children, it is best IMHO to keep it to a minimum…”The Jones Family might be having some problems. We all have problems sometimes. Remember when you had to go to the hospital? Remember when our refrigerator broke? Remember when our car had a flat tire?” When people have problems, good friends share kind thoughts and deeds.

As children get older, they know more and it is harder to skim over things but I still might share that we all have difficult stretches in our lives, for the reason Anj mentioned. My family, growing up, was a MESS but my parents were adamant that they knew everything. When I look back on it, I wonder…WHO WERE THEY FOOLING? Yes, themselves and their children. As adults, we sometimes mention family friends and wonder what they were thinking. Of course, there was not much they could do as my parents were a fortress of knowing everything ( when mostly they did not).

I have told my own two; “We did things the best we knew how and we did make some mistakes along the way. You will meet other people who do things differently and you will learn a lot too. Then, you will have to choose how to do things for yourselves.”

@ Augusta…that was an imposter posting under your name yesterday? I certainly did not pick up on it. Sorry.

I think that ...

March 14th, 2012
8:39 am

…Penguinmom, catlady and Anj have summed it up nicely – thanks…

Me

March 14th, 2012
9:04 am

@I think that — I concur…

Roberta Higginbotham

March 14th, 2012
9:21 am

People gossip to feel important. Mother A gossips to Mother B. Mother B gossips to kid. Where would mothers be these days without gossip?

I suggest asking yourself these simple questions before putting your mouth in gear:

1. How would you like it if someone said these things about you?
2. Is it true? Maybe it is, but is repeating it necessary?
3. Is it kind? It may be true, about yourself or someone else, but if it will harm another, you have no right to repeat it.
4. Is it just? Is it honest, compassionate, with the person’s best interest at heart?
5. Is it necessary? Will it do any good AND satisfy all the conditions above? Not only is it necessary, but is it necessary for the other person to hear? Remember, “Need to know.”

If it passes this simple test, then by all means speak your mind and never fear again that you might be labeled a gossip.

Tonya C.

March 14th, 2012
9:34 am

Meh, don’t mention it unless the child brings it up. And then, a simple “they are having some troubles right now but that doesn’t affect your friendship with them” and move on. I refuse to over-analyze myself as indicated here, because it’s overkill and inauthentic.

I think the parent noted in the original post was wrong as all get out, especially usage of the word ‘poor’. It doesn’t seem to fit this scenario at all, and turned it into an outright lie.

nelson

March 14th, 2012
9:46 am

That is a great question. I really like it. It is hardly news, the social environment is in a continuous state of change. Telling children negative news about another family in the community insures that the word will spread and none beneficial to the family in difficulty.
There are a plethora of people that disseminate negative information about others in a perverse attempt to heighten their own feelings of superiority.
Now if the family themselves is telling others in an attempt to find a little assistance, that is different.

homeschooler

March 14th, 2012
9:58 am

I agree that the mother probably said to much to the child or perhaps the child overheard something. Still sometimes you say one thing to a child, they hear it in their own way and they repeat it in the only way they understand it. For example, this mother might have said, “They are having some problems right now and had to move to a cheaper home” (still too much information) and the child might have reworded that as the family is “poor”. The mother may have never used those words. I know I have hear my 8 yr old say that I said things and I will be shocked. “What! I never said that”. But that’s what she heard because she is 8. Bottom line, don’t give kids too much information and don’t gossip with them. They are not your friends, they are your children.
Now I have used people’s troubles a teaching moments for my children. One of my family members is raising two kids because their parents are on drugs. I have been known to say “____ and _____’s parents chose to use drugs so they lost their children and ______ and ______ can’t live with their mom and dad because their mom and dad made bad decisions…so don’t use drugs EVER”. Maybe that’s too much information but I want them to never have a doubt how damaging drugs can be. Kids don’t need to know anything about anyone’s financial problems, even their own family’s IMO.

catlady

March 14th, 2012
11:29 am

BTW, teachers know VERY QUICKLY when there is trouble at a child’s home. And it is not because anyone told them.

DB

March 14th, 2012
11:43 am

Well, it’s never nice to gossip about ANYONE’S problems, to adults OR to children! If someone is moving away, there could be many reasons, but to say it’s because they are suddenly “poor” is a rotten thing to put in a kid’s head. With many kids, they can start to worry: “Gee, that might happen to ME, too!” There’s always reasons why a family can’t afford a movie or an outing, and to make blanket statements on their financial standing because of it is nervy and rude.

I grew up in an atmosphere where it was ALWAYS considered rude to talk about money — your money, someone else’s money, etc., etc. Frankly, it’s none of my business what other people’s financial decisions are. If my kids asked me about a divorce, my response was always “Well, I’m sorry to hear that Mr. and Mrs. Smith are having problems, and I’m sure that Suzy is upset and confused, but that doesn’t change our friendship with them.” As the kids became teenagers and more “details” would get spilled, I’d make it clear that everyone has problems — but unfortunately, some peoples’ problems are just more visible than others.

World Traveler

March 14th, 2012
12:38 pm

I think you have to make it a point to tell children… through out their lives … that there are people who have much more and much less. So don’t be envious because XXX has much more, and don’t belittle those who have much less. The same thing with all other issues. The first step is awareness… that we all have different lives and different stuff and good (and bad) happen to each of us and our families individually. An illness, an accident, an economy, etc, can quickly destroy what has been built up. Kids have to know that life is not all rosy, even though we try to shield them from most of the bad stuff. They also have to know that , when bad things happen, it is not a defeat to be ashamed of. It is merely a new starting point.

And when you hear something from your kids (like the kid down the street is poor now), explain that you wouldn’t want people to talk about you if something bad happened to our family, so when you hear stuff like that you should talk about it with us (your parents) and not to/about other people (gossip).

FCM

March 14th, 2012
3:20 pm

@ Catlady….I have been called by the school several times with offers for “help” because they are sure of some financial issue at home. Only to find out the $50/month I put on the lunch account was over spent by my child (”buying extras”) who knew better than to tell me what she did. So she told the school I did not have the money to buy her lunch.

FCM

March 14th, 2012
3:21 pm

or when she broke her 4th pair of glasses in 6 months and I told her she would have to wait until my next pay day (that weekend) to get a new pair. So she told them Mom said she wouldn’t get her glasses.

FCM

March 14th, 2012
3:23 pm

by the way $50/month translates to 11 milkshakes in addition to lunch at school. I think that is fair for extras

DB

March 14th, 2012
4:30 pm

@FCM: LOL at the “mommy doesn’t have money to buy me lunch.” I could SO see my little brother doing this when we were growing up!

Back when I was in HS...

March 14th, 2012
5:25 pm

..the coaching staff went to my parents and asked them if there was a financial problem because I never ate lunch – my parents were shocked to be asked this question and assured the staff that they gave me lunch money each day. When they asked me what was happening I just told the truth – the lunches were so bad that I did not eat them…

homeschooler

March 14th, 2012
6:19 pm

Another thing, People really should refrain from trying to “help” unless asked or at least unless they know the facts. I was involved one year in delivering Christmas presents to kids who had been determined by the school to be under privileged. Two young middle school girls who live in south cobb county were attending an East Cobb MS because they were in a “school of choice” district. I have no idea why these kids were determined to be “in need” I guess just because they lived in what was considered to be the “other side of the tracks”. Anyway I was more than embarrassed (and so was the father) when I arrived with gifts and told the father that they were from the school for his daughters. He said “my kids are getting iPods and a Nintendo Wii for Christmas”. He was extremely pleasant an asked me to please find someone who needed the gifts and refused them. Again, I don’t know why the miscommunication but he and I should have never been put in that position. How awful for these parents to know that they were labeled as being “in need”. They were a working class family who owned a nice modest house and were not in need at all. If there is one thing that I have learned in life it is that what people “have” has absolutely nothing to do with how much they earn or how much money they have in the bank. You can never, ever tell.

Reading Comprehension worksheet for kids

March 15th, 2012
5:46 am

motherjanegoose

March 15th, 2012
1:13 pm

@homeschooler…’tis true;
If there is one thing that I have learned in life it is that what people “have” has absolutely nothing to do with how much they earn or how much money they have in the bank. You can never, ever tell.

Penguinmom

March 15th, 2012
1:26 pm

One thing I am amazed out in families I know who are in financial straits is how little they share with their own children. We have been very up front with our kids about poor decisions (credit cards) and how much/how little we have at a particular moment. I want them to know why we are saying no and to learn a little from our mistakes. When companies would call us, I would explain what was happening to them. Not in a scary way, just matter of factly.

My couple of friends who have had to go through bankruptcies recently basically told their kids practically nothing. Maybe a little bit of ‘we can’t afford that right now’ but nothing about their credit card mismanagement or decisions that partly led them into this situation. The one family that is also having marital problems has devolved into a blame game between the parents about being spend thrifts so they are still not telling the kids much about the true reasons so the kids are kinda confused and worried. On top of that, they continue to try to purchase things for the kids that the kids don’t need (ex. an iPhone for the 9 year old, summer camps, etc). Sometimes that money comes from other people but the kids don’t always know that.

I don’t believe in scaring kids but I think being honest about finances, at an appropriate level for the child’s age, is important.

btw, in my original comment I should have mentioned that my kids were in upper-elementary and middle school when we originally discussed the situation with them. My youngest who was in Kindergarten at the time was not told about it other than that we were praying for them.

Denise

March 15th, 2012
5:23 pm

I don’t think children need to be overly involved in their parents’ issues. For example, why they are getting divorced (unless it can be articulated clearly, without blaming each other, and at the child’s level) should not be the point of discussion as much as “it’s not your fault”, “this is how things will be from now on”, etc. As for how much a parent tells their own child about their financial issues, that again depends on the child’s level of understanding and if the parents can communicate it on one accord, not “your mama buys too many shoes” or “your daddy plays too much golf”. Again, I think the focus should be on the impact of the situation not so much on the “how” of the situation. If a child is older, maybe talk about debt, spending, etc. so they can get an idea of how what they do on a daily basis impacts the family and how cutting back is necessary and what the impact will be on the family. If the parents are NOT cutting back then nothing they say about debt, spending, etc. will have any meaningful impact on their children so they might as well save their breath. We were told “no, we cannot afford that” or “you can have that only if you use the money Granny and Papa gave you” or we KNEW that if Granny and Papa didn’t give Mama the money we couldn’t have things and we KNEW that Granny and Papa paid our tuition. Well I knew; my brother was too young. Knowing impacted me but it also scared me to the point I thought we were dirt poor (we weren’t) and I didn’t ask for anything that I wanted even though I could have gotten some of the things I wanted. At 39 I am still like that…scared of being broke and not really spending a lot of money on things that other people spend lots of money on. Yeah, I’m “responsible” but almost crippled for fear of not having money that I might need.

As for what you tell your kids about other people’s problems…not much. “They are moving to a different house” for foreclosure, divorce, etc. for little kids. And “her mommy and daddy are getting a divorce” for older kids. But never “they are losing their home to foreclosure”.