Imagine we can all agree that 2020 offered us a unique platform for living our day-to-day family lives. Many households with young children and working parents found themselves with problem-solving situations unimaginable prior to a pandemic: work-and-school-from-home, party-less birthdays, Thanksgiving dinners for three or four, and my favorite — how mommy's workday transforms into a real-world classroom.
One evening in late March of this year, my daughter walked into my bedroom and found me staring at a wall of sticky notes. This wall was my method for sorting through the details of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. As you may recall, the final CARES Act document was more than 300 pages in length and covered a wide assortment of topics, from pandemic unemployment to the Paycheck Protection Program. Sifting through pages to find the essential data proved to be a long and daunting process, but one vital to advising business owners about their financial decisions as stay-at-home orders began circulating.
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As several weeks of stay-at-home boredom mixed with the fading excitement of watching more television than previously allowed, my daughter began asking questions about each note on the wall. She asked me why a virus caused me to have to figure out "money stuff" and why everyone she heard me talk to seemed so frightened. Thankfully, we'd spent the morning cleaning her room, and she'd rediscovered her piggy bank. (The fate of piggy banks everywhere could be another whole article, by the way.) So, in a cherished moment we parents count our blessings for, I had an answer!
I asked her to imagine herself going to bed one night with her piggy bank full, and she had a list of things to do with the coins in the little piggy. Perhaps a new scooter, ice cream cones, and flowers for me — of course. Then I asked her to imagine herself waking up to find that half the coins in her bank had vanished while she slept. Finally, to imagine that she went to school that day and learned that it happened to her friends' piggy banks as well. How might she feel about whether the money was going to reappear, even if her teacher told her it would? How to decide between ice cream and flowers, or worse, say goodbye to a new scooter? She grew very quiet as her wheels turned.
Of course, because I had allowed myself celebration for having an answer, I received my punishment in the form of a worried look on her face, matched with this question: "But mama, did half of our piggy bank disappear?"
My first instinct, quite frankly, was to end the conversation and make her hot chocolate. However, the look on my earnest student's face caused me to rethink and fess up that part of our piggy bank had indeed disappeared. I let her ask the scary questions. "Will we have to move?" "Can we afford food?" "Will any of my friends have to move?" I tried my best to answer each, generally and with no specific numbers.
Fast forward eight months and now I see the importance of our difficult little piggy bank discussion. Her understanding of such a small thing gave her a huge framework for understanding how things changed around her this year — in our home, in her school, and in her friends' lives. We refer to the piggy bank often now. She gets it.
As parents, we often do reach for the hot chocolate. "Let the adults worry about that, honey. Let me see that smile."
This year, perhaps instead of using the hot chocolate to deflect the hard stuff, consider using it as an icebreaker. Face the awkwardness head-on. Give the gift of clarity. Adding marshmallows and a candy cane might help, too!
Teresa Bailey, CFP, CDFA, is Director of Development and Wealth Strategist at Waddell & Associates.