Monday, July 27, 2015

My sons' money and their life

One of the reasons that I loved the book Your Money or Your Life when I first read it (back before Vicki Robin became a co-author, although this link now takes you to her site) was that the book talked about how our finances affect -- and are affected by -- all other parts of our lives.  I loved the technical parts of the book (the charts were neat; the decisions made sense; the graphs just totally won me over), but the applied philosophy of the book -- that "it's not just money; it's an expression of the way you live in this world" approach -- well, that stuck with me.

So it's not surprising to me that the financial lessons that I'm working on with my sons don't have neat borders where the rest of their life comes to an abrupt halt, and the financial aspect gets to be on stage for the moment.  In fact, interleaving the financial stuff with other parts of their life is turning out to help make some powerful connections.

Here's a quick synopsis of how one of our recent conversations came together.   First, the background.
  • We adopted both of our sons: N-son at age 6 weeks, and J-son at age 11 years. They're now 15 and 16 years old.
  • Their older sisters, who have now grown and left the home, are a combination of our birth children, step children, and "honorary" children ("honorary" means she's effectively, but not legally, adopted).  
  • There was another boy, C-son, who was at our home one summer when he was 15, and who we thought we might adopt -- but he left our home after getting so violent that we had to call in the police, social workers, and mental hospitals for help.
  • J-son has had his own behavioral problems, and a flare-up of those happened at the beginning of the summer.  He's seemingly back on track now (but we always stay on high-alert because . . . well, just because it's a good idea to keep an eye on him).
  • Both sons have real difficulties learning, so I'm leading them through summer school lessons of my own devising.
  • My husband retired from his job at the beginning of the summer, and he's taken on the role of primary parent while I go do math and such.  At the beginning of the summer, he was nervous that his first few years of retirement would be given over to "guarding hooligans".  Family dynamics weren't really sunny back then, although the skies seem to have cleared by now.  

Okay, so that's the background.  This summer I decided to hold "school" for my sons Monday through Thursday for about two hours, both to keep their brains in gear and also to give my husband a chance to go bike riding. Each day of school has three parts:  current events (where I have them read something relevant from the day's paper and answer questions); math worksheets (yay, math!); and a bit of financial lessons from   

Early last week, the current events article that J-son had to read and report on was about kids in foster care.  (Relevant, right?).  The article described how, even though traditionally kids "age out" of the system at age 18, some counties are now allowing kids to opt to remain in the system until age 21.  It described how, although people are legally adults at age 18, there are still lots of things that parents are useful for.  We had some good conversations about how hard it must be for C-son:  he's now 18 and has "aged out"; he's posting Facebook pictures of himself carrying a gun, doing drugs. He'd moved from the mental hospital to a group home, and from there to a foster family, but we think he's not with a family anymore.

We also talked about how K-daughter joined our family when she was 19, and how even though she's 23 years old now, she still comes over for dinner and asks me for help with lots of things -- how having a parent is helpful even when you're "grown-up" and married and have a child of your own.

From there, we went on to do math.  We're alternating between some worksheets I created (we're doing them a second time now) and Sudoku puzzles, which J-son has attempted for the first time and fallen in love with.   This picture below shows the boys collaborating on the current problem:  if there are 100 people at a party, and everyone shakes hands once with everyone else (including him or herself), how many handshakes are there?  [The answer: 5,050 handshakes].

And from there, we moved into a lesson from FoolProofMe on checking accounts.  One of their takeaways:  "Children don't have checking accounts, but grown-ups do.  Getting a checking account is a sign that you're an adult.  You need a checking account."

J-son is on the verge of getting his first job, so this message struck a chord with him.  But it was a nervous chord.  "Am I going to get a checking account?" he asked me.  I assured him he'd have to; once he starts getting paid, he's going to be paid with checks, and he'll need a way to cash them.

"Do I have to walk into the credit union all by myself?" he wanted to know.  Last year, the scariest part of our "financial summer camp" was buying food at market (I was in the same building, but he had to talk to the people behind the counter himself, and that was just an overwhelmingly big experience).  So it didn't surprise me that talking to a real banker would be the biggest fear here.  I assured him that, the first few times at least, I'd go with him to make sure he knew what to do.  I reminded him that he could count on me, and that this is why it's helpful to have parents -- why aging out at age 18 must be so hard for kids who've been in foster homes and group homes. 

"When am I going to have to leave this house?".  That was his next question, and it's an understandable one.  J-son is 16, but he's only 14 months away from being 18.  In barely more than one year, he'll be a legal adult.  And at the beginning of the summer, when things were not quite so sunny, my husband warned J-son that he didn't want a legal adult in our home who was doing things that could get himself in trouble with the law.  The question of how long J-son gets to stay is a good one . . . and it isn't really too many steps away from the question of how to set up a checking account.

I'll share the answer that I gave him, but the answer isn't the point of this post.  The point is that teaching my kids about finances, particularly about becoming financial adults, gives me chances to talk about other parts of their lives that matter to them.  It's Your Money or Your Life, mentor version.  I'm so glad, for so many reasons, that I'm working with my boys on financial literacy.

But my answer to J-son's question matters, too. I told him that in my head, he'd do what three of his older sisters did:  finish high school while living in our home (that takes him almost to age 20), and then move into dorms when he starts College, living away from home during the school year and with us during the summers.

Another possibility, I pointed out, was that  K-daughter continued to live with us while she was in college, moving out only when she got married, and he might do that.

But I also reminded him that if he hurts people in this house, he'd have to leave sooner.  "I wouldn't do that!" he insisted, thinking I'm sure of C-son.  And I assured him I knew he wouldn't do what C-son did:  throw hammers, pull knives out of drawers, punch things. "But stealing things from people in the house hurts them, too, you know."  "Oh, true," he realized.  And he filed that away for reference.  It wasn't a long conversation, but I think it reassured him and helped him understand the boundaries better.

Rearing children: there are just so many aspects to it.  I'm so glad to have a partner by my side who is helping me parent these boys; I'm so glad I have the internet to help me bring my sons good information on cooking and finances and more; I'm so glad I live in an era when a white mom like me can love brown sons like mine in a neighborhood that values this relationship.  And I'm glad for our far-ranging conversations.  It's quite an adventure.


  1. This post literally has me tearing up. You are such an awesome mom to these boys. How fortunate that you are in their lives.

    1. Tearing up -- yeah, it's a little heart-rending getting that question, right? Definitely tugs at the heart strings, or at the pit of my stomach, or something. What is true is that parenting these boys of mine is NEVER boring. Never.