Talking to a Child About Home Foreclosure

I received a heart wrenching email from a reader that I’m going to call “Peggy.” Here’s a few excerpts from that email:

[...] In short, we are going to have to be out of our house by October 24. We’re going to move in with [my brother] and his family for a while and then later try to find a place to rent.

We made bad money mistakes and we know what we did wrong. We should have never bought our house. We should have never got that mortgage. We just tried to make the best life possible for [their eight year old son].

So here’s my problem: we haven’t told [our eight year old son] about this yet. We don’t know what to tell him or where to even start. This is the only home he remembers living in.

My mother thinks we shouldn’t tell him anything. We should just say were moving to a new place and we’re going to live with [my brother] for a while.

But [he]‘s smarter than that. He knows there is something going on and he won’t fall for it.

What should I tell him?

This email (which, admittedly, I edited a fair amount to protect the privacy of Peggy, her son, and the rest of her family) caused a more painful reaction for me than anything I’ve read since I’ve started writing The Simple Dollar. I look at my almost three year old son and I can’t imagine having to explain to him in a few years why we have to move out of this house that he’s grown up in.

Needless to say, over the last few days since I received the email, I’ve spent a ton of time thinking about Peggy’s situation. It’s the first reader email I’ve brought up with my friends, and I also mentioned it on Twitter, just to try to get more angles and perspectives on it.

My first reaction was to agree with Peggy’s mother and encourage Peggy to simply not talk about it.

It’s a very frightening time when you’re losing your home. I can’t imagine explaining it to a child. You’re in some ways ripping away one of their basic elements of security in the world.

Some further reflection brought me to a different conclusion, though.

My thoughts actually began to turn around when I was taking my son to daycare. He’s just a bit short of three years old. We stopped at a gas station on the way because gas was clear down to $2.89 and I wanted to fill up my tank.

I told him we were going to stop at the gas station and he asked if we needed gas. I told him that we didn’t, but that I wanted to get gas now because it was really cheap – that way, we could have more money left over to buy other things. He immediately shouted, “So we can buy more pizza with wheels!” (His favorite food is a plain cheese pizza with black olives on it – pizza with wheels.)

My two year old son understood the basic idea of budgeting: sometimes you need to spend less on some things so that you can afford other things. In the end, that’s the basic reason why one would lose a house to foreclosure. Conceptually, an eight year old should be able to understand it.

I asked a few people I know who are actually parents of children between the ages of seven and nine how they would handle it, and they almost all provided passionate arguments on behalf of candor with the child, confirming my idea that candor is really the best approach here. To a certain point, of course.

If I were in Peggy’s shoes, here’s what I would do.

First, I’d spend a lot of quality time with my child right now.

Even more than you do right now. You’ll need a strong bond with your child to make this go smoothly. Why? Your child needs emotional touchstones, and you need to make yourself the strongest touchstone you can during this time so that the transition is easier. It is at least somewhat likely that your child sees your current home as a touchstone, and it’ll be very hard for your child to separate, so you need to provide another rock for your child to lean on.

Spend some evenings at the park or out and about in the community doing things together, just you and your family. You can spend some evenings at home, of course, but don’t spend all of them there – try to cement that bond with your child independent of location.

Second, I’d cement the concept of a home as something you buy and sell.

Point out where other houses are for sale and explain that someone is trying to sell that house. If you see a “SOLD” sign, point out that someone has bought that house from someone else that’s trying to sell it.

This firms up the idea that it’s a normal thing for people to buy and sell their houses. Be candid about it and answer the questions that your child might have. Given Peggy’s timeframe, I’d try to do this several times in the next few days.

Third, I’d use some candor to explain the situation to the child.

Simply tell the child that the family needs to live in a smaller house because the house they live in now is too expensive. They don’t have enough money to keep paying for that house. Do it in a caring way – a serious talk, but without overwhelming emotion and no aggression at all.

Your child is going to have questions. Answer them as simply as you can. You don’t have to get into the nuances of ARMs. Just say that we got to make little payments on the house at first, but now the payments are bigger and we have to choose between things to spend our money on. My two year old could largely understand this and several other parents have assured me that their seven, eight, and nine year olds could get it, too.

Finally, make the changing experience seem as fun as you can.

Get your child involved in packing things up. Take pictures of box contents together for easier packaging. Be there for your child if your child has a hard time with this – the child might or might not get upset during the process.

The most important thing is to be there for your child. You are that child’s constant through this difficult time of change. Take that very seriously, because your child will probably really need that emotional safety at this time.

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  1. Char says:

    Trent, sometimes I am shocked by your wisdom, since you are such a young man. You are dead on with this topic. When my 2 boys were 7& 8 we reached the end of the line. We did not have to foreclose on our house but we were out of every other option there was and we were in debt up to our ears. I was very straight forward with my boys about why life was going to seriously change and even had them “help” me budget, helping to make decisions about how we spent the money we had budgeted for in certain aspects of our lives. We tried to make getting out of debt fun but powerful about why it was so bad to be there in the first place. A couple years after getting out of debt we had another child, she wasn’t raised in that same atmosphere, life was always fairly comfortable for her because we only were making wise decisions but interestingly enough, she has no concept of money and is much more inclined to overspend vs the other children really “get it” So I guess what I am trying to say is this could be the best thing for Peggy and her son. She needs to be honest but like you said -give that child the proper security through love. You just nailed this whole article perfectly. One last thing I would mention is to explain to the child how fortunate they are to have the brother/uncle who loves them so much he is sharing his home with them.

  2. Shanel Yang says:

    I think the boy will be relieved that his mom is finally straight with him about what’s going on. Kids sense unhappiness and withholding of the truth anyway and nothing is more frightening to a very young person than to see their caregivers worried all the time without knowing why. It fosters deeply rooted mistrust. On the other hand, kids are so flexible and resilient that they can handle whatever you show them how to handle. Again, they’re highly sensitive to truth, so if you tell them that everything is going to be all right but you look and act freaked out while you do this that also will create mistrust — not only of you but of all adults if you are the most important adult in their life. Just be honest with yourself first and convince yourself first that this foreclosure is a true opportunity for growth, then you can share that positive attitude naturally with your kids. Good luck! : )

  3. Jeana says:

    We are trying to get out of debt right now–debt that is mostly a result of our foolish decisions. It is very important to us that our children learn from our mistakes, so we have talked to them a LOT about how and why we got into debt, the marketing ploys that attempt to lure people into debt, and how they can avoid making the mistakes we did. My kids’ ages are 7, 9, 11 and 12 but we’ve been talking about this for over two years.

    It has been a huge learning experience for them! They are seeing the pain caused by our foolish decisions, but they are enthusiastic about making changes for us to get out of debt. Also, they are empowered by the knowledge they have. All of them are already saving for the future and, even at their young ages, have formed firm views about debt and money. The other day I said we were going to pick up $1 burgers (even that is rare for us–we NEVER eat out). There was an audible gasp and my son said, “Where are we getting the money for that? We’re not going more into debt, are we?” It’s amusing, but also illustrative that they have learned to pay attention to money matters, even small ones.

    Peggy has a wonderful opportunity to teach her son through this, and I would encourage her to do so. Our journey has made us even closer as a family.

  4. Gretchen says:

    I’m going to take the contrarian point of view here and say that I don’t think they should discuss it too much with the child. They just need to keep it direct and simple: “We are moving to a new home. We haven’t found the place yet so we are living with Uncle X for a while. You will be taken care of just the same as always and no matter where we live we will stay a family together because that’s what counts.” I believe in buffering children from adult problems because you don’t want your child to feel it is his/her responsibility to fix or even think about the situation. As a child I trusted my parents to do what they needed to do in the adult world (which included moving due to not having any money left and a whole bunch of other potentially traumatic things) and I did what I needed to in my child world: made friends, studied hard, worked on my hobbies and other interests.

  5. Kacie says:

    I think it’s critical that Peggy over-emphasizes that this is NOT her son’s fault, and that things really will be ok. Also, make SURE he cannot hear negative discussions about money between his parents. You’d be surprised at how sharp children’s hearing can be.

    Growing up, my parents were really broke (and still are). Even at a young age, I felt tremendous guilt any time I needed something — shoes in a larger size, money for a field trip, etc.

    I think my parents could afford those things, but I saw them going without and I heard them arguing about money, and I felt that my needs and wants were hurting the family budget.

    No child should feel those emotions. I’m still dealing with them.

  6. Mary says:

    I think its good that he is so young. Children can adapt a little better at younger ages. When our house was in foreclosure several years ago we had 4 teens. It was heartbreaking for the to have to move to a different state when they had boyfriends/girlfriends etc.. it has really set them back in life I think. The worst thing I can remember is my 2nd son’s pained and distraught cry when he found out our van had been repo’d in the night– his skates were in it! The inline skates were his only connection with socialization at the time. Our situation was caused by 3 years of an economic downturn wherein my husband lost his job. I don’t know of any kind of mortgage that would survive 3 years at 75% less income than normal. We finally did sell the house in a short sale and have since moved to 2 other states. Folks don’t know how many things happen because of these foreclosures–in our family the repercussions have been massive. But– you just have to I think level with the kids and tell them its how it is. In the long run they will be better off if they learn to deal with reality and put as good a face on it as they can. Life goes on you know?

  7. KC says:

    Children are very resilient. They are also quite intelligent and will sense what is going on. I’d be forthright with him and tell him we aren’t going to live here anymore – we can’t afford the house and we will just find some place else to live and it’ll be fine. To a child it actually is quite that simple. You and I both know its more complicated than that, but all a child wants to know is that everything will be fine and it will, you will get through this.

    This may actually be good lesson for him. I grew up fairly poor, not dirt poor like my mother, but lower middle class. I can remember many an argument about money b/t my parents. I can also remember on 2 occasions them sitting my sister and I down and telling us they were splitting up and we’d be moving. It never materialized (ironically because they couldn’t afford to split up). But I remember the conversations and the reassurance that they gave us. They always answered our questions in a reassuring manner. “We’ll be living with your grandmother” or “We won’t move too far from your father so we can visit.” Their answers always focused on what was important, and it wasn’t the money.

    I don’t know how much of an effect those times had on us, but I can say my sister and I both have forged our paths about money differently from our parents. We’ve both been independent as hell and made sure we’ve pursued jobs or money-making hobbies that help us sustain the lifestyle we want. Again, I’m not sure how much it has to do with knowing money was a problem growing up, but this may have a profound effect on your son and reassuring him and giving him the love he needs is going to pull you all through this.

  8. Four Pillars says:

    I think it is better to be honest with the child.

    I’d hardly call this a tragedy though – they are moving out a of house they couldn’t afford and will live somewhere else. It would be a tragedy if they didn’t have anywhere else to live.

  9. Mary says:

    I wonder if Peggy and her family will need to reduce the number of things they own? Guessing they might, since her brother likely doesn’t have enough storage space for an entire household, and they may need or want to get rid of things before moving to a smaller and more affordable home. If this is the case, they might want to involve their son in discussions about things to keep and things not to keep rather than make all the decisions for him.

  10. Trent, this has to be the most heart wrenching post you’ve ever undertaken. I feel very thankful that I’ve never had to experience something this painful.

    I don’t know what the exact answer is, but I do know that I saw families go through this at my school and the one thing they all did wrong was lie to the kids…and blame the situation on circumstances that did not include them or their poor decisions.

    Several of the responses ahead of mine took personal responsibility for their own situation. Kids respect courage and being forthright. Once they mistrust their parents, the family connections are severely fractured.

    This post is one that all of us will probably think about for years to come.

  11. seth says:

    trust me, kids know what is going on. Got divorced when my youngest was that age and he knew, all our kids knew what was up. My ex didn’t want to say anything. It’s best to be straight up with them, otherwise, how will they trust you on other things.

  12. Amy says:

    I don’t have children, but I think your response is absolutely spot on. Thanks for taking the time to answer your reader’s concerns so thoroughly and thoughtfully.

  13. Melissa says:

    We are in the exact same situation. My boyfriend made, what i would call a mistake, and mentioned our sitatuion and the possibility of foreclosure to his 11 & 14 year old and my 8 year old. I wasn’t very impressed with this, and felt that only the oldest one would understand. I was correct. The other two younger children, continued to focus on the important facts to them like; will we still be able to play with the neighbors & can’t we buy the house for sale in the same neighborhood. My thoughts were that he should have waited to have this discussion until there is a final notice of foreclosure and no other efforts that are possible. Second, i think that he should have the discussion seperately with each of his children in order to answer age specific questions. Third, he should allow me the opportunity to discuss with my eight year old seperatly.

    I think the advice you give Trent, is great advice and i have thought of the same ideas and application for our situation.

  14. Susy says:

    This is actually a great teaching lesson for the son. Children will learn much more during times like this. What a great time to involve the son in the family finances and teach him well so he doesn’t end up in the same situation when he has children.

    My parents taught me early on. They encouraged us to start businesses and we had to reinvest in our business, save money for the future, and give money to charity. These financial foundations have stuck with me and I’m much better off now because of this education.

  15. panchitah says:

    One of the things I have learned in my short life is that children understand much more than you think they are able to. When a child sees a parent worried, upset, stressed, and frightened it can be a scary thing! Being honest and sharing information with your child can help dispell the air of mystery that might be more frightening to them than the actual facts.

    Trent, I agree with you one hundred percent.

  16. IRG says:

    I was raised by a single mom at a time (in the fifties) when single moms were definitely NOT the norm. Money was tight, although as a child, I was not aware of it. (Remember, this was when designer clothes for kids and tons of activities, vacations and expensive birthday parties were NOT the “norm.”)

    However, at one point, my mom had to sell everything in our apartment. And I do mean EVERYTHING, including my few toys and possessions.

    I had no idea what was going on and my mother said nothing.

    We were actually homeless for a brief time (the details of which are still so traumatic for me that I don’t speak of them)before moving in with an aunt (another traumatic event for other reasons)and her family (who never stopped telling us how much she was doing for us by “taking us in”).

    I was around 7 or 8 and had no idea what was going on. And while I didn’t react at the time, it still haunted me all my life as an adult–and has affected me in numerous ways, financial and otherwise.

    I don’t know if my mother was “bad” with money at that time or simply could not make enough (I think the latter, because we were not living a lavish life, that’s for sure.)

    My mother never talked about money and the only example I saw was that people worked, worked hard, at several jobs and never made ends meet.
    My mother never complained about the hard work, by the way, and that was passed on to me (perhaps to a detriment…I’ve stayed in a lot of jobs where I was underpaid then started leaving such jobs without another one.)

    The situation Trent shares here, while difficult, is NOT the same as many families who literally are HOMELESS when they lose a house. No relatives. No friends to take them in. Maybe not even some local organization to help. But right from the house/apartment to the street.

    There are lots and lots of people living in cars, shelters and on the street who were, not so long ago, middle class parents with kids living a normal life. (And to be clear, not all of them overspent. They simply could not make enough to live even minimally, as a single parent. Try living on a minimum wage with children and you’ll see how easy it is to be homeless.)

    Frankly, I still hear “shame” attached to this situation and I don’t think there is “shame” here. Overspending? Yes. A high price to learn? Yes. But this is all fixable, albeit with significant changes.

    But the parents should not convey their own shame about this to their children (and, yes, children pick up that message from their parents, friends and even family.) It’s clear they feel shame.

    it’s not just how the parents treat this, it’s everyone else in the immediate family and friends.

    it’s a change in circumstances. Not a change in WHO they are.

    Think about it. If our stuff (including a house/home) is NOT who we are, and that’s the underlying message of frugality/careful spending, then why is losing one’s home (when you can find another place to live, that is) catastrophic?

    It’s a mixed message. We are NOT our homes, are we? Because if we are, then that clearly explains why people continue to overspend to the point of the current situation.

    The person who said to treat this as a normal thing (people buy/sell homes and sometimes it’s not possible to buy what you need at a certain time) is correct.

    HOW the parents react to this will signal the child. Their shame, nervousness, anxiety and all the other stuff around this, should not be on display for the kids. There are times when parents must model behavior, even if they don’t feel it. This is one of them.

    HOW they pick themselves up after all of this will also have a lot to do with how the family and the kids rebound.

    And to Peggy, who wrote in for advice, god bless you. You’re smart enough to know you need help and ask for it. That is real wisdom.

    And remember, you may have made some poor financial choices, but you’re owning that and making changes. Taking responsibility for this is not the same as feeling shame or being ashamed. The latter is a waste of your energy.

    Good luck.

  17. john field says:

    Hello,

    After reading this article on foreclosure, and being aware of the trauma faced by many who are undergoing financial change right now, may I leave the following thought?

    Due to overspending the world is about to undergo some dramatic changes (if it’s going to correct the problem). In order to be real we have to change/reduce our expectations. I found this easier when I listed my 20 most favourite things to do. The outcome was suprisingly simple and signalled that real happiness comes from doing simple inexpensive things.
    John

  18. Jessica says:

    See now, I don’t know… Coming from a family where my parents DID share their financial woes with us (and boy are/were there plenty of them!), I don’t know that I’ll be so candid with my kids when they’re that young. Granted I’ve probably been smarter from my parents’ first hand lessons of “What Not to Do” but, I think to some extent, kids need to remain as untouched as possible by the bad things in life that grown ups deal with.

    Now, of course I’m not saying “Peggy” should LIE to her son. Nor should she avoid answering his questions when he asks why things are changing. But the situation is already going to be traumatic enough (leaving friends, changing schools, living in someone else’s home, etc.) that I think the last think a child needs is to be embarrassed by his parents mistakes. How is her son going to feel when he goes to school, announces he’s moving, and has to explain to his friends why? That’s a big responsibility for an eight year old!

    Yes, kids need to learn how to be financially responsible. No, in this situation these parents weren’t. But there are plenty of other smaller money lessons that kids can learn without having their whole world and sense of security crashing down around them. He’ll learn soon enough that Mom and Dad don’t know everything.

  19. Geri says:

    I am so pleased to see your response to the email as well as the wisdom of everyone else who has commented. Kids DO and WILL pick up on the tension, so being upfront with short basic answers will serve them well while it all transitions.

    Recently I heard Dr. Phil say to not saddle kids with decisions they can’t impact or control, so short and sweet answers including enlisting them in the “adventure” is the way to go. God Bless everyone who is going thru this. Nobody got into this situation alone and it is a national tragedy that has only begun.

  20. Carmen says:

    Whilst I agree with everything you have said Trent, I also agree with Peggy’s mother. Moving house is normal and not a big deal to an 8 year old child.

    However financial difficulties and the stresses that places on family life can be a big issue and that is where I would place my efforts as a parent facing this situation. Children need to feel secure and not have adult worries that they really cannot comprehend. I have an 8 year old daughter who is bright, astute and a natural worrier. She picks up on things being said about job security with the credit crunch (my husband works for an investment bank in London), but we have assured her as much as possible so she doesn’t worry about things she cannot possibly understand.

    So whilst I would do the specific things Trent mentioned, I would play it down. But if things are really bad and there is a lot of arguing/stress in the home, I would explain the nature of those difficulties and reassure the child that things are going to change for the better.

    Hugs to Peggy and her family. :)

  21. Poor little rich girl says:

    My parents were outwardly wealthy – my father was a successful businessman. We lived in an enormous and gorgeous house. But when I was around 9 or 10 my mother told me that we were in enormous debt and that any day the bank could come in and take it all away. She was clearly terrified when telling me this, and I picked up on her fear.

    I had several thousand dollars that my parents had invested for me, and I was so worried at one point that I was going to give them my money. But then I noticed how they would continue to buy big ticket items. I came to believe they were irresponsible with their spending and that it was safer for me to keep my money, because if I gave it to them they were likely to waste it. At least if I kept it we would have something to live off for a while if we did lose our house.

    So, yes, a young child can learn about finances. You can do so in a way that creates fear and mistrust (as was done in my case) or you can take a proactive approach.

    Things I see as crucial that the parents do:
    - take responsibility for their actions
    - practice talking about the situation in a practical/pragmatic and non-fear based way – that they’re in the middle of learning a big lesson, but that they’ll all get through it because they’re making good changes
    - convey that it is normal to buy and sell houses for all kinds of reasons, and that it is also normal to feel sad, worried and even excited about moving homes and changing situations.

  22. sylrayj says:

    Maybe the biggest concern will be the school – will they need to change schools, will the boy lose touch with his friends? If possible, find a way to stay in touch with the best of the friends, maybe a favourite teacher or neighbours.

    My mom wouldn’t have known much about who my friends were, and she didn’t know to help me stay in touch with those I knew. As a result, I don’t *have* any friends from childhood. I lost all of them, every time we moved.

  23. Julie Rains says:

    This post brought back memories of when my dad was laid off in the 72-74 recession, when being unemployed was unusual. Having no job is much different than losing one’s house but I remember feeling self-conscious and offering to help make money (I was 14 and a bit of an entrepreneur). So, I would want to make sure that the child didn’t feel accountable for the problem (another commenter mentioned this also) but I reiterate that b/c Peggy said they bought the house to make sure the child has the “best life possible” and kids’ reasoning may lead them to think that they are somehow responsible for either causing the problem or fixing it.

    My dad turned me down on earning money btw.

  24. Laura says:

    The thing that stuck out to me here, was Trent’s use of the words ‘home’ and ‘house’ interchangeably.

    Maybe it’s sappy, but a house is ultimately just a building. Our home is where we live as a family. I think an eight year old, certainly can and should understand prior to moving that a move is coming, but the details about the why need to be tailored for that kid. Some kids will have questions, some won’t. It is normal to move – for lots of reasons, both positive and negative.

    I think what our children need to know when we move is that we’re going to stay together. We moved when my oldest was four. Her big concerns were about what would come with us, and what would stay behind. Because of her age, she asked if the walls and the roof were coming. I assured her over and over: Daddy, Mommy, Allie (our dog) and Poco (our cat), your toys, your clothes, your bed, your books, etc. are all coming.

    Great post.

  25. Kin says:

    When my 3 year old said to me a few weeks ago after a monstrous tantrum at the shops “I know you don’t buy things just because” it really hit home that kids younger than you think can understand more than we give them credit for.

    I come from a slightly different perspective in that we’ve moved 4 times since my eldest child was born (who’s 5 this week), so the idea of moving is nothing new. Last time we even downsized and explained to the kids that the house was bigger than we needed and we wanted to spend money on other things rather than a bigger house that we didn’t really need.

  26. samantha leigh says:

    I think that advice is so good. This post made me cry. i wished my parents talked like that to me.

  27. Emily says:

    I agree that the family needs to talk about it and the kids need to be in the know. They don’t need to know every little detail, but don’t leave them completely in the dark. Kids are extremely perceptive and remember a lot of things. I have TONS of memories from when I was even just 5 and 6. I think it’s great to bring them into the situation and make it a team effort — like explaining how they can help with the budgeting process and what not. Kids are more perceptive than they may seem and they deserve to know what’s going on in a situation that extreme, at least the basics.

  28. Yolanda says:

    My husband and I have 5 children and I am thankful that God has continued to provide for us during these hard times. My heart goes out to “Peggy” and her family.
    If we had to leave our home due to lack of money, I would explain the situation to my children ages 5 to 15 years. I would not hide this from them and I would hope it would teach them to learn from their parents mistakes when they grow up. My children understand that when we go to the store they can’t get their favorite sugary cereal or other special items that they love to get. They understand that money is tight now and we cannot afford to have pizza night on Friday’s anymore. I think this teaches my children, by example, how we budget money wisely…

  29. Sara says:

    I think it’s important to remember that the child WILL be upset. My family lived in the same house that my parents bought after they first married. I was seventeen when my mom sold it (my dad had died several years before) and I still cried. I understood that we were moving to a better house, but there were so many memories (especially of my dad) there that it still hurt to leave. Sure, it’s a normal process, but there’s still emotional investment.

  30. Valeria says:

    Peggy’s mother is dead on right. I’m a milbrat and I simply die over these parents who think their kids are too fragile to handle a move. Let me clue you in – America has at least a couple million milbrats – ages 80 to newborn and few if any of us would say that moving was some devastating experience.

    The why? Trent is right there. Moving IS the norm now.

  31. Mary says:

    Great words Trent. I agree with so many comments. First, in my “past life” I had marital problems and thought a house would fix it, be a home. Long story short, it didn’t, and wasn’t meant to be. I learned so much from that experience, a home is in your family’s heart. “Current Life” is with husband and 2 boys (7 & 4) and we have moved 6 times due to job transfer. We keep them informed every step of the way, they love our house, but know we won’t be here forever. Your attitude transfers to the short folks, like it or not. If you’re sad, crying — kids will think it’s sad and cry. I’ve moved places I “knew” I would hate, but decided to be a trooper for my kids and guess what… I ended up enjoying the adventure also. It’s just one of life’s experiences, learn and grow from it.

  32. Brian says:

    I agree with comment 16, and honesty is best, but Peggy should put a positive spin on the move, new friends, but you’ll still see the old one, new places to explore, and also when house or apt hunting be sure to include her son, and ask for his opinion on the various places she is considering.

  33. singingwater says:

    When I was 12 and my sister was 8 we had our home of 5 yrs foreclosed on and my parents had to file bankruptcy. This was in the early l960′s and in those days when bankruptcy was filed people lost everything– cars, furniture,too My parents had health problems that contributed to the situation. Things really haven’t changed all that much in these times have they? I can remember the furniture being carried out and people in the neighborhood watching. I can also remember a neighbor bringing by a giant pan of lasagna for us.

    It is an interesting issue. I felt really relieved to be moving.
    It was a kind of adventure to me.

    I think it depends on the amount of resentment and guilt that the parents have that gets projected onto/absorbed by the child.

    My parents took the philosophical approach: that life is always changing, and let’s see what happens next. I can say that I was truly blessed to be nourished by that kind of perspective. And I have utilized this my whole life.

    In other words, it is important not to be overly materialistic about this. Of course children may miss their friends,schools, and familiar places. And it is important to grieve, which may go on for a while. The children will usually take the lead from the parents on this. If the parents are creative and able to see this as a useful transition, to utilize what is positive and freeing about it, the child will also. And the child will learn how to do other transitions.

    Definitely the child must be told, without making a drama out it. They are important to any decision making. They have rights as “little people”. Now is a great time talk about the dreams that the whole family has, to really bond and affirm positive values.

    I never saw it as any kind of failure, and I still don’t.

  34. Quatrefoil says:

    In an odd way I don’t think this is such a big deal – I can understand that for the parents losing a house that they’ve worked to buy is dreadful, but for a child, a home is the house they live in, and it doesn’t really matter whether it’s owned or rented. My family moved every few years when I was growing up as my father was a high school principal who specialised in opening new schools for the state government. Although my parents did own a rental property in another state, we never lived in that house, and I spent my whole childhood in rental housing. There were some issues with moving from town to town, but I can’t remember any negative issues around the issue of the house – it was always exciting to move, to find a new house, to pick bedrooms etc. Maybe this might have been different if I’d had a house I felt strongly about, but I never did so it wasn’t a problem. I think the parents in this situation would do well to emphasise the fun aspects of moving, rather than the negative aspects of foreclosure – for a child what matters is the security of the family rather than the security of the building they live in.

  35. ruth says:

    A house is a house is a house! A house is not the home….the family that lives in it is the home. these kids should not be burdened with a lot of financial problems and should be taught that as long as they are in this family, they are safe and are still loved. We instill way too much attachment to four walls. If the parents are upbeat and show some faith in the future, the kids will pick up on it and refect that same attitude. There are many kids across America in the same “boat”, but kids only need one thing….to know that they are loved and that they are safe. Kids don’t care much about the “house” anyway….they will find fun where ever they are….if the parents set the tone. This is a wonderful opportunity to teach the kids that God loves them and will provide for them in His own way and in His time.

  36. Marie says:

    To a child YOU the parent are the center of the world! Do not make your house or any other “item” the center of your world…they think life is an adventure with you. My son moved a dozen times before he was 9 and he loved every move. Once we shared a two bedroom apartment with my brother and my mother…He loved it! His 4 favorite grown-ups everyday, pure joy! This too, will pass.

  37. Kansas Mom says:

    Great advice on the financial side. I just wanted to echo some other thoughts, though. We just bought our first home and moved my son for the third time in three years (he’ll be five in December) and it did upset him to have everything change. We made his room extra special and bought a night-light because he was uneasy going to sleep without a light (which he hadn’t had before). He also had some trouble getting used to the bathroom here which caused a few problems requiring change of clothes.

    We just kept talking about why the new house was so much better and would be more fun for him and his sisters. We didn’t make a big deal about his extra needs and he’s already moved on (after about a month).

    So just moving can be stressful and it’s important to take that into consideration. Be as relaxed as possible and provide any extra loving the kids might need. They’re resilient and will be just fine once all the moving is done and everything is settling in again.

  38. vicki says:

    Great post Trent. Ruth made some great points too. The most beautiful home in the world.. is really nothing, unless there is caring, honesty, love and all those good things going on inside. Kids are brighter than we sometimes give them credit for.

  39. Heidi says:

    I think a bunch of people hit this indirectly, including Trent, but I just wanted to clarify it: I think there are two issues here, not just one. There’s the move itself, and there’s the stress that the parents are experiencing.

    Moving isn’t the big issue here. It is normal these days, and while it tends to be more difficult for kids, they get used to the new situation.

    It’s the parents’ stress that’s the bigger issue: that’s what the child will pick up on, whether or not he’s given any explanation – and if he’s not given an explanation, he will come up with his own.

    This post vividly reminded me not of a housing or job crisis in my family, but of when my mom was diagnosed with cancer when I was five. My parents were gentle in their explanations, but they didn’t try to hide the situation from me or just say that “mom wasn’t feeling well.” I knew the seriousness of the situation, and I knew that they loved me in the midst of it. Could I understand all of it? No – but I had the assurance that they knew what was going on, that the changes in our life had a reason, and as difficult things were, they would make sure I was taken care of. I remember that period in our life as a dark adventure that we took as a family. Hard – but we were in it together, and (thank God!) we came out of it together.

    My three-year-old sister, on the other hand, had a far less clear idea of what was going on, being too young to understand much beyond the fact that mom wasn’t feeling well – but she knew that something was very wrong, and she reacted with significant separation anxiety. Being too young to make much sense of an explanation didn’t shield her from a deep awareness of the stress that her parents were experiencing, and the whole experience was a lot more difficult for her than for me, simply because I had a better idea of what was going on.

  40. Cory says:

    The son will be no more traumatized by this move than if they were simply selling the house and buying a new one. Kids at that age are up to the adventure of it. If the uncle and his family handle it right Peggy’s son could end up happier with an extended family than he is already.

    I think the most important thing he should probably know is that the bank isn’t just coming in and taking their house away. Explain in as understandable terms as possible that the debt on the house is just too expensive now. Explain what kind of mistakes you made, what you learned, and why these changes are good thing for the family.

    As a parent, I know that sometimes it’s hard to admit your mistakes to your children. You want them to look up to you. But the only way they can learn from your mistakes is to know about them. Just be sure to tell them what you wish you had done differently and how you could have avoided the mistake in the first place.

  41. KNM says:

    I’m curious if Peggy’s son will still be at the same school after they move. We moved a few times before I was 8, and I was always thought the worst part was changing schools and having to make new friends. If Peggy’s son can remain at the same school, or if they will at least be close enough for him to see his friends, I think that will help ease the transition to a new house.

  42. Pearl says:

    Kids are a hell of a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

    One of the smartest things they do it pick up on what Mom and Dad think and and do, especially when Mom and Dad are having a really hard time.

    I hope that more parents will actually tell their children the truth about what is happening during hard times rather than gloss things over and anticipate that kids won’t notice.

    Thank you for this kind of advice.

  43. Jen says:

    Right on, Trent. An 8-year-old absolutely knows that something’s up. Don’t make it worse with lies of omission.

    Moving as a kid can be wrenching–I know, I did it every 3-4 years, and always over a significant distance. I suspect that military kids have a different point of view because they know that their family has a mobile lifestyle–it is expected. Moving is rough when you don’t see it coming. That doesn’t mean the kid won’t be able to deal with it, but expect a little emotional chaos. The family will get through it and be just fine.

  44. the goat says:

    Okay I am not a parent. But you are making a huge deal out of nothing. Just tell the boy you decided to move. If he has questions you can choose to answer them or not. That is a parent’s privilege.

    This might sound harsh. But if your son is so mentally fragile that moving to a different house will be extremely traumatic, then you have done a horrible job raising him the past eight years.

  45. Terry says:

    I have raised three children and gone from have to have not,(all is good now) but my children do not remember the bad of the hard times now that they are adults. They remember the things we did as a family, the things that do not cost money, camping, nature walks…whatever,their best memories were times spent together. You don’t have to and shouldn’t share all the details of your financial burdens with your children, but as another person wrote, make the move an adventure. Change generally is good, it’s just hard to see the future. Think the good thoughts,practice the LOA

  46. Tami says:

    Peggy should be careful not to project her fear and disappointment to her son. She has good reason to be upset about her situation, but from the perspective of an eight year old child, moving may not seem that scary and could look like an adventure. Her son will likely have questions about school, any change in his sports or activities, and keeping in touch with friends from his current neighborhood. She should be honest and positive about any changes in these areas. Maybe the move is close enough that none of these things will change or maybe he will need to go to a new school and meet new friends. Either way, she should talk to him about these things because they are a big deal to an eight year old. Also, Peggy should anticipate any questions someone might ask her son (friends, family, or neighbors) and make sure he knows the answers. My parents went through a similar situation when my siblings and I were high-school age. Our house was for sale and we didn’t yet have a plan for a new location. The most difficult thing for us kids was when our friends or friends’ parents asked us innocently where were moving and we had to say we didn’t know. It would have been much better if our parents had given us a simple answer to this question. Even something as vague as we haven’t picked a house yet but we will still be in the same school, which is exactly what happened.

  47. Sally says:

    I think you may have left out the importance of re-assuring the child that there will always be a safe place for them to stay.

  48. Kevin says:

    I agree with you Trent, this kid is 8 years old, he can see what’s going on. Better to hear it from his parents’ mouths than to thing the worst in his head and not “really” know what’s happening.

    My wife’s family went through a similar situation when she was growing up and I don’t think her parents shared much with the kids. They still talk about it and try to figure out what happened…and they’re in their 20s now. Imagine how that must have felt when they were between 2 and 10.

  49. Mary says:

    Trent, to lighten the mood of this string. I posted yesterday about moving my kid a bazillion times. Today my son (7) got off the bus and ran up the sidewalk, more excited than normal, asking if we were selling our house. Someone had put a political sign in our yard! He was bummed when I told him we would let him know before we sold the house, he said to just call him at school if we decided to do it tomorrow. Kids are soooo flexible!

  50. AnnJo says:

    Some great children’s classics address the issue of moving in various ways. “The Swiss Family Robinson” especially comes to mind. As a child, my family was constantly on the move (9 moves before I was 10), and my stardard for a difficult move was formed by “The Swiss Family Robinson,” so by contrast, all our moves were easy.

    Peggy has a wonderful opportunity to teach her child about important things, like how families help each other, and how to form new habits, and how to let go of things while holding on to memories. Sure, there’s something to be said for the rootedness that comes from growing up in one house (not speaking from personal experience there, of course), but adaptability is best learned by experience.

    Good luck to her and her family!

  51. Michiko says:

    What a difficult and painful email to read. I think the advice given was excellent. But what an extremely painful way for Peggy to learn about spending more than you can afford. Chopping up credit cards is one thing. Loosing your home is entirely another.
    I hope Peggy and her family are doing well.

  52. A Girl says:

    Trent, this was a wonderful response. Just to add a few more thoughts, if the house is going to be sold at a sheriff’s sale, and the neighbors and friends from school see it and start asking him questions, Peggy’s son will definitely need a clear explanation about how Mom and Dad decided to move out of the house and let the bank have it back so they can start over and leave themselves more money to be used differently this time. If the sheriff’s sale signs have been posted and torn down already and there will be no more activity at the house to explain, then I would keep the story much simpler…we’ve decided that this house is too big and we are going to start over in a small house and live with Uncle xxxx for a while until we can come up with a family game plan together. At eight years old the son needs to know that his parents have a Plan B and that they are intact as a family. Punishing themselves over why they got into this in the first place should be a private affair kept to themselves. They should instead teach their son the important things they are going to do differently as a family. My house has been on the brink of foreclosure three times in the last seven years due to wide fluctuations in income from my business and my kids only know that Mom and Dad are a lot more open about budgeting and negotiating with the bank. As the parents I think we have to display a sense of calm and neutrality and Plan B-type thinking so our kids feel like they are not part of the problem and that it is not some abyss that they are falling into (even though, privately, we adults might feel that way at times). To Peggy–you will be a stronger family if you can teach your family how to manage money more effectively as a result.

  53. David Powell says:

    Trent excellan post!
    Firstly I think that everybody can learn from this, all families should have should have a financial plan, a goal that should be worked towards. Teach kids about money, especially about debt. This should not just happen when times are tough, but also when times are good. Teach them how to save and work towards earning something

  54. reulte says:

    My father was military and I also have a job required beaucoup travel – five continents, 23 countries – whew! It’s never easy but home is and has always been my family, a house is just where we store our stuff. Kids are resilent if approached with simple honesty.

    I really like AnnJo’s advice and will read my boy Swiss Family Robinson before our next move as soon as I can paperbackswap it!

    If Peggy and family discuss money (rather than argue) then I would encourage them to allow their son to listen. Discussion is give and take, explanation and compromise . . . and every child needs to learn that.

    Children can have likes and dislikes of houses and it does no good to enthuse over how great this will all be. Simply explain, “Some things are good about moving, some things are bad. You can always talk to me and we will try to work something out.”

    Shame is one way you know to change your behavior.

    Definately tell the child before he starts thinking you’re leaving without him!

  55. SwingCheese says:

    As long as the parents are clear about the fact tht this is not the child’s fault, and that the child is still loved and cherished, moving in and of itself shouldn’t be that big of an issue. My parents lost our house when I was 15 (which I realize is a long way from 8), but I was ok with moving to a smaller house.

    I have never really understood the circumstances that led to the move, though, outside of a lack of money. Considering that these circumstances almost caused a divorce, I don’t know that I needed to be privvy to them, especially when I was only 15. Again, making the child feel secure and loved is the key, and both my parents were able to do that in spades.

    However, what I did observe between my parents and internalize about financial stability has had huge implications for my husband and I regarding our marriage/job future/financial future. It’s very tricky, trying to discern what kids should and should not know.

  56. Linda says:

    When I was growing up, we moved–a lot. I can’t even remember all of the places we lived or the number of schools I went to. We moved mostly because of my Dad’s love of wandering, and the fact that he could find work anywhere. Most of the time he and my Mom did well, and while they didn’t spend like there was no tomorrow, we seemed to have plenty of money. There were a few things I didn’t learn until I was an adult. For example, one of my Dad’s business partners wiped out a business account, leaving us almost broke. Another time my mom had some medical bills, with no insurance (a new job, and insurance wasn’t in effect–before COBRA), and that left us pretty lean. I remember staying with friends once. I thought we were visiting. Maybe we weren’t. There were other bumps in the road. They never went bankrupt. They paid every bill. I’d have been proud of that if I’d have known there were problems. I’m sure they worried, a lot. But they didn’t tell me, or my sister. They didn’t burden us with it. They still taught us about money, and did their best to teach us how to handle it, likely using the hard lessons they’d learned. I was a child. I didn’t need the weight of financial problems, that I could do nothing about, on my shoulders. Had I known, I’d have been worried, probably frightened, and helpless to do anything about it. My parents handled it. They took care of me without sharing the burden with a child. I never doubted their ability to take care of me. Thoughts of being out on the street, without enough food to eat and other consequences of money troubles never entered my mind. I will always be grateful for that.

    Times are tough, for sure. Eight year olds shouldn’t have to pay for it. Tell them about not talking to strangers and things they have to know to keep them safe. Don’t tell them about problems that will make them feel helpless and insecure when it will not keep them safe. They need to know, or at least believe, that Mom and Dad will take care of the rent, food, etc. They shouldn’t have to worry about if there will be a roof over their heads from day to day. Don’t impose this worry on a child. It won’t make it any lighter for the parents.

    I wish these folks, their son, and everyone the best. These are troubling times, for most of us.

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