Financial incest: What you need to know and how it can affect children

Money
By Lolita Bunde | Fri,Aug 28 2020 14:30:00 EAT

 Are you unintentionally burdening your children with your financial problems and struggles? (Shutterstock)

You might be unintentionally burdening your children with your financial problems and struggles - a situation called financial incest.

A child will be forced to take up the role of spouse to emotionally support a parent and help discuss inappropriate and unreasonable financial issues and dilemmas. 

Like any other abuse, financial incest can have lifelong and diverse effects on children.

Some of these effects may manifest in adulthood when they have a troubled relationship with money in the form of overspending, being workaholics, unsteady jobs, insecurity or any other money related problems.

Here is what you need to know:

What is financial incest?

Brand Klontz, a certified planner and psychologist, coined the word financial incest to describe a money disorder that results in “the inappropriate involvement of minor children in parental financial matters, including conversing with children about one’s financial stress and using children as messenger’s to pass along financial messages between adults.”

Some of the ways financial incest can manifest itself is:

  1. When a parent constantly complains and makes a child feel guilty about the effort they put in paying their school fees or how much they spend on their toys.
  2.  Sometimes a mother could be stressed and openly blames the child’s father for not sending child support. This is common with divorced or separated parents.
  3. When a parent shares the stress of losing a job or complaining about a lack of salary increment with their kids all the time.
  4. Using a child as an intermediary to answer phone calls from people they owe money or uses a child to lie they are not home in order to dismiss a debt collector.
  5. Blaming and using children as an excuse for their failure to honour their financial commitments and obligations. These could be things like repaying a loan or offsetting impending bills on time.

How financial incest affects children

The most common thing about children who have suffered from financial incest is that when they grow up, they are likely to pass down the same treatment to their children.

Some other effects as mentioned before will be manifested in adulthood and a child will have financial problems growing up. The effects may include lack of financial discipline, overspending, poor money management skills, unsteady jobs and for others they may grow up to be workaholics in order to avoid repeating their parents mistakes.

In order to raise an upright child who can handle their finances well. It is important for parents to learn how to communicate efficiently and appropriately with their children when it comes to money.

It is important for parents to remember and understand that children are delicate and issues stressing them can easily trickle down to their children.  

How to talk to your child about money without stressing them

Sometimes issues around parents can be overwhelming and it is only human for them to want somebody to share them with someone, and sometimes that person is their child.

As much as it may feel normal to offload your issues to a child, remember there is no way they can help you with the pieces of information you share with them.

When you find yourself having money related conversations with your child, it’s time to step back and pay attention to your behaviour. Communication is everything and how you communicate your issues and stresses to your child makes a whole difference. Never be in a rush to give the worst case scenario and stress your child.

The first thing to remember is to share age appropriate information, without showing any signs of aggression or negativity. Always remember to be in control, your child looks up to you for everything never give the impression that things are out of your control.

You should also practice how to mindfully rephrase and explain difficult situations to your children, without worrying them. This does not mean you lie to them, it only means you tell them the truth in a way they can understand.

For instance, instead of telling a child you can no longer afford a certain lifestyle because their father doesn’t send child support anymore or you lost your job, you can instead tell them they will get the things they want after you finish paying of essential stuff first and saving. This way they don’t feel it is their fault for the situation you are in.

When you are in debt, do not use your child as an alibi or excuse for not paying money on time. They might be the reason why you are in debt but you don’t have to involve them in charting out a plan to pay the debt. Frankly, sharing such information with a child only stresses them out.

When having problems or struggles instead of turning to your children as a shoulder to cry on, it is better to speak to a financial adviser or an adult friend who has the capability of processing your financial problems and probably finding a solution.

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