Hey Mom, are we rich? Has your child asked you this question, or it’s opposite, “Are we poor?”. We have and it is a doozy. Here is how you can deal with this question when you get it.
Let me start by repeating something I’ve said a few times. I’m very fortunate. I grew up with all my needs met, and I currently do the same for my children. I acknowledge that much of that privilege came from the luck of the timing and place of my birth. Had I been born somewhere else, or at some other time, I would not have had all the opportunities that I did. I also acknowledge that I have worked for what I have. But just the fact that I was able to be educated, to be in a position to work, makes me one of the lucky ones in this world. So with all that said, yes we are rich.
Us vs The World
If we compare our situation to the vast majority of the people in the world, we would have to acknowledge that we are rich. The majority of the world makes much less per person than that of my family and me. And that is true for most of the people in my community. I have to believe that would also be true for most of the people reading this. According to where most of my readers are based, and those countries average income per/capital. Which means by those standards, we are very well off.
Us vs The Neighbourhood
But let’s be honest, when our children ask are we rich or poor questions they are not comparing us to households around the world. They are comparing themselves to their friends down the street. They want to know how their family stacks up compared to the friend with a new pair of Jordans on, or a Nintendo Switch. Are we rich compared to those families?
I think this comparison starts early. Our kids are not much different than us. I won’t pretend that I don’t look at clothing, cars, and other items and try to estimate where I fit economically compared to my peers. I like to believe that I don’t, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t. But with age and a bit of wisdom, I think that whatever mental calculus I do when I see those items I still treat the people I meet the same way regardless. It may be hard for me to stop doing mental math, but it has always been easy for me to treat people as people, I thank my parents for that.
What’s the Answer?
If this question comes up, and I am positive it will come at some point, I would suggest you avoid diving deep into your pay stubs and tax returns. Start by asking a simple, “Why do you ask?”. In addition to buying yourself some time to formulate an answer, it will also give you a chance to address what is at the root of your child’s question. Maybe they are comparing what they have versus what other’s don’t or perhaps it is something altogether different. First, try to get to the cause of the question before you dive in.
Regardless of where your child is coming from with the question, I would suggest you work on defining the terms “Rich” vs “Poor.” In our family being rich is as having enough money to cover all the needs of your family. When talking about being rich or poor is a great time to identify needs vs wants if you haven’t already done so. If you have all your needs covered and you have money left over to buy your wants I consider that rich. Poor, on the contrary, is when you do not have enough money to cover all of your needs.
With that simple definition, it is easy to understand why we can feel poor while we are some of the wealthiest people in the world. If we start to believe that having the newest smart-phone is a need, but we can not afford it, then we will feel inferior. Similarly, people with very little can feel wealthy if they want for little. I don’t want to stray into the ills of consumerism, but if you get into this discussion, you can easily segway into how wanting more can make you feel bad.
It is easy to grasp the “keeping up with the Jone’s” effect. The more we see others have, the more we want, the more we want, the less we feel like we have. To counteract this effect, we practice gratitude. I think it is essential to fight against the endless want so that we can appreciate what we have.
If this question arises for you. Be honest about your situation. Provide your children with both comfort and clarity. Let them know that you, as their parent, will do everything in your power to supply them with all the needs that they have.
If this question arises out of wanting for more stuff let them know that not getting all of their wants met, right when they want them is a good thing too. Remind them how much more valuable items feel when they have to save. Remind them how fortunate they are.
“Are we rich/poor?” is not an easy question to answer, but answer honestly for your situation, and you will be fine. Let me know what you have said to your little ones when this question has come up.