I grew up in a household where everything we needed was within walking distance of our home: school, church, friends, groceries, curiosity, and intrigue. Growing up Catholic and of Irish, English and German heritage, there were many things we discussed openly, but a few things we did not. We were clearly instructed that in polite company, we did not discuss politics or money. These were taboo subjects, left for whispering or gesturing away from the eyes of children. We also were instructed that if we did not have anything nice to say, we were to say nothing at all. This second rule meant that as I made my way through high school and college and graduate school and into the adult world of work, acquiring the skill of debate and disagreeing tactfully was a long, sometimes painful process.
When my own children were young, we waded into some of these conversations: why some families go to Europe for the summer while others go to their community pool; why some children go to sleep away camp while others go to a local day camp. There are economic disparities in our midst, and I was uncomfortable having conversations about those disparities with my children when they were young.
This recent blog post in the Motherlode section of the New York Times by Ron Lieber about parenting and discussing uncomfortable topics with our children argues that these conversations (or lack thereof) are a way for us to share our values. Conversations about money and “who has what” can be uncomfortable, but they are still worth having.