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A study published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence confirms what many American children are likely feeling these days:When parents bicker over money, it seriously damages the kid’s well-being.
Depression is a given, along with falling into the black hole of substance abuse, aggression, and other amorphous “problem behaviours,” especially among teens.
And the issues don’t end there—among the parents who said they were dealing with “money-related chronic stress,” the relationships with their offspring were the most fraught with tension, and sadly, the least intimate of all the parents surveyed.
It comes as little surprise that the recession is doing a number on children’s well-being. A culmination of factors, ranging from foreclosures to unemployment and deep-seated resentment (and money lies) are putting family bonds on ever-thin ice. (See why keeping the house is the new divorce demand.)
And though the study began at the start of the recession, its findings feel no less relevant today as the ability to secure decent employment and build a solid future are fast becoming a far-fetched fantasy.
We spoke to California divorce attorney Joann Babiak to find out how she sees these money-related conflicts playing out among the families she works with, and what you can to do protect your child’s well-being.
Keep the conflict out of sight—and earshot. This goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many kids become privy to their parents woes just by hanging nearby the phone or the master bedroom. “People don’t think about the impact of their words on the little ones who are hearing it,” Babiak said. “I saw one child who just kept eating and internalizing his parents’ conflict. The physician eventually told the mother that this was negligence and that she was creating this stress inside the kid.”
Stop using the other parent as a lightning rod. “I’ve seen a lot of instances where the child wanted something and the parent would say No, you can’t have that because your mother’s not paying child support,” said Babiak. “Does that impact the relationship between both parents regardless of who’s paying? You’d better believe it does.” Choose your words wisely, keeping personal resentments personal, rather than using the kid’s expenses as an excuse to bash your spouse.
Value your time together. It won’t last forever, and Babiak said she sees countless California parents passing their “share time” (custodial visits) off to other caregivers so they can work. “The child isn’t sharing time with the parent, they’re just sitting around in the house. If you’re consistently not seeing the parent and enjoying that time because the parent is out in the workforce, that will only increase the conflict.”