Recession-Proof Your Life with Dr. Phil
In this tough economic climate, many families are finding their lives turned upside down. For Darren, who lost his job as an IT consultant four months ago, the pressure to find work, pay the bills and keep his family's house has been steadily mounting. "I just never imagined that we'd be in this situation," says his wife Toni. "It's really scary." On top of all their financial worries, they are fearful that their young son might start acting out at school, feeding off of any stress he witnesses at home. "Should we tell our 4-year-old about our current financial situation?" asks Darren. "And if we should, how do we go about telling him?"
Rachael invites her friend Dr. Phil to share his advice about coping with economic hardship. "The number one pressure on marriages -- the number one reason that lawyers cite when people come in and file for divorce -- is money," he says. Financial difficulties can then trickle down, he explains, leading to a dramatic increase in divorce, domestic violence, anxiety, depression and all kinds of problems with children.
If children overhear you arguing about trying to meet a mortgage payment or finding the money to pay a car loan, it's very likely they will blame themselves. "[They'll think] 'If I didn't need that $11 for my school pictures, or if I didn't want these new tennis shoes ... Mommy and Daddy wouldn't be fighting.' Children have the unique and tragic ability to figure out how they are to blame for problems in the family. We have to be very sensitive to what messages we're sending them, and what they're owning in a situation they cannot control."
Addressing Darren and Toni, Dr. Phil explains the two rules he always tries to follow with children. "Number one, you don't deal with adult issues with children, and number two, you never hold them responsible for things they don't control." Dr. Phil points out that a 4-year-old has no concept of value, but does have a sense of economizing. "It's OK to sit down and say, 'Mommy and Daddy really have to watch our money and be careful.' You don't say it like it's a crisis message, but you say, 'Everybody is going to do things -- Mommy and Daddy are going to save food so we can have leftovers; we may decide to have one car instead of two; and you are going to be on light patrol -- any room that we're not in, you turn the lights off."
Dr. Phil continues: "Don't introduce crisis to your child. Introduce something constructive, proactive. They can be in a charge of recycling or turning the lights off. Make it positive, make it constructive, but get them involved."
While both Darren and Toni agree that some of her purchases for the family may have helped put them in their situation, Dr. Phil warns against falling into a blame game. "One of the biggest problems couples have is what I call non-directional frustration. They're frustrated, and their spouse is a handy target. You could be at work and your boss is a jerk, but you blast your boss and you get fired. So you come home and blast your spouse. You guys need to realize you're in this together -- you got into it together and it can be a wedge that's driven between you, or it can be a glue that binds you together. Make informed decisions about your expenditures, own those decisions together and realize this is math not magic."
Toni admits that while she and Darren may have made a few bad choices financially, they didn't live an extravagant life. "But with the turn in the economy," she says, "it really threw us for a loop." Dr. Phil responds, "Hold yourself accountable, be responsible for the decisions you make now, unravel those [bad decisions] that you can, but don't spend time beating up yourself or each other. It is what it is, we're in this together and we will get through it."
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