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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pretending it Away Part III

A mother wrote Rebbitzen Jungreis in last week's Jewish Press Column looking for advice on how to cope with their new found financial status (husband's business is hurting badly and they lost a major sum of money on an investment they thought would be a "sure thing"). Like many, this family is large, has undertaken the responsibility to support grown children and a growing number of grandchildren, has another daughter in line expecting a wedding like the first and expecting to join the kollel world, and there are still younger children that they pay tuition and camp fees for.

The mother's biggest concern is how to break the news to the kids. She writes, "we have been trying to shield our children from learning how precarious our situation has become, but I don't know how long we can continue this charade," and "Of course they are aware that we have financial difficulties, but they have such confidence in their father that they are convinced that somehow, as in the past, their Tatty will pull them through." Pulling through seems to mean providing for the next as the first. The mother wants to know how to best break the news without causing stress and anxiety.

I think the first thing the parents need to do is come to a clear vision of what their priorities are and what they are not. It is obvious from the letter that the family has a number of priorities, which have yet to competing against each other (not sinking in this economy, marrying off their daughter in the style they married off the first one, paying for tuition and camp for the younger children, continuing to support the older daughter and her family, continuing to keep up expectations, in this case lavish mishloach manot). No matter what the financial situation is at any one time, it is important to have a clear vision of what the priorities are so that the family can come together and focus on those priorities, and let go of things that don't make the list (perhaps mishloach manot), while holding their head up high.

Next, it is important to part with misconceptions of what will be. For example, no matter what, there WILL be stress and anxiety and perhaps even anger and resentment. I think that after developing a vision, it is important to let go of the hope that everything will be hunky-dory. It won't be! There will be major adjustments, especially if the adult children don't make the top of the priority list and are set free with little preparation in this world.

Another idea that this family and other families will need to part with is that everything must be equal. In November 2008, I reviewed a small section of a book which makes the assertion that the larger the family, the bigger the chance that there will be financial inequalities between children. A good starting point to getting through the stress and anxiety is accepting this reality as truth. These inequalities extend back to Torah times. The resentment over inequality is also a reality of this world, or in the words of the Torah, "there is nothing is new under the sun."

Lastly, the parents need to tell the kids and let the older kids plan accordingly. Procrastination rarely makes things better. The parents should be reassuring that despite the challenge, there will be shelter and food. And the parents should let the kids be active participants in the challenge. Letting the kids have ownership in the challenge will help them feel empowered and less demoralized.

How these parents number these competing interests will of course be their own personal decision. As a community, we also face the same competing interests. Anyone want to put the competing interests in our own communities in order?


rosie said...

Competing interests meaning having lots of orchim verses keeping a food budget? Mitzvahs that require one's time such a b'chor cholim verses going to work all day to pay tuition and there is no time for those mitzvahs? Learning Torah verses working long hours to finance the demanding lifestyle? Is this the competing mitzvahs? People are obviously pulled in many directions with the giving of tzedukah.

Ezzie said...

(This is a response to the post and Rosie's good comment.)

That's why it's so important to get back to the basics and figure out what our bottom lines are. Until we know what we have, we can't and shouldn't be figuring out how to balance our competing interests.

In basic economics you're taught about how to weigh what to do with available resources, figuring out what use is best. That's only when you have available resources to do so, though. It seems like in our communities, everyone is at *best* weighing options that they really shouldn't even be weighing, while some don't even want to weigh and just take all the options, hoping that sometime later they'll figure out just how they can do so.

We really need to go back to the beginning and figure this all out. This family is just another good example.

As an aside, I'm betting that part of the reason it's so hard to give less to a second kid is because that kid *knows* that had they simply toned down the first one somewhat, and saved that money, they'd be in a better financial condition now to be able to give her one at least as good as that. Their irresponsibility then on behalf of one child has hurt this child, and nobody wants to take responsibility for that.

Shoshana said...

This is a basic tenet of our decision to homeschool. We don't want to be so busy paying for "it" that we no longer have time to do "it" and find meaning in "it." Feel free to plug in your own variable for "it": learning, mitzvos, family time, walking the talk, hobbies, arts, friends, etc. etc.

Anonymous said...

I think we should give kids far more credit. I think they will understand if their parents are honest and open about the changed circumstances, if the parents let them know they would prefer to be able to do the same for each child, and as long as the kids know that spending less on them doesn't mean the parents love them less they will be fine. The parents can also acknowledge that they should have saved more and discuss how the family can learn from this. Include the older kids in picking priorities for the family budget and coming up with ways to economize.

Thinking said...

Maybe I'm just one of the lucky ones. I've never really though about it, but:
I have levelheaded, practical parents.
A levelheaded, practical spouse.
A levelheaded, practical Rav.
Levelheaded, practical siblings.
Levelheaded, practical friends.

I have never found it difficult to be realistic with my children, my spouse or our friends.
In terms of how to prioritize, I discuss it with my Rav and spouse and we make our decisions.

I assume most people are like this and we are only discussing the minority who stick out by the unreasonable requests they make.

Am I wrong?

Ateres said...

In terms of what priorities should be, I would put it in this order:

1. Food
2. Medical care
3. Housing
4. Tuition
5. Educational Extras, such as camp or extracurricular activities
6. Any desired support for married children
7. Elaborate simchas
8. Expensive gifts

Tamiri said...

Repeat after me: Times are tough. We can't afford "it". We'll find another way of doing things.
There, how hard was that?
I just had to tell my teenager that we need to tone down his mishloach manot program for school. He's disappointed, and went out to buy some things with his own money (the kids give each other "secret" goodies leading up to the big day they give a plate right before Purim) and he'll have to make due with whatever I give him (homemade). That's life.

Ezzie said...

Thinking - I used to think such people were the majority. I still think so, but I'm starting to think it's not such a strong majority anymore.

rosie said...

Read this week's Jewish Press column by Rebbitzen Jungreis. She advocates trimming the mishloach manot budget in favor of matanos levyonim.

Avi said...

Is this woman in denial? Yes. But, come on, it's so completely understandable: if she admits that her financial world is crashing, that makes it real. I wouldn't be so hard on her. They did save, they just didn't diversify. They did have enough income to support their son-in-law learning and tuition for their other children. They aren't asking the community to chip in for ludicrous expenses, and she's willing to consider working. She's clearly too involved with appearances (mishloach manot, worrying about shidduchim), and if they'd lived a less lavish lifestyle they could have saved more. But if they'd invested those savings in the stock market - diversifying away from real estate - they would have lost large chunks of that anyway. The economy has tanked so rapidly that even financial professionals were blindsided. Yes, she needs to face reality - and quickly - or she'll actually exacerbate the problem (tell friends that you're spending more on matanot leevyonim this Purim rather than mishloach manot, tell the daughter/son-in-law to leave the beis medrash and find work NOW). But, unlike the cufflinks machatonim, I don't feel outrage at this story, just sadness.

SephardiLady said...

No outrage here. Nearly everyone is being hit in some way, shape, or form by this downturn.

My annoyance is the inability to just deal with the punches life throws.

Avi said...

SL - Yeah, but this is a knockout punch, and she didn't see it coming. It's different from those people who complain that they have no money but never had a job or savings. She had everything... and now it's gone. It takes people time to process that their lives are completely changing.

Anonymous said...

A knockout punch is one you can't get up from and the fight is over.
This woman may be down, but she's not out. She and her husband have their health and healthy children. He obviously has good business skills and experience so while there will be tough times ahead, depending on their ages, they may be able to rebuild. Not to the level they had before, but they will survive. I do feel bad for them, but there are many so much worse off. No being able to support healthy grown children is not the same as losing your job and not being able to pay the mortgage or put food on the table.

Al said...

The biggest problem is that the Frum Lifestyle is crashing down on everyone. My parents paid for my undergrad and grad school at prestigious universities. The cost, even if you add my high school at a secular prep school, was less than most Frum families are paying for Pre-K - 12 at a Day School + year in Israel + schooling at a "Jewishly acceptable school."

The investment in my education lifted me into a top earning bracket right away. The same investment, spent on Yeshiva + Touro would have left me with 50% of my current earning capacity.

Looking around my community, I see plenty of families that were high earners, and made the other decision. They'll be supporting their adults kids for years.

So what, they can afford it? Accept, what happens to their kids. A Modern Orthodox family with 4 kids will likely have around 15 grandchildren. If those 4 kids aren't given the tools to earn a top living, then the grandparents will need to support the grandchildren.

Even in the "top earning years," how far does the support go split 15 ways. More importantly, what happens in the next generation, their children will NEVER be able to support their grandchildren the way they were supported.

The American Dream was for your kids to do better than you did. The Frum Lifestyle is creating children that will do worse than their parents. Touro costs more than state school tuition, gives an inferior education, and an inferior degree. The Day Schools are giving an inferior education to the public schools, and cost a lot more.

We're taking ALL our money and pumping it into these schools, and starving the next generation. If communities decided that K-3 education should be done in a Hebrew language charter (and weekly Bible stories style education on Sunday mornings), and 4-5 should be in a charter + after school learning, we could still support a "Jewish environment" for 6-12, the years that are more critical as peer pressure, sexual activity, drug use, and other "secular influences" become a concern... and for half the cost.

It wouldn't solve the problems of tuition rising much more than incomes, but would at least punt the problem down 5 or 6 years, maybe even 10 until tuition doubles after inflation again.

What percentage of Jewish money should be going to education? It can't keep going up each year while incomes don't. And we can't deny the children the tools they need to earn a living.

The new tax code is looking HIGHLY punitive towards higher earners, including possible phase outs of mortgage deduction and charitable contributions for those earning over 250k... That top 5% of American earners are heavily responsible for funding our community organization, and they are going to get squeezed in the year again.

The Frum Lifestyle needs to be affordable to the average Frum family, or they'll drift away. We can't keep squeezing every dime out of the Frum middle class.

I'm not going to tell people not to have children, that's their decision, Rosie is right. However, if you can't afford your family, and you decide to bring another life into the world, how much should the community have to support you? Is it fair to the Jewish upper middle class that doesn't get support but can't afford their lifestyle to basically make them stop having kids because they can't handle another tuition payment, but keep jacking their tuition to subsidize the poor family that keeps having kids?

Jewboy said...

I've been worried about the system crashig for years, and my worst fears have been realized ealrier than I thought for people like this letter writer. When will the frum world realize that having your son/daughter in kollel with no plan for income is not a good plan? If Sugar Daddy's cash cow runs out, as it did here, everyone is up the creek. Youg people have to have their own parnasa plan, even if Mommy and Daddy are wealthy.