I have five children, ranging from ages 2 years old to 16 years old. Every day they hear me on the phone with the mortgage company, talking to friends and family about our situation, discussing specifics with my husband, and generally see how exhausted I am from dealing with the ups, mostly downs, related to the foreclosure, loss mitigation, and loan modification waiting game that we have been playing for awhile now. A few months ago, I explained the concept of the sub-prime loan, and the subsequent result its impact has had on our economy. I tried hard to think of an analogy that I thought was kid appropriate for the 8, 11, 13, & 16 year old. Nothing fit. So, I told the truth.
I explained what sub-prime meant, the type of people that purchased these mortgages (us), the concept of an adjustable rate mortgage (something I don’t even think I understood before), and the confession that I, their mother, did not do my research before signing the dotted line. It helped that they remembered the broker as a “friend” of the family, and put two and two together when they realized that we no longer have her over for birthday parties. I also referred to the months I spent ill, how I lost my job because of it, and the steps I am taking now to educate myself as best as possible about the process.
Here are some basic things that have helped me when communicating with my kids about what’s happening. I’m not an expert in any way, but I am a mother going through foreclosure, and these simple things have helped:
1) Be as honest as you can be.
Kids appreciate it. They know you are stressed, they know life is different. I am as honest as I can be with my kids, and I’m careful to make sure they always feel safe. Most discussions about “what happens next” end with my saying: This is simply one of the very few things where Mommy isn’t sure about what’s going to happen next. But know that I am taking every step I can to make sure that life continues as normal as possible for you. As soon as I know, you will know.
2) Give them credit for understanding.
Kids are resilient. And smart. If they can understand complicated role playing games, video game strategy, and the inner workings of cell phone settings, they will understand a basic conversation about the foreclosure process. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth conversation, a basic, age appropriate dialogue will do. Trust them with what you are going through so that they will trust you with your decisions.
3) Let go of your own fear.
My kids smell weakness. If I say one thing, and Dad says another, they are quick to catch that an argument is coming on, and ultimately: they win because they have played us against each other. Their instincts will tell them when we (their dad and I) are facing, and losing to, a stronger foe.
When the Sheriff showed up at our door to deliver the initial foreclosure papers, we didn’t even exchange glances to let them know that a very scary thing had just happened. We smiled and thanked the Sheriff (we knew they were coming) and we explained that this was the only way that these types of papers from the courthouse could be delivered. Masking our fear was not a lie: we have talked endlessly about the steps to expect, and we are not afraid of what happens next.
4) Don’t skimp on the basics. This has taken some extra work on my part, but well worth it. My instinct when we first started to cut corners and save money for whatever happened next was to take our kids out of their extracurricular activities. One day, on a trip to the library (which replaced cable), I found an incredible resource for our community center and the activities that they sponsored, at a fraction of the cost. Instead of the private indoor soccer facility, my son could play on the outdoor competitive community league; instead of the piano school, my daughter could take shorter lessons from a woman who taught from home. The children have continued on in most of the same extras, and we have found a better, smarter way of doing things. These basic things have kept life as normal as possible, and allowed us to save money as well.
5) Find time to be a family.
This is a little too simple, but I wish someone had given me this one before my kids pointed out to me that I just seemed to not have anymore time. Between work, managing their schedules, our regular home chores and duties, and constantly talking to the mortgage company and doing research about how to save our home: I never made time to actually make sure we found time to be a family. It’s hard to remember that life goes on.
But, it does.
We have honest and frank discussions, where they may even learn a little. I have learned to trust them and in turn make them feel more secure. In pretending to be fearless for their sake, we have learned to truly be fearless. And we have learned what things we can do without and what things we are not willing to sacrifice. Making these decisions together has given us more time as a family, and taken a little edge off the scathing reality of the foreclosure process.
Regardless of how you decide to explain what’s happening to your kids, it’s a lot like discussing divorce. No matter what you say, it is a difficult truth, for adults and for children. Especially when you get to the hard part, which could very well be packing up and moving. These tips all have a basic concept in common: we’re acting, not reacting, which is a part of finding truth in the process. These actions have helped put us all on the same page as a family. In a weird way, losing our house has helped us build a stronger and more stable home. I’ll take that.