When Tony Marcin, a sprinkler fitter for fire protection systems, was laid off from his job of 12 years in 2009, he and wife Kate didn't stress about how to discuss their leaner financial situation with the kids (Sam, now 8, and Joe, 6). "Being in the trades, things have always been cyclical, and the boys were pretty young at the time. So it never really occurred to us to have a big talk with them," says Kate.
But when Gov. Scott Walker announced his plans requiring state workers to pay more toward their health care and pensions last year, Kate, a medical technologist with UW Hospital, realized that the family would need to dial up their already pronounced sense of frugality and that the kids would need to be part of the discussion.
"These changes certainly took the convenience out of our lives, and the boys notice," says Kate. "Clipping coupons and shopping at Goodwill are now second nature to the whole family."
According to Connie Kilmark, a Madison-area financial advisor who specializes in the intersection of money and emotion, it's important for parents to keep calm when talking to kids about lifestyle changes due to job loss or a decrease in take-home pay.
"We never worry about how we are going to talk to the kids about a salary increase, but it was never written anywhere that things are going to get better," says Kilmark. "Kids will pick up on any insecurity. If you freak, they'll freak. If you have a sense of doom, they'll fill in the details. You need to manage yourself first."
Once parents have their bearings straight, Kilmark suggests they do a good inventory of what is going to need to shift in household spending and then share the plan without being overly apologetic.
"If a family is going to stop cable as a tactic," she says, "they shouldn't describe it as a loss, because it's not. It's only a change. A lot of good can come out of a game night in place of the Disney Channel, but the parents need to feel it first."
The Marcins have been able to see some benefit for the family in these tight times. "We used to go out for ice cream with some regularity. Now, ice cream parlor trips are only for birthdays," says Tony. "It makes the treat really seem like a treat. And a birthday party used to include the whole class. Now, each boy can invite one friend to do something special to celebrate. In many ways it's been nice, much less chaotic and more intimate."
For Mark Lilleleht, a single dad who serves as the outreach coordinator for Global Studies at UW-Madison, it's been really important that his middle-school-aged son realize that even with his leaner income they are still doing okay. "Sure, I'm now taking home less than I did in 2005, but my kid knows that he's still pretty lucky. We just need to be more careful.
"One thing we've done to make the new financial situation more tolerable is to turn our frugality into a game. My son's always been pretty environmentally conscious, and that has been a great way to frame the cutbacks."
From the classic turning off of the lights, to seeing how low they can set the thermostat, Lilleleht and his son are often in competition to see who can be the most "green" to save some green.
"This year we had a contest to see how far we could go into the season without turning on the heat," says Lilleleht. "I broke down first and only made it to Nov. 11. As a kid, there is not really much you can do to help offset the situation. This was one clear way he could really contribute."
Whether it is doing a better job of cleaning their rooms or, for older kids, starting dinner, Kilmark agrees it is extremely important for kids to do concrete things to help. "Kids will want to do something to seal the seams of the family's boat. And it's important to let them do so in age-appropriate ways."
She also feels strongly that kids are reassured they have "enough" if they see some of the family's income given away. "A time of financial realignment is a great chance to give kids a voice in the philanthropy of the family. You can use this time to celebrate 'enoughness.'"
For adults who are feeling apprehensive about money, it can be a good time to volunteer, with the family, by serving a meal or doing a shelter overnight. "You need to be careful who you compare yourself to," says Kilmark. "You don't want your kids to feel competitive. You want them to see the context - their comparative well-being."
This message was brought home for Kate Marcin and her kids right before the holidays this past year. Upon leaving the grocery store they encountered a woman living in her car in the parking lot who was desperate for gas money. Kate and the kids helped out with a little cash.
"I think they realized that morning that we are fortunate," says Kate. "And we are."
"My dad was in construction, and there were always financial ups and downs," says Tony. "This is really nothing new for me. Growing up he always said, 'Right now we need to be careful.' And I find myself using the same phrase a lot now. Because 'right now' leaves room for hope."comments powered by Disqus
I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.
This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition.
It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.
I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.
Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.
If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.
I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.
It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.
Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
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Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.