Los­ing a par­ent gives chil­dren enough stress – don’t add money woes to the mix

The National - News - - BUSINESS MONEY&MARKETS - NIMA ABU WARDEH Nima Abu Wardeh is a jour­nal­ist, colum­nist and blog­ger. Share her jour­ney on find­ing-nima.com

When, and how, do you tell a child their father killed him­self? I don’t think any­one is ever “ready” for this sort of news.

Con­sid­ered a de­lib­er­ate act, sui­cide raises so many ques­tions that will never be an­swered.

I say “con­sid­ered de­lib­er­ate”, be­cause peo­ple who com­mit sui­cide are of­ten cop­ing with men­tal ill­ness and com­pro­mised cog­ni­tive ca­pac­ity, which means just that – that they are com­pro­mised in their think­ing and de­ci­sions. Per­haps the worst thing for the chil­dren in this par­tic­u­lar case is that not only do they lose their father, but they’ll also lose their mother – to work. With two young boys at school, rent to pay and life’s ne­ces­si­ties to fund, she must find a job, and quick. She was not work­ing prior to the death. I won­der if her hus­band had life in­sur­ance – and if he did, whether it will pay out due to the na­ture of his de­par­ture.

What we do know is that this per­son had fi­nan­cial prob­lems, was self-em­ployed and be­lieved that his fam­ily would be “bet­ter off with­out him”. A study by Southampton Univer­sity in the UK found that peo­ple who com­mit sui­cide are eight times more likely to be in debt.

In­sur­ing against death pre­ma­turely is im­por­tant – I mean ac­ci­den­tal, or due to ill­ness. I hope sui­cide never fea­tures in your uni­verse. Ad­e­quate pro­vi­sion upon your un­timely de­par­ture means the re­main­ing par­ent can be there for chil­dren dur­ing a time of emo­tional tur­moil.

Un­for­tu­nately, seis­mic changes to fam­ily life are sel­dom con­tained or com­part­men­talised.

It’s one thing to have to deal with some­thing fi­nal – like death – and an­other to have to scram­ble to keep life tick­ing over fi­nan­cially.

I go back to the line that chil­dren do not just lose the par­ent that dies, they lose the other to work, just when they need them most – even if they were work­ing be­fore.

The par­ent left be­hind to care for the chil­dren needs to find the ca­pac­ity to process and progress with a life that has changed so much.

If they can­not af­ford to stay where they are, vi­tal sup­port net­works and friend­ships are dis­rupted too.

It is not just death that has this im­pact. The other D, di­vorce, has a sim­i­lar ef­fect in many ways. Not the fi­nal­ity of death, but the loss of both par­ents – in dif­fer­ent ways.

I know of a sit­u­a­tion where, in the in­ter­est of their child, the father agreed to pay for his for­mer wife’s life ex­penses un­til the child fin­ished school. The child has health needs that mean the mother can­not sim­ply walk away and go to work after drop­ping him off at the school gates.

Add to this that she was the provider dur­ing their mar­riage, and wants her “turn”, as she puts it. She wants to be avail­able for her child when and if needed. And to be present not only phys­i­cally, but emo­tion­ally and men­tally too. The agree­ment has not ma­te­ri­alised, as the father will not sign le­gal doc­u­ments to the ef­fect, nor does he pro­vide enough to cover the costs of life.

The re­sult: a mother who wants to pro­vide for her child while he is young – not the mone­tary things, but the stuff that money can’t buy – like se­cu­rity, emo­tional safety and sta­bil­ity. She is scrap­ing the very bot­tom of her sav­ings bar­rel to do so. The cruel irony is that her sav­ings were de­pleted se­verely be­fore the di­vorce, due to the then hus­band hav­ing his “turn” – for a decade – and us­ing it for what she was told was bona fide busi­ness. It wasn’t.

The money has gone. Even if her sav­ings had not been spir­ited away, I be­lieve she should be pro­vided for while she is the pri­mary carer of her child. These two sto­ries are dif­fer­ent. Death is not di­vorce, but they are sim­i­lar in that, if the right pro­vi­sion is not made, this hap­pens: chil­dren lose both par­ents.

I am not writ­ing about how to seek help, and what you can do if you’re in debt. I’m fo­cus­ing on the fall­out from it if the par­ent rais­ing chil­dren is left with­out enough money.

Ac­cord­ing to a study by Pay­off, a US com­pany that states its mis­sion is to sup­ports mem­bers in achiev­ing fi­nan­cial well­ness, a quar­ter of peo­ple liv­ing in the US ex­pe­ri­ence ex­treme fi­nan­cial stress. It’s de­bil­i­tat­ing and a hor­ri­ble way to live.

Don’t let the D of ei­ther death or di­vorce mean fi­nan­cial stress, or ruin, for the one left to look out for, and after, young ones.

It’s not just about him or her liv­ing with PTSD or any form of fi­nan­cial stress, it’s also about the bonds and re­la­tion­ships be­tween chil­dren and each par­ent, and the com­mon case of self-blame chil­dren in­flict upon them­selves for par­ents not be­ing to­gether or there for them. When do you tell a child their par­ent cheated on the other? Fi­nan­cially and or emo­tion­ally? When do you tell a child their par­ent’s death was by sui­cide? When do you shat­ter a child’s world and their view of their par­ent as saviour, sup­port and super hero? Hope­fully never. Telling a half-truth is of­ten seen as a way to pro­tect, but it usu­ally in­vites fu­ture prob­lems.

If we share what it means to be hu­man, the truth – age ap­pro­pri­ate, drip-drip or what­ever fash­ion you be­lieve best – they’ll learn they can love, be loved, and that the messy life of oth­ers isn’t their fault.

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