Many times I have heard the refrain that “money doesn’t buy happiness”. On the surface, who would argue with such wisdom? We have all seen examples of people driven by a relentless pursuit of money and the spoils it brings. In Kelowna and the Okanagan, it is not difficult to find large, elaborate homes, expensive vehicles, and countless other luxuries that wealth can bring. Believe me, I take nothing away from those who have worked hard to build a business, or built their way up through a company to achieve a position that brings abundant financial compensation. Most of us work hard, and as responsible as we believe possible with the money we have.

On the flip side however, a family having not enough money will have difficulty hearing about oft-stated money and happiness connection. This has important implications on family life, and indeed the quality of relationships and emotions that fill the home. Let’s look at what these implications are, and make sure we understand where money belongs on our own scales of importance. When we choose to acknowledge there is in fact a connection between money and mental health, our views of it can change, and we can realize that there are far more important questions than whether we can regularly afford to go to nice restaurants, for example.

When there are not enough financial resources to meet the needs of a family, one of the most obvious and critical symptoms to appear are stress. The thought of the many bills that must be paid – power, gas, food and credit card bills to name but a few – can quickly become an all-consuming entity. Closely connected with stress are anxiety and depression, which are both powerful afflictions that are not easily dismissed or minimized. When any combination of these three come together a feeling of “tension in the air” is almost guaranteed to result, and everyone in the home will feel its effects. For example, if both parents arrive home from a day of work knowing that there are basic necessities for life that they cannot truly afford, and must either obtain by credit or donation, it will likely be very difficult to talk to each other about the day’s events and their feelings in the current moment.

To go further with the example, let’s suppose there are car and credit payments about to come out of the family chequing account, and both vehicles happen to have empty fuel tanks at the same time! This makes it also much more difficult to afford a much-needed trip to a local amusement park, something both parents (and the children!) have been looking forward to. The frustration and anxiety about the lack of funds to pay for necessities and engage in a desirable activity reduces both parents’ sense of patience, and an argument quickly begins. Tempers are short from the intense pressure felt, and the argument degenerates into a full-blown yelling match, where emotions finally are released.

Tragically, the children (let’s say a boy and a girl, ages 11 and 9 respectively) are left to decide how to respond to this intensity and anger. Do they have the skills or awareness to be able to understand the root of the argument they are hearing? Likely not, though some young people are incredibly perceptive. Even if they have a good understanding however, it is far less likely that either child will be able to quickly create an emotionally safe spot for themselves, while realizing they are not responsible for Mom and Dad’s anger or lack of getting along at times. In reality, it is shockingly common for children to tell themselves that they are in fact responsible for the uncomfortable feeling pervading the house and the family, and to take parental conflict on as an example of this.

When we understand what is occurring for children in a tough situation at home, it can be much easier to get a handle on what to do, including deciding upon what steps to take in stopping a lack of money from getting in the way of having a healthy, connected family. It can happen so easily! Next week, we will look closer at what can happen as a result of money-induced stress, and some practical tools to use in reducing the harmful effects of this all-too-common phenomenon.