Furloughs: Through A Five-Year Old’s Eyes

“Mommy, what does furlough mean?”

My 5 year-old son asked me one morning on the way to the Child Development Center on our installation. (Now, if you know my son at all, you’d know this is a par-for-the-course morning conversation for him).

“Why do you ask?”

I responded carefully. His response shouldn’t have surprised me, as military kids learn so many things at such a young age, “Well, today is my friend’s furlough day. He doesn’t come to school today.”

Hmm. How to answer? I explained that kids had furlough days because their parents don’t work on those days. Of course, like any other 5 year-old, that prompted a host of questions. Starting with, “Why don’t they have to work? Why does Daddy have to work? Do you have a furlough day, too?”

Ok. Slow down; let’s talk this out, 5 year-old style.

Daddy is in the Army, and he always has to be ready to work- just like how he has to stay overnight sometimes and go away for work occasionally. Mommy only works a few days each week, so (no?) furlough for me. But, some of your friends’ parents work for the government, and they have to take a furlough day.

Why? Because Congress hasn’t passed a budget and there isn’t enough money. (This answer seemed simple enough to kind of wrap things up. Boy was I wrong….)


What’s Congress? Congress is a group of people who make the rules in our country. We elect them when we vote in November.

What’s a budget? It’s when you plan out how much money you make and how much you need to spend. Kind of like when you put one quarter in your piggy bank for saving, and one quarter in your giving cup to bring to church. You save your quarters to buy something big, instead of Mom and Dad buying something before you have enough money. The government doesn’t do that; they spend money they don’t have.

Well, that doesn’t make sense.” (Ah yes, I know dear son. I know.)

 “So, how long will my friends have furlough days?” I wish I knew. At first it was going to go until the end of September IF they passed a budget. Now it looks as though this is the last week. Hopefully this will be the end, if a budget is passed by the end of September.

Hmm. Why don’t they just pass a budget? The million-dollar question! It’s slightly more complicated. There are several people in Congress who can’t get agree on what to spend money on. It’s not as simple as your budget, because the government pays for lots of things. They have to decide what is the most important to pay for first. There will be a lot of changes in the coming years.

So they are fighting and not working? (Um, mostly. I didn’t answer this one out loud, though.)

I think this is silly. Yes, so do I. Congress has a job that involves passing the budget. But they can’t do it for some reason.

Well, are they getting paid still? Does this Congress get furlough days?” No, they go to work and still get paid.

But they aren’t doing their job, are they? No, not really. They are supposed to pass a budget.


So they aren’t doing their job, but they are still getting paid. How does that work? When I don’t do my chores, I don’t get paid.That doesn’t seem fair!  Well, that’s because it’s not fair, son. And unfortunately, people like your friends’ parents are suffering for it.

What happens when they don’t do their job? Well, the best way is for us to vote new people into Congress. But that takes a while, because we have to wait until Election Day in November…and it’s only August.

Dear Son, here’s hoping you will keep that 5 year-old logic…perhaps take it to Congress as an elected leader one day.

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