On money and love
September 14, 2013
When I was married, we never seemed to have enough. Of anything. My friend Jen recently posted a status update on Facebook that said “Poverty sucks away your soul” and while I might have agreed with her back in New Orleans when my kids were eating spaghetti noodles with margarine “sauce” for the 8th day in a row and I was walking 2 miles at midnight through dark and creepy streets to get Internet access so I could afford more noodles the next day; I have a much different opinion now.
Today’s opinion is more in line with the ridiculous Mariah Carey interview I heard on the radio several years ago. I’m not sure why the reporter asked her for marital advice. Honestly?!? But what she said rang true for me at the time and still does. I’m going to use quotation marks in spite of the fact that I’m not entirely sure the words are exactly right. She said “When times are good, it’s easy to stay in love but when times get hard, you really see what people are made of.”
Poverty is hard. Definitely a hard time. I don’t think “normal people” realize exactly what it’s like to not know how next month’s rent will be paid. I don’t think “normal people” know exactly where they can walk in their electric bill payment and how to call to get it reconnected after it’s been shut off. Nor are they aware that a 48 hour disconnect notice that’s delivered on a Thursday actually gives you til Sunday night to pay it. They’re not going to shut you off over the weekend. I don’t think normal people know how to feed 8 people for under $5 (and it’s not just spaghetti, there are really a lot more options). I don’t think normal people know which gas stations will run a debit card for only $1 and charge the rest a few days later. Normal people don’t need to know these things because normal people in normal families WORK TOGETHER to make sure the kids are taken care of.
We knew we weren’t normal, but normal didn’t look all that happy either. The optimist in me was “doing the best I can with what I’ve got” and “being happy with less” and “not focusing too much on the material world” and “living a simple life” and “putting love before money” and “teaching my kids that there are more important things than money”
Except… there’s not.
That was bold. OK, maybe a gentler way of saying it is that money, like oxygen and love, is necessary in this world culture we live in. That sounds better.
What I wanted to teach them back then was that it’s possible to be happy even when you’re not rolling in the dough. Except we weren’t.
What I wanted to teach them was that our relationships with one another are more important than our pursuit of worldly riches. Except our relationships were deteriorating.
What I wanted to teach them was that it’s important to be mindful of the fact that “what we do for income” must not become more important than WHY we’re working. If you ask many parents why they work, it’s because they want to provide for their children or because that’s just what grownups do. But it’s not always a good thing, even working can be taken to an unhealthy extreme.
When you look at some of these homes-of-workaholics, you see a lot more working than parenting going on. I should know, my father canceled several of his weekend visits with my sister and I because he “had to work” and to this day he has no idea who we are, he just makes things up or pretends or lets other people tell him rather than asking. Which is fine in his world. Whatever, his world is his choice.
By comparison, my mom ended up being forced back into the work world during the divorce and we always knew she’d rather be with us. During her times with us she maintained a loving connection and we always respected her much more than we respected dad. She was approachable and had discussions with us whereas dad did a lot of excuse-making, playing favorites and bossing around. For better or worse, I saw the tradeoff on both sides. In a way, my sister and I lost both of our parents in their divorce because instead of living happily with mom home after school like we always had, we were suddenly latchkey kids, when we needed reassurance and consistency more than ever.
It’s not POSSIBLE to raise kids well if you’re not there for them. This was the sentiment I was trying to express in the post So Glad We’re Not Playing That Game. It was just about focusing on creating the experiences we want rather than focusing on creating income in ways that create expenses (and an expense can be a financial or relational expenditure). Working from home and bartering for goods and services is STILL a hundred times smarter to me than spending a lifetime saving a ton of money to blow at some later time. Especially when that lifetime you’re spending is the time you’re supposed to be raising kids. They only have one childhood and anything that’s more important than “time with the kids” is a threat to the relationship.
It turns out, you don’t have to suddenly “turn normal” in order to make sure the kids are taken care of no matter what. All you need to do is plan ahead, know your rights, and realize the truth that’s always been there (No one but me is responsible for their well-being) and to face the fact that people who love one another HELP each other. It’s hard to eliminate people who are more of a drag than a help in life. There are people who don’t care whether or not their loved ones are taken care of. And that’s fine. But don’t waste another minute trying to convince them that you need their help. Because, the truth is, you’re better off on your own.