How a few simple comments on Facebook grounded me in my own truth about family finances.

The family came to visit me on a pit stop while I walked 60 miles over 3 days to raise money for breast cancer research.

I’m one of the women they were talking about. 

It was on social media. A post. No one meant anyone harm, especially the OP. Really, she posted about the frequency with which she sees women like me; I didn’t feel judged, or criticized. Nothing but mad respect.

But when I read it, I felt a zing that pushed me to check in with myself; I knew it was more about me than about her or her post.

Then the comments came.

I felt triggered (when we are triggered, we often don’t know its about us, but it ALWAYS. IS.). It was then that my inner critic said, “See? I told you so, dumbass.”

The comments were the ones we often see. Where the experience of the person posting must also be the experience of everyone else. Where they state to the OP with awe-like wonder, “Wait, that REALLY happens?”

You know the ones where people want to respond to the OP and make sure they aren’t like the women the OP is posting about (and a reminder, the OP was actually doing a service, not spilling the tea).

And this was about money.

One of the big three.

Sex. Kids. Money.

Trigger city.

So you can imagine the comments.

Assumptions about how if one partner doesn’t know the deets of the family financials, it must mean the other partner is intentionally keeping secrets and holding all the power in the relationship.

Or that her head is in the sand. Naive, maybe.

Finally, it might be about blind love and trust and the implication that blind love and trust in a marriage is unhealthy.

Maybe.

The truth is, for me, there is some truth to all of it. 

At one time or another, my husband has made decisions about the money and not told me.

Sometimes, I don’t ask about the details. In fact, for years, I didn’t ask much at all.

There were times when I figured that he was earning the money and it was easier to have him hold that bag in its entirety. Why slow things down with conversation?

And finally, I do love and trust him. That has not changed. It actually never occurred to me that there might be other reasons to do things differently.

That is all true.

And, that’s not the whole truth. 

There are other truths, as well. THERE ALWAYS ARE.

It’s also true that I had 4 kids in 6 years. I “suffered” the privilege of choice and lived for years with both feet in the world of a working mom and both feet in the world of an at-home mom. I had a total identity crisis and presented myself differently in different places. I don’t actually have four feet.

So my work mom worked a ton, and my at-home mom was with kids and volunteered and joined boards. Instead of choosing one identity, I held both. You would not find one friend or colleague who would describe me as disengaged. I didn’t give myself a break. It was exhausting. I learned so much from that. It, that part of me, eventually became my wake up call.

I did not know how to sit still. I had been working since I was in 6th grade; first as a babysitter, and then by 13, at a farm because I didn’t need a work permit to work on a farm.

As a mother of four, I was knee deep in bedtimes that lasted for hours because I was giving 4 kids 4 baths every night and, since that was my only time with each of them alone, was reading to them each 1:1 almost every single night. I was going to do it all right. And by right, I mean perfectly. Bedtime lasted for hours. And then they’d get up and crawl in with us. Or want us to crawl in with them. Literally hours.

There were several years when my husband traveled. They were really little then. I spent those nights alone with the kids and it was hard for me (I then came to love those times being alone with them, but hadn’t learned to love it at this time in my life). 

The difference was that if I happened to be away, everyone worried about him. They’d invite him and the kids for dinner, offer to babysit (I was never gone more than 2 nights, I think?)….when he traveled, it was radio silent. It was expected that I could manage it all. And the truth is, I gave everyone that impression. I looked like I had it all together. I have come to see this now, but I felt invisible to those people who made sure he, but not me, got help with the kids back then.

I had my girlfriends who took care of me and I, of them. We had dinners together, in and out, we never woke a sleeping child so if a play date was happening with an older child, one of us dropped off AND picked up so that the other didn’t have to risk messing up whatever semblance of a sleep schedule was possible at the time. 

We loved and cared for each other (and still do) and since we all felt like we were sort of hanging on by a thread, we wove those threads together and soon we were sharing a blanket. 

There were notes from daycare to read, hours of paperwork to do, and Italian language classes (why, yes, we were the only non-Italian family who showed up at the Italian school on Saturday mornings to learn the language and culture!) to take. Soccer, skating, skiing, music hour at the bagel place, cousin time, and yes, work. Remember? I still had two feet in and two feet out. I was loving every bit of my life so much that I couldn’t let an experience get by me. I wanted it all.

Lice and mono and Lyme disease and nutritionists. We’ve never had braces and we’ve never seen an allergist. Throw me a parade.

So, yes, not only did he control the money, but I begged him to keep it that way. 

He tried to get me to partner with him, but I. Had. No. Bandwidth. Left. 

Yes, he made decisions and didn’t include me because I was making decisions in every other area of our lives and for him to own this, I was so grateful. Decision-Fatigue is a thing, friends. For reals. 

I was earning money and had no idea how much I was earning; I didn’t care. I loved my work and was just grateful to be using my mind in a place where people thanked me for working my ass off.

They thanked me. I need to say it again. I felt appreciated and useful.

(Yes, it is a little weird that keeping 4 children alive didn’t make me feel useful).

Did having my “head-in-the-sand-naive-love-and-trust” mindset cost me something (pun intended)?

You betcha’. 

The four kids are grown and we are facing, literally, one million dollars in tuition costs within a 10 year period. Wrap your brain around that for me, will you? 

2017

Do I wish I paid more attention? Yup. Do I think I could have done better? Absolutely not. Like most other things, I would have approached it differently, but I am absolutely sure my mistakes would have been equally as impactful. 

Regardless, we were doing the best we could to keep our family functioning. I once dropped my youngest off at school, in my PJs, and the only words I could muster as she got out of the car, were, “Don’t get lice today,” while the principal held the door open for her to get out. 

Parenting at its finest, folks. 

And there is something else to all of this. I am blind to issues of self-preservation. If it even occurs to me at all, I procrastinate it. Food, money, time, order in the home….it’s not my thing. Really, none of it. 

Instead of knowing this (I learned this was actually a thing as I was approaching 50), I judged myself, felt less-than, and just saw myself as someone who couldn’t get out of their own way. I didn’t know that my instincts were different from those of you who are on top of your self-preservation needs.

My instincts lead with social organization. I lean in to groups, am comfortable with navigating the complexities of relationships, I can intuit social hierarchies, and who is likely to move towards, away, and against, others. I spent my time focusing on the social development of my children and keeping my own social needs met through heavy volunteering and community engagement. 

In fact, I can’t help it. It’s instinctive. It runs me. Maybe in the same way knowing the details of the money runs you. 

Look around. You’ll see. We are all run by something. Self-preservation, social, or intense experiences. We put one on top and will sacrifice everything else to get that need met. And we have no idea we are doing it. 

I sacrificed my self-preservation needs for the social needs of my children and myself. 

Ironically, I did this to self-preserve. It kept me alive. 

So before you judge that mom for not understanding the money, know that she has different instincts and different ways she’s leaning into her life. And she might not even know it.

Get curious about her.

Maybe even ask what she is honoring in her life? It may actually be more important to her. I guarantee you: if she is a mother, she’s not doing nothing.

Be gentle with her. She’s likely hard enough on herself for only being on top of 99.9% of her household and not that additional 1/10 of a percent. She holds herself to a standard to which no one else could hold her. While she is beating herself up for not meeting that standard, she is also beating herself up for not being more loving to herself.

Self-judgment is a place of familiarity for her. She knows things are hard and instead of just knowing that, acknowledging it, being with it, she is attaching herself to all kinds of stories about how it “should” be different. 

How SHE “should” be different. 

Is it important for her to know more about her personal finances? 

Is it important for her to partner with her partner and share the burden? Which might not even be a burden? Couldn’t it just be information? See how we create these stories? I just did, writing this. Caught me.

The answer is, “Maybe.”

Probably. 

But something would have to give, and imaging what that would be, what thing she’d leave to chance, is as daunting as having to think about her financial survival. Giving up an experience she wants to have or changing a habit might be terrifying to her. If she lets go of something, the whole blanket might fray and come unraveled.

She might come unraveled.

So stay curious about her.

Faith and trust

She’s probably busy being grateful for a husband who holds the bag for that ONE. THING.

Because it’s one thing she doesn’t have to hold the bag for.

So thank you for the comments. Yes, they triggered me, but they also forced me to look at those triggers and get curious about myself. They helped me to see that I was doing the best I could. That I had other things going on and I just didn’t know any better. And writing this helped me to see that there is not only one way to do things.

But there are better ways to do things. I trust that that that mom, like me, will do better when she knows better.

She’ll deal with the money when she is able. When she is willing. When she is desperate. 

Just like me. 

And she’ll be met with a kind, empathic, firm, yet gentle accountant who will know exactly what to say and how to help her. And she’ll learn. And she’ll do better. Because it will be the right time. The Universe is benevolent that way.

The Red Sweatshirt Strings

There was recently a Facebook post in our community about purchasing sweatshirts for a school trip for elementary students. This trip is a tradition in town, and families are invited to purchase red sweatshirts that both provide much needed warmth for all the outdoor fun and memorialize the event for years to come. Because I had kids in elementary school for what seems like forever and was a chaperone on the trip and a parent helper leading up to the trip, I am well aware of the concern over getting just the right sweatshirt. Here’s the thing: all the sweatshirts look exactly the same. Exactly. You can buy one with a hood or one without a hood. And you can buy youth or adult sizes. But wait. The youth sizes do. not. have. strings. in. the. hood. OMG (picture a car screeching to a halt).

With 100% good intentions – really and truly – when the sweatshirt sales start, parents are warned that they must. buy. the. right. sweatshirt. There must have been a year when a child had a meltdown over their sweatshirt not looking like someone else’s, because for years, parents have been warned that if they don’t buy the right sweatshirt, it would ruin their child’s trip or they’d end up having to buy a second sweatshirt when their child noticed theirs was different. The right sweatshirt was clearly not a youth size. and clearly not a crew neck.

Remember 4th grade? Remember how different kids are, physically? Some are babies and some are grown people? All different shapes and sizes. Some call for youth sizes and some call for adult sizes. But “Oh-holy-hell-I-don’t-want-to-risk-a-crappy time-for-my-kid-the-first-time-they-are-away-from-me-overnight-so-I-have-to-buy-the-right-sweatshirt-oh-crap-what-if-its-too-big-and-looks-like-a-dress-on-them-but-I-have-to-buy-the-one-with-strings-because-what-if-the-other-kids-make-fun-of-my-kid-and-I’m-not-there-to-help-and-oh-shit-what-do-I-do-I-need-to-have-strings-in-the-red-sweatshirt!!!” It is so clear to me that this manic worry about the right sweatshirt comes from an abundance of love and care; from the schools to the parents – no one has anything other than generous intentions. I’m actually so grateful for this dilemma, because it has allowed me to see something in myself that I did not necessarily want to see.

The implied message in the red sweatshirt string proposal is, “You Must Fit In.” What may be true for you, doesn’t really matter. Happiness is in doing it right. Show up with the right clothes. Avoid being an outlier at all costs. Whatever you do, don’t embarrass me.

But when we talk “about” raising kids, parenting kids, teaching kids, don’t we do just the opposite? Don’t we preach “you be you”? Don’t we talk about creativity and following your dream and “it doesn’t matter what they say!”? In our generosity of love and care, adults can confuse the crap out of things.

The red sweatshirt strings have become a metaphor for me. I use it. Not in judgment, but as a point of reflection and a way of asking myself, “What are my red sweatshirt strings?”. Even more profound in the metaphor, is the fact that all six (+) sweatshirts purchased for my family lost the sweatshirt strings as soon as they were put through the wash (yes, I bought the “right”sweatshirts for all of them!).

First, with my kids: Where do I send them mixed messages? I can tell you that I teach them about being kind and loving, but then I may try to connect with them by gossiping about someone. Or I might encourage them to do whatever makes them happy, but then hover over them to make sure that their “happy” fits into my expectations for them. I may even offer “you be you” but “you” better also be “me”.

And then, with myself: Where am I so afraid that if it doesn’t happen perfectly, I feel like my life might fall apart? Where am I holding the reigns so tightly that I don’t allow for an opening of experience or a surrender of results? What fears keep me trying to control every detail instead of relaxing and simply noticing what actually is as the process unfolds? And even more so, where do I engage in frenetic activity, instead of just sitting and noticing what I feel?

The red sweatshirt strings have offered me a checkpoint to pull me back and put space between the thought and what actually leaves my mouth. When I feel my body tighten, or my heart race, or my brain race, I know that the red sweatshirt strings are being activated. I know that I need to put them through the wash. Get rid of them by doing any number of things. I know I need to check in with myself. I know I need to return to the present and notice what is and choose how I want to respond. My wake-up call to the red sweatshirt strings is my awareness that I am trying to control the outcome of something that I have absolutely no control over. It’s that frantic speech pattern of worry and decision and control and “what if?”. And then I need to put the damn sweatshirt through the wash.

When I blog, I blog for me. Not for the reader. I guess that somewhere inside, I am worried about the outcome of something. Instead of yelling at my family, tuning out on social media, manically engaging in activity around my house, I’m going to sit. Notice. Breathe. And see what shows up. And I guess at that point, I’d better be ready to do some laundry.