After a few uncomfortable conversations about what my children are sure they NEED for camp. After umpteen conversations with Zeke about the 57 toys (literally) he has put in the Amazon cart that will need to wait until his birthday. Hoping he will forget about 56 of them. After another conversation with my eldest about all the costly senior retreats, trips to Israel, college etc. I ventured to speak to my children about my philosophy of money:
“Let’s have a conversation about what money IS and what it IS NOT. Money IS simply a means to provide what we need in this world. Money IS something that will ebb and flow in our lives. Sometimes we will have more than the other times when we have less. Money IS NOT a statement about our moral character. Money is simply money. Sometimes we have it, sometimes we don’t.”
This is as far as I get. It is at this point, that we face off. My children and I. I with words of infinite wisdom in my holster, and they armed with quiet defiance and lack of interest. I know this because I am actually not as dumb as they think. There is some invisible switch they can flip at will, their eyes glaze over and become fixed on some distant point behind my head. Their body goes still, physically there, but their awareness has left the building. I could continue. This IS infinite wisdom after all, but then comes the final blow. They look down at their I-phone. You know, the one they EACH have. I know when I have met my match. I am not one to waste infinite wisdom on deaf ears plugged into fancy I-phones.
I fought the same battle with my parents. I could not tell you what my Dad said in those long lectures on life. I just know they were LONG. This is lecture #675. Subject: Money
My kids don’t want to talk about money unless the phrase, “yes you can” is in there somewhere. “Not now” or “no” makes the conversation less appealing. I understand, really. I struggle with that “no” just as much. But I have learned something.
As much anxiety and worry as money has cost me all these years, not once in my entire life, have I actually been without what I NEED. I have never been homeless or hungry (except when I refuse to EAT the dinner I didn’t like), cold (except when I refuse to WEAR the coat that was not good enough) or sick without access to help! In fact, I have rarely been without what I WANTED.
So why all the discomfort about money? Most kids turn into grownups that have all these emotions tied up with money. Myself included. Guilt, fear, shame to name a few. We all want to have enough money so that we never have to think or talk about it.
I really want my kids to know the truth about money, but frankly, I need the lecture just as much as they do. Here it is in a nutshell.
When we have more than we need, don’t get too crazy. When we have less, don’t panic. Know that both of these WILL happen. More than once. When it seems like everyone around us has more than we do, don’t judge ourselves as less. Money does not equal character. Simply take a minute to look at our history, not our peers.
The year I was conceived. My grandfather had committed suicide and left my Dad, newly married to my Mom, to care for his mother and 8 siblings. I am not sure there is a worse tragedy to befall a family. My parents quit school and moved home to care for them. A poor Catholic family. 10 people living in a 3 bedroom, 1 bath house. A door with metal legs bolted on for a table. A refrigerator held closed by a broom. Sisters, who would take turns going to Catholic Mass so they could share the dress to wear. And my mom, who came from a wealthy family, describing it as a happy home with a lot of love. How is that possible?
One of my earliest memories is sitting around that table. So little that I had to be propped up on books and pillows to reach. Laughing so hard that I fell over and out of the chair. That was a table everyone wanted to be sitting. It was filled with laughter. I don’t remember what we ate. I just remember the joy.
One of the nuns from the Catholic school where my grandmother taught, spoke at her funeral many many years later. She told a story about that year of sorrow. She spoke that she asked my grandmother what they could do to help them. My grandmother replied, “We have what we need”.
My grandmother was one of the great loves of my life. I feel pride when I am told I am like her. In any way. When I recently underwent surgery for cancer in a small Catholic hospital with a cross hanging on the wall above me, I felt her near. I told my Dad I was pretty sure, she pulled some strings with her Catholic friends to get me the private corner room with wrap around windows. And when all the pathology came back clear, I knew, “we have what we need”.
Money worries me when I think I don’t have enough. I hate having to say “no” to my kids. I wish I could give them everything they ask and want.
But I guess if I can teach them to discern the difference between WANT and NEED, that would be the better lesson. If they can learn to look back at their family history and see the bigger picture, it might lend a more realistic sense of security. If they can see that having more money and stuff doesn’t necessarily equal more happiness, it might relieve them. I would like them to have peace that we “have what we need”. We always have and we always will. Enjoying that knowledge is conscious choice.