Four Parenting Lessons I Learned From My Mom

People sometimes tell me I look at the negative side of everything. I always think it’s funny when they say that, though, because it is only through being honest with yourself about a situation that you can make it better. Haven’t you ever gone to a wedding and thought to yourself “jeez, I’d never do that at my wedding?” Or had a shitty job and accepted the shittiness of it to push yourself to find something better? People with that gloriously naive-“must always look at the bright side of things”-approach to life generally (in my experience) stay in bad situations longer than they should because they can’t be honest about the uglier stuff that needs to change.

I refuse to waste my life accepting a pile of crap as a bed of roses just to sound pleasant to others. It’s just my opinion and approach to life, though. You don’t have to adopt it.

So last night I made my husband watch Mermaids with me. I’m on an 80s and 90s movies kick right now. It started with watching all the films Esquire suggested “all women” should watch, which included some 80s gems. Then as I perused through the Netflix Que, I noticed there were a ton I haven’t seen in ages. Some I had never seen at all.

It’s been so long since I last watched Mermaids that I had forgotten the crux of the story. It’s all about this teenage girl learning lessons in life from the negative bad-mom aspects of her “town tramp” of a mom. Reminds me a lot of my mom. For those of you faithful blog followers that are relatively new, I won’t beat around the bush: I call my mom Trailer Trash Mom for a reason. In the years since she divorced my dad, she has become a trashy, hillbilly, user and abuser; who has stolen, lied, and cheated more from me than anyone would tolerate. That whole “debt for life” thing has been repaid to her ten-fold at this point; although, I just can’t cut the ties because I want a relationship with my grandparents, which can only be facilitated if she is around (they think she’s the greatest thing next to stick butter, likely a consequence of old age and a very hefty piece of wool she’s pulled over their eyes).

In any event, watching Mermaids reminded me of the parenting lessons I’ve learned from the more negative aspects of my own mother.

Lesson 1:

Never make a promise to a child unless you plan on keeping it

Fortunately, when my mom breaks promises to me now, I only cry for about a day. When I was little, though, I’d cry for days – once a whole week.

I’m not talking about stupid promises. “Oh yes, you can ride the automatic-disease-ridden-pony in front of Toys ‘R’ Us next time, I promise.” I’m full of shit every time I say that, because that promise is to get the kid to stop bitching; although, will still not be happening. The thing has been covered with an unidentified slime for as long as I can remember.

I’m talking about big promises. “Dad promised he’d be at my Little League game and he didn’t show up or call!” is devastating, especially if it happens frequently.

Lesson 2:

Don’t turn your kid(s) into the parent

There’s a scene in Mermaids when Winona Ryder’s narration acknowledges that her character feels like the parent sometimes. And she is. Her mom is too much of a two-bit town whore (although she tones it down at the end) to even prepare a regular meal. This is something my mom used to constantly do.

When my mom first left my dad and moved across the country to Seattle, I’d visit twice a year. In the beginning she was the “other woman” to a married guy in the military, who was a night guard in the prison. Naturally, when her only daughter came to visit, she couldn’t run the risk of losing her status as the “other woman,” though, so she’d leave me sitting downstairs to fend for myself the entire trip, while she’d entertain him upstairs all day while his wife was at work. I even had to cook my own meals, which was difficult since I was only 10 at the time. I once threw Cheetos into a bowl of white rice I found in the refrigerator. Fucking disgusting.

Nothing sucks more than having to grow up too soon because your parent has the maturity of an infant.

Lesson 3:

Don’t ever introduce male suitors as “uncle”

I have had so many uncles in my life, it’s a good thing they weren’t real or family reunions would need a bigger venue.

My mother had so many men coming in and out of her life until only recently, when she married this guy that lives in a trailer out in New Mexico, I have lost count. I do know there were at least eight Mikes, three Rons, two black guys (the first was Marvin Gaye’s drummer), six with gambling problems, and one nice guy out of the bunch (who, of course, my mom dumped for no reason). Each of them was referred to as uncle, which just traumatized the shit out of me.

In recent years, she’s started introducing her boyfriends as “grandpa such and such” to the Pookies, which is when I realized the importance of this Lesson 3. I immediately put my foot down. No to “Grandpa Bugsy”. No to “Grandpa Yogi.” No to “Grandpa Mike.” And no … the hillbilly husband will be no “Grandpa Dennis.”

Lesson 4:

Never settle for less in life, or expect your kids to either

When I worked in pharmacy during college, I worked with a girl that would not allow her daughter to have any conveniences that she was not given as a child. She wouldn’t let the poor girl even go to birthday parties of other kids because she had not been allowed to as a child. It made me so sad every time I saw it happen, which was a lot in the six years I worked there. My mother has always been like this.

After divorcing my dad, my mom did nothing but settle for less. She’d debase herself to settle for men she found in bars. She’d settle for less with jobs and cars and housing and friends over and over and over again. She still does. Her most recent stunt of settling for less is starting to bite her in the ass – marrying this hillbilly in New Mexico. He’s a total jerk to her and she has the nerve to say that since she’s settling for jerkish behavior that I should too.

I don’t think so.

These four lessons that I learned from my mom are pretty important ones, and I wouldn’t have learned them had I not looked at the negative side of my mother’s behavior over the years. I almost feel grateful for my “negative” approach, because had I not taken it I may have just accepted these behaviors as acceptable and continued the cycle I see so many other women in my community continuing with their own kids. When you look at old movies, like Mermaids, you can see that a lot of people used to hold this perspective. Look at the world for what it really is and overcome it. Not just settle for happy positivisms all the time just to make everything seem great to others.

See how much happier I am in my “negativity”? I mean, can you even still call it “negativity” when so much good is coming out of it?

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What Do You Do? For Great Aunt Pat

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What is it about motherhood that makes people bitter and opinionated?

Today I was just sitting around waiting to do some mundane house chore, and thinking about how sad it is that my Great Aunt Pat passed away last night, when I logged onto Facebook and saw more of this ‘Stay At Home Moms are lazy’ nonsense.

It was posted by a friend. She is a working and school-going, single mother, to which I hold an amazing amount of respect for what she does. She wasn’t really directing it at anyone, and she was just reposting it; although, that didn’t make it any less annoying in what it implied about SAHMs. It read:

I hear you. Raising kids and running a house keeps me busy too. I also have this little gig on the side called a full time job.

Indeed.

I really don’t need to dignify this with a response; but I will anyway. Just a week or two ago, I encountered a similar thing at my local Trader Joe’s when the checker told me it “must be nice to sit around all day.” It annoyed me then too, simply because it (like the tone of this eCard) sounded bitter and implied that SAHMs are lazy.

For one, just as whether a mother decides to breastfeed or not, the decision for a mother to either stay at home or go to work is a personal one. It is based on one’s individual decisions and priorities. And it is based on what is best for her particular family unit. No one has any right to judge or “it must be nice” to another mother because she chooses either course.

For my family, me staying at home is the right decision.

Beyond that, SAHMs have just as much – if not more – work than women that go to work do. In fact, a study about three years ago found that Stay At Home Moms do as much as twice the work of a Working Mom. Must be nice to be lazy, you say? SAHMs don’t have someone else helping to take care of their kids – like a family member or daycare lady that working moms have. There are often much higher expectations placed on them – by spouses, children, and society as well. Being a SAHM is not all daytime TV and cosmos. It’s running errands, cleaning house, wiping asses, playing soccer mom, and preparing meal after meal after meal. SAHMs don’t get an eight hour break five days a week to interact with other adults. They don’t get to have extra money for things; or lunch breaks to just sit in the break room and read a good book.

More than anything, when someone says “what do you do?” a SAHM’s only response is (usually) “I’m a Stay at Home Mom.” While there are a lot of things that SAHMs like to do beyond being mothers, it’s people like that checker at Trader Joe’s and things like that stupid eCard that make us (sometimes) feel that we can’t even talk about the things we enjoy beyond cleaning house and wiping up puke. It’s as though to pay society back for our staying at home, we have to cease to exist outside the role of “mommy.”

Onto my Great Aunt Pat. She was a fly lady. There are a lot of people you say after they pass “she was a real nice lady,” when really she was mean or cranky or didn’t even really talk much. But Great Aunt Pat really was a real nice lady. Possibly the nicest. Those of you that have been around for awhile remember that earlier this year I embarked on a massive cross-country train trip to my hometown just outside of the city of Chicago; and while there we got to see Great Aunt Pat. It was one of the most fun days any of us had on that trip.

Great Aunt Pat joined the world of Facebook awhile ago. She emailed me shortly after and asked “what do you do Heather?” and I gave her the usual SAHM response about being a Stay at Home Mom (and, in my case, homeschooling). She didn’t respond. Then on our trip to Chicago, Great Aunt Pat repeated the question “what do you do?” – only this time when I started in with the SAHM jargon again she told me that she knew what I do with my time, but what she really meant was what else do I do? 

It isn’t often that people take the time to ask a SAHM what else she likes to do with her time besides being a mother. They are usually too busy talking about how much more they do at their little side gig called a full time job.

I – for one – have become exceedingly tired of this bitterness that is apparently a part of being a mother. Being a Working Mom is a lot of work. Being a Stay at Home Mom is a lot of work. That’s it; let’s leave it at that. Instead of judging each other for choosing a life different than our own; and foisting our opinions in an effort to justify our own adequacy – why don’t we just all shut the hell up and do like my Great Aunt Pat did: ask what else each other does.

Tomorrow, when I take some time to read my new book about my favorite writer, and work on my first painting in what feels like forever, I’ll be taking some time to do the what else that my Great Aunt Pat took interest in. That won’t make me less of a mother; and the “must be nice”s of the world will just have to keep their opinions to themselves.

But for now, I’ll also ask all of you faithful blog followers: what do you do?

Terrifying Tuesday

Oh Lordy, I should have stayed in bed today. Really I should have stayed in bed yesterday too, but then I wouldn’t have been able to do all the shopping I did with the money I won at the casino on my birthday. (That’s right, the bitch won some money which was awesome because I’ve never won anything gambling before.)

Back to staying in bed today: I should have. It’s only just after 9 o’clock and this has already turned into Terrifying Tuesday.

Sink Sludge

So our sink backed up again yesterday. This is (by my count) the third time since we moved here in November of last year. It wouldn’t be so terrible if it were as simple as pouring some Draino down the thing, but when this sink plugs up there is sludge and slime and food from last year spewing out of it. Sometimes it spits – literally spits. Other times it just globs.

The downside is that the dishwasher can’t be run and it was already full when it happened. I had tons of dishes left to do as well, so had to finagle getting them cleaned before the water and sludge spilled everywhere. It was a nightmare. Terrifying Tuesday comes in when the apartment complex maintenance came by this morning just to tell me that they probably weren’t going to be able to come by until probably tomorrow.

Now while the horrifying, puke-smelling gruel sitting in my kitchen sink is enough to make anyone feel pretty terrified, I suppose I should be happy because this means I can’t cook dinner. I hate to cook so this is a plus in my book.

At What Point Do You Say “This Is Some Real Bull Shit Going On Here!”?

Then my mother called at something like 7:30. I am not typically up this early in the morning, which would have made such a phone call particularly egregious had I not happened to get up early to try and make breakfast before the maintenance people came (as you can infer, was a waste of my energy since they came only to say they weren’t coming).

So my mother’s conversation went something like this: first she informed me of the details of her hillbilly husband’s ongoing “land and trailer” drama; second she shared with me the color of my grandmother’s bowel movements.

Apparently Hillbilly Husband (they eloped just six months ago) has been trying to sell his “land and trailer” in New Mexico for some time now. There has been some ongoing drama with it, leading me to believe that the guy is never going to actually sell his “land and trailer” and is just making up the most far-fetched stories imaginable to satiate my mother. One of the stories even included the real estate agent going to jail for punching out the title transfer guy. Well in the newest drama, the “land and trailer” had reportedly been sold – about a month ago actually – and my mother came back to California to find a place for them to live as happy newlyweds. Hillbilly Husband was staying in another trailer on the sold land and paying rent to the family of fifteen Mexican migrant workers that bought the place. But this morning he supposedly learned that the people have changed their mind on the purchase of the “land and trailer,” despite the fact that it has been about a month and all fifteen of them already moved in to that one, tiny trailer.

At what point do you say “this is some real bull shit going on here!”?

…and On the Note of My Mother…

My poor little Pookie woke up this morning whining because she is still traumatized by a conversation she had with Hillbilly Husband the other day. Every time my mother engages in these marathon telephone conversations with Hillbilly Husband while at our home, she always forces everyone to say “hi.” Sometimes she puts the phone on speaker and starts shouting dramatically “okay, everyone is going to say ‘hi’ now!!” Other times there is a long and drawn-out game of telephone where we literally pass the phone around and listen to this guy’s ridiculous anecdotes.

So Hillbilly Husband actually has little to talk about. The guy was in the military for a while. He abandoned his wife and kids a long time ago, so there isn’t much to talk about there. He is now retired and lives in a trailer in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico, playing his Xbox all day and wolfing down a steadfast diet of hot dogs and Coors Lights. Hillbilly Husband wasn’t always like this, though – he and my mom met in high school (they reconnected at their high school reunion last year and eloped shortly after); and in high school he was the captain of the football team and a real “straight shooter.”  A “dream boat,” my mother says. I guess he and my mom never dated back then because she was dating his friend; bros before hoes and all that nonsense – plus he likes to tell everyone that while they were always at the same drive in, he was actually watching the movies. Needless to say, the majority of the anecdotes Hillbilly Husband has to offer are about their experiences in high school – a better time when life wasn’t so hot dogs and trailers.

During the telephone pass-around the other day, he apparently informed Pookie that what he always loved about my mother was “her in her bikini.” I assume he meant in high school – my mom was a catch back then. Now, to say she’s let herself go is an understatement (sorry, but it’s true); in fact, to quote my own father (who has been divorced from my mother for 21 years now): “that woman’s got more curd on her ass than the entire cottage cheese aisle at Ralph’s.” When I talked to my mother about the inappropriateness of Hillbilly Husband talking to Pookie about the whole bikini thing, though, she smiled, laughed and said “well, he thinks I’m hot.” Today, while Pookie still whines I realize that she will get over it, but my mother has officially lost it. I mean I knew she’d lost it before, but she is -like- completely insane at this point.

I will be having some wine with my Terrifying Tuesday, that’s for sure. I do have to say, though, that despite how horrifically absurd this day has been, it can’t get much more hilarious. I’m off to pick up my books for World Book Night and to pout about the sink until my dad buys us dinner – who knows what else is in store. Terrifying Tuesday indeed.

Vacation Wrap Up: Back to Reality

Of course by “back to reality” I mean that I am a rampant bitch again. Like I said in my blogged vacation reports, I felt super nice again when I went to my sweet, home Chicago for a close-to-three-week vacation. It was wonderful. I saw friends. I visited with family. I ate and ate and ate some more (although I lost three pounds on the trip…). And more than anything, I felt good and happy – two things I do not often feel in my daily, misanthropic California life.

I realize now that I attach a lot of my unhappiness to my physical location, and this is mainly because my unhappiness in California stems from things about the area that I just don’t jive with. I’m not fake, high strung, and narcissistic – qualities that I find to be more than I can take at times in my southwestern coastal community. This isn’t to say there are no nice people here (because there are), it’s just a little overwhelming for this tried and true Midwest Girl to be confronted with such a different life perspective that can seem (at times) to be a little shallow and short-sighted.

It also has to do with a lot of other factors. Like the fact that I am a philosopher and there is little intellectualism going on in our community. Leaving graduate school was in that sense probably the worst thing I could have done, for I lost the only community of thinkers in the program that I left behind. And the fact that I am allergic to a lot of California pollens, so am miserable at least three days a week with a stuffy nose and sinus migraines. Lastly, there is that simple fact that my family is so far away from the west coast. I miss them every day and no matter how many things we try to fill my life with to replace them, it just doesn’t change a thing.

So my vacation home was really a vacation to my roots – my own roots, that is. It has been years since I have been able to look at my life and say what I really feel; years since I have been able to acknowledge what is really going on, rather than distracting myself to make peace with an unhealthy situation. Now that I have a little more clarity, I can move to make some positive changes in my own life. Don’t you worry, though, faithful blog followers – I will still be just as misanthropic and bitchy as always. I just won’t have high blood pressure, anxiety, and insomnia to go along with it.

So here are a few of my changes that I am immediately implementing as I get back to reality:

I will no longer be Internet buddies with dysfunctional fuckfaces

That’s right – I dropped the f-faces word. What I’m saying is that I will no longer be Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or LinkedIN connections with people that are assholes. To begin, I’ve deleted all of the people that are in my husband’s circle that have been outright dicks to me. That doesn’t mean that if he wants to go to a family reunion (please, God … NO!) I won’t go – it just means I won’t be letting them into my own personal life when all they do is use that to hurt me. Too many of his friends and/or family have told me I’m “ugly” (yes, one of his friends told me that) or that there was an entire cadre of other things about me they did not like for me to feel OK with having extended relationships with them.

Sadly, this means that Facebook fights with Hello Kitty Toaster will be coming to an end. There is still the possibility I will be running into her and my prick of a brother-in-law in public, but I just cannot allow her to impact me in my personal life anymore. On the day we were leaving Chicago to embark on our cross-country return, she sent me a bitchy Facebook comment and then posted some bullshit on her own Facebook a minute later about how much people like me piss her off. Well good, Hello Kitty Toaster – you piss me off too, so how’s about we stop being Friends?

I will be doing things I enjoy from now on…

…rather than doing things that others tell me I should be enjoying. I am who I am. I like to talk. I like to watch movies. I like to go to museums. I enjoy shopping. I feel empty when not in the city. I like going for drives for no reason other than to look around. And like most Chicagoans, I like to bitch about everything under the sun. This is who I am and anyone that doesn’t like it can go jump.

While I was on vacation, I was so happy to have the opportunity to do some of the things I really enjoy. On one of the last nights in the city in particular, we took a drive into the heart of Chicago to flash some photographs and soak in the place that is so important to who I am. The following day, I visited the Hemingway Museum and the home in which he was born (something that would bore most people I know, but fascinated me beyond belief). In these two things – my nighttime drive through the city and my visit to the museum of my favorite writer – I felt more happy and alive than in as long as I could remember.

I will no longer let others put me down when it comes to my personal character.

Obviously this California versus Chicago issue is a bone of major contention between my husband and myself. Without getting into all the uglier details of our marital discord, I can say without regret that my husband is adamantly opposed to living anywhere other than California, and doing anything other than cultivating his own career in film. Oftentimes, it feels as though I am demonized for wanting something other than the unhappiness we both have for the sake of some vague hope that one day his career will take off. Beyond that, and as is the case with most women, usually I am gaslighted for having feelings.

Because I am the way I am, I regularly feel subjected to a rejection of who I am simply because I am not like most people around me (at my home in California, that is). As an example, today I was driving home from the grocery store and there was a momma duck walking across the street with eight little baby ducks. The street was right outside of our apartment complex, and we live nowhere near any lakes so I have no idea where they came from. Sadly, California is so covered in concrete and developments, finding random wildlife struggling to find a home is common. There were three cars in front of me when I noticed the ducks crossing. The first driver honked, the second driver swerved, and the third driver started screaming at the ducks to get out of the road. This is typical behavior for the area.

Although I didn’t do any of those things. I pulled over when I saw that the baby ducks were having a problem getting onto the sidewalk. I got out of my car and I walked over to help lead them up the ramp portion of the sidewalk. Right as I got back in my car – which was legally parked, I might mention – a fourth car pulled up behind me and screamed out the window “you fucking asshole, you should have let those ducks get creamed.” Really, California? Yes, really.

I know that helping those ducks was the right thing to do. I know that a lot of things I do are the right things to do. I’m not trying to say I’m some moral standard by which others should judge their behavior, I’m just saying that I try to be a good person and I know that when I make choices in that vein I am doing the right thing.

Upon my return from vacation, though, it seems as though a concerted effort has been made by others to make me feel like I am bad or wrong for wanting to be who I am and live life in accordance with what I know is right. I’m not going to tolerate this anymore, though. I will no longer let others put me down when it comes to my personal character.

So I feel like something of an hypocrite. Around New Years I talked shit up and down people’s New Years Resolutions, and these three things feel like resolutions to me. Really they are changes, though – changes that I intend to keep that are matters of personal growth (rather than things I should have been doing all along anyway) and there will be more to come. I’m back to reality, and while that does mean that I am back to being a rampant bitch, it also means I am back to the reality of who I am.

Four Holiday Mantras

Well, faithful blog followers, it looks like it’s going to be a long holiday season.  Hunker down – just yesterday I saw some idiot had put up and already lit his Christmas lights, including a large Santa face on his roof.  Everywhere you go, you are already inundated with holiday ads, holiday music, holiday sales – so get in the spirit because they are coming whether you like it or not.

If you are like me, your response to “whether you like it…” is in the not.  For me, the holidays have always been a matter of feeling forced to spend time with people I would otherwise never associate with, buy gifts for those that as a general rule tend to act relatively ungrateful or who don’t need anything, and just all-in-all turn in to two months of exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed.  It was only until recently, though, that I realized there is no reason any of us should deal with some of the drama that comes along with the holidays – for the majority of us, it is not only unhealthy but unnecessary.  So I’ve created these four holiday mantras for us all to say to ourselves every morning as we go in to the busiest time of the year.

I will not pretend that things are perfect for the sake of holiday unity.

Nothing is more obnoxious than a group of people that gets together and acts like a perfect group, when they all spend the other months of the year talking shit and treating each other like the absolute scum of the earth.  I imagine it to be like a perfectly constructed ice sculpture – every edge is delicately carved so that the fine sculpture of snow and ice does not fall apart.  But underneath, it’s nothing but dirty ice that is going to melt and become a pile of dirty sludge the moment things start to heat up.  For our first mantra, let’s vow to take a chainsaw to any group events this holiday season – and chop that perfectly structured sculpture to pieces.  Note:  this doesn’t mean to cause drama when everyone just wants to have a nice holiday.  It just means be honest to who you are and how you feel.

I refuse to participate in family gossip.

If your families or in-laws are anything like both of mine, there is such uninhibited levels of gossip going on during normal times of the year that the holidays only makes it worse.  As a general rule, we should all vow not to participate in family gossip all the time; however, it is all the more important during the holidays for the sake of minimizing stress and avoiding unnecessary holiday drama.  There are a lot of things that shouldn’t be discussed with family – from finances to living situations, to marital problems, even to problems conceiving.  The thing about families today, though, is that they have become enmeshed family systems that are so over-involved in each other’s lives that they often do not even believe that what they are doing is gossiping.  Especially during the holidays, talk about something intelligent – books, films, art; stay off the gossip.

I will stop comparing myself and my life to the lives of others.

There is a current phenomena going on called Facebook Depression.  It states that many people spend a lot of their time on Facebook and other social network sites comparing their lives to others, and successively getting more and more depressed.  One of my friends recently told me that this is exactly what she does at holiday parties:  watches other people in the perfect lives, all-the-while she is getting more and more depressed because her ass is just a little bigger than someone else’s, or because her job is not as exciting as the next guy’s.  Just after the holiday season, statistical rises in depression and suicide have been reported for decades in the United States – quite obviously for this comparative mode of thinking, as well as general loneliness.  Don’t depress yourself by spending the entire holiday season comparing your miserable life to that of everyone else.  Remember:  what is on the surface is very often not what is inside.  Life sucks.  Life sucks a big, fat snow dick.  Take your chainsaw to the comparisons as well.

For the entire holiday season, I will reserve judgment on the homeless and look at them as people in need, rather than as worthless, alcoholic bums.

The funny thing about people that judge:  they often do it as a way to make themselves feel better about their own insecurities.  This actually applies to all of our mantras, but is particularly important in this final one.  From now until the end of the holiday season, force yourself to reserve all judgment when encountering homeless people in your community.  Rather than assuming they are irresponsible, lazy, alcoholic, or crazy, consider the horrible economy and the hardships people have had to face in recent years.  Have a little charity and at least try and remember that you could one day find yourself in a similar position.

Ultimately, faithful blog followers, the holidays are a miserable time in which many of us dread doing things we don’t want to do.  Set some boundaries, do what you want rather than what you feel obligated to, and remember that life is way too short to deal with some of the crap that always seems to come up every year.

Money Matters

This morning I got this crazy idea in my head:  to ask my Facebook friends and B(itch)Log fans if they as parents would assume their children’s financial business is theirs for the asking.  Interestingly enough, the majority of my friends/fans said “no, absolutely not.”  Only two people said “yes,” with caveats, though.  And one of those with the caveats said that it would really only be a matter of showing a good example until the kid was old enough.  Finally, when I just asked if anyone still spoke about money with their families (regardless of who brought it up), a few more said they did; however, everyone stated unambiguously it was about things like good deals at the store, nice investment choices, and never about paychecks, weekly budgets, etc.

The response seemed quite common sense to me, although to many it may not be.  The idea of having a conversation about my personal finances with some of my family seems absolutely ludicrous.  Not only am I almost thirty years old, but in many cases it is just not anyone’s business.  But the thought of asking my kids where money is coming from or how things are getting paid when they are my age seems even more absurd.  What a wholly pompous and presumptuous thing to assume; and (in truth) if your kids are so irresponsible that you have to ask them about how they get/spend their money, than it is really more of a statement on your failures in parenting along the way.

The “no”s on the topic of assuming a right to one’s kid’s finances really took the morning’s conversation, though – the best of which included all sorts of wonderful insight.  One woman that I know from a local writers group explained the situation with her own grown son:  “While the kid was a college lower classman I gave lots of advice about how the money was to be spent. After I saw him being responsible with it, I backed off. Now, I think offering advice is way off limits however, I’d be willing to discuss it if he wanted and might suggest something for him to consider.”   Another great comment (and from a friend who is an accountant) stated that with her son she plans on instilling in him the understanding of money and responsibility as soon as he understands the concepts of dollars and cents.  To further, though, she stated:  “But I am totally an anti-enabler parent, so my child will know that he is responsible for his own finances.”  

I think here is where the conversation needs to go:  there is a divide between the families that enable and those that do not.  There is a divide between the families that believe everything – including finances – are a matter of everyone’s business and those that believe the discussion is off the table after a certain age.  Let’s examine the possible outcomes, though:

You over-involve yourself in your child’s financial affairs beyond college and young adulthood, well into regular adulthood.

The possibilities are endless:  it could end contrary to all psychological and sociological evidence and still all be okay; or it could end in complete disaster, which is what the statistics predict.  In the worst case scenario, your child grows up to be entirely codependent on other people’s advise or approval in matters of money, and is unable to ever gain the confidence to make their own decisions.  One day you and your spouse are no longer around and your child is completely unable to function because of an inability to make decisions.  Another possible outcome is that your child grows up to have serious problems with understanding personal responsibility for the financial blunders that come up.  One more simple possibility (on the other end of the results spectrum) is that eventually your child will grow to resent you for always asking and implying that it is your business where money comes from and goes to.  I know a few people right now that are extremely resentful of the fact that their parents ask them where certain monies come from, or that offer unsolicited advise on a regular basis.  And, in fact, one of the people commenting in the discussion this morning said that:  “I know my father still thinks that its his business due to the fact that he is my father and wants me to be as safe and comfortable as I was as a kid living at home. There are always many arguments between us about this.”  As with all enmeshed family systems, the over involvement of helicopter parents usually ends either in destruction of the child as a grown individual, or destruction of the family.

You raise your child by showing a positive example, as well as by teaching them individuality and – at a certain point – knowing when to draw the line and wait for them to come to you if advise is warranted.

Perhaps I am just biased because I have done such extensive research in school on the negative affects of families that are over-involved in each other’s lives and family systems theory.  But then it wouldn’t really be a “bias” so much as it would be an educated understanding of psychological and sociological findings.  In any event, one of the most important things we as parents can do is to teach our children to be responsible, upstanding adults.  Over-involving ourselves in our kids’ lives, though, is a recipe for not doing that.  It’s like when the baby bird just cannot learn to fly and the mother finally just pushes it off the tree branch – if kids do not experience financial assessment and responsibility for themselves, they will never learn the tools necessary to be able to live a functional life sans parent.

Ultimately, I think this is the fear the parents of young adults today are having a difficult time coming to terms with:  that life does go on without them for their kids.  For years, we are the sole reason those little miracles survive in a cold, heartless world; for them to move on and be able to function without us is overwhelming.  What a better way to secure our place and importance in the world than by making sure those little miracles never canfunction without us – emotionally as well as financially.  One of the most resounding comments from the morning stated that:  “Ultimately I think its all about parents being strong enough to look at their children as adults and not kids.”  In a time when more young adults run home to mommy and daddy whenever finances get a little scary; or when mommy and daddy taken upon themselves to assume financial dominion over their adult-aged children:  truer words were never spoken.  Whatever the reason may be, parents of these enmeshed families refuse to allow their children to ever be more than children.

Consider where you are on the spectrum of finances and your kids.  Are you creating autonomous individuals that will go out in the world and prosper -whether you are there to help or not?  Or are you creating codependent kids that have no idea what the value or responsibility of a dollar is?  It’s hard to be a parent in a today’s world.  Consider, though, that it’s even harder to be a kid.