parents, money, work, sense of self

jcm55September 29, 2007

I don't know where to post this. It spills over into so many areas of life.

Despite an otherwise good relationship, I have some real communication issues with my parents when it comes to money. I didn't grow up rich, but somewhere in my high school years my dad hit some home runs career-wise. I think he had a deep fear that my brother and I would end up spoiled, so family finances were not discussed. We just became aware at some point that we weren't going to have to worry about paying for college, even though that was never directly communicated. I think not communicating was exactly the wrong approach though, and for me, it's lead to some of the things that my dad feared.

My parents have continued to be very generous to us, but with the same lack of communication. They've helped my wife and I build a brand new house from the ground up in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. They've implied that we're not going to have to worry about how to send our own children to college some day. They help us pay down our mortgage, but the checks always come with some message like "I don't know how many more of these there will be..." That kind of message is very frustrating. I'm sure it comes from the same fear mentioned above. But I feel like I can't discuss it with them, because it'll make me seem like an ungrateful little snot.

I also feel guilty about being the beneficiary of money I haven't earned. My wife and I mince words about our house and where we live. We end up feeling awkward around friends who can't afford to buy a house, let alone build one from scratch.

My wife and I have been pretty successful in our own right. But I feel a little (okay, a lot) directionless. In school I always felt like I did a half-assed job, and somehow managed to get A's anyway. Work feels the same way. I work from home for a company based three time zones away, and often end up with free time during the day. A day or two a week where I don't really have any work to do at all. I'm constantly afraid that they'll eventually discover that I'm really a slacker and fire me. I have no motivation to excel, to be promoted, etc, because subconsciously I know that I have a huge safety net. I'm longing for something (work or otherwise) that I find really compelling and engaging. But I feel like I don't know how to find it -- how to get started.

My wife and I have our first child on the way, and I feel like I really need to get a handle on all of this. My own worst fear is that I will pass these same issues along to my children if I don't resolve them for myself.

The worst part is that I feel like I have no one to talk to about all of this except for my wife. I'm afraid anyone I confide in will say sarcastically "Gee, that sounds like a really nice set of problems." I fear that I will get that response here too, but I've been stewing on it for so long that I'm feeling close to meltdown and have nothing to lose from turning to a bunch of strangers on the Internet.

So... help? Maybe I should be talking to a therapist?

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Yes,a therapist is a good idea.

I think you are just feeling like any adult does,"Oh my God,I'm a grown up now~I have to start acting like one!"
Especially with a baby on the way, can raise all kinds of questions and insecurities you never thought you had.Heck,my kid is almost ten and I STILL have those questions and insecurities.Welcome to being a parent~the worrying NEVER ends!
About the money issue...unless you are very materialistic,dont fret about it so much.Sounds like you've been extremely lucky as far as your parents giving you money goes. I moved out at 16 and my mom has never given me anything,but that is neither here or there.

You said you went to College right? So even if you lost your job because they suddenly realized your a slacker,you'd have an education to find a new job.So,dont beat yourself up too much.College isnt for everyone,and even if you feel you "just got by",you still did it with success and that's what's important!
Count your blessings,sir.Be greatful your parents have helped you thus far,but try not to rely on them for wants and needs if you can.It will give you an independance no amount of money can buy!
By the way,Can I have your parents???

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 3:41AM
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JCM, I can identify with you so easily - and I could probably be your mother. I think it's called something like, "is this all there is to life", but it usually hits when one is older.

Put your good fortune to work for others less fortunate. Non-profit work can be fantastic, especially if one works close to and can see the benefits of one's work. Non-profits don't pay well but the rewards are outstanding.

If you can't see your way to working for a non-profit, find one that you can volunteer with, perhaps as a member of the Board of Trustees.

It sounds to me as if you and your wife are off to a good start in life. You're not lording it over your friends who can't afford to buy or build a house. The fact that you are a bit embarrassed about your house tells me that you're certainly not on the one-upsmanship track and I applaud you for that.

Regarding checks being handed to you from your parents with a caveat, you might want to recall that your grandparents grew up during the depression and your parents might have assimilated a bit of their attitude about money. Instead of paying down the mortgage with what they give you, why not just sock it away and pay your mortgage off with your earnings? That way you will have accomplished that goal on your own without help. If you don't feel the need to keep their gifts for yourselves, then find a cause to donate it to.

And lastly, could there be some control issues going on here on the part of your parents? I think that's worth talking to a therapist about.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 9:09AM
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I can identify with your problem. I think I have had touches of those thoughts myself. I live in a place, that I am embarrassed to say, I live there. Its is affluent, with million dollar houses and expensive cars and flashy people. It took me ages to "fit in" with myself and feel comfortable with the people. But you know I have done it, I basically said to myself, I don't care about them. I am me and thats it. I have managed to maintain my ethics, as well, with a normal, non-gas guzzling car, to boot !

I have decided I am truly blessed, and its up to me to put it to good use. In fact it is my responsibility to do some good in the world. I have also always made it clear to my children, that they have many blessings and it is their responsibility to make use of them, work hard at school, become educated and make a difference int he world. Thankfully they seem to be on track in that area.

I think the other word that comes to mind is OPPORTUNITY. The opportunity is there to do good things, and I don't think one should feel guilty about that.

I do, think you need to clarify with your parents, what is going on with the handouts. I don't think this makes you sound ungrateful, as long as you choose your words carefully. I think it is fair enough to make financial plans and if you are getting income from them, you need to plan for that. Perhaps you might even think its time for you to put a stop to the handouts.

You sound like your job is completely unchallenging, and perhaps it is time for you to look elsewhere, start a business, maybe, that employs people and creates opportunities for others. I am sure if you thought about this a bit more, you could come up with something that is really rewarding and gets you out of bed everyday with excitement in your tummy !

You have lots to work with, see this as a blessing, my friend.


    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 8:16PM
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Yes, you may want to start up a side business. Who knows it may turn into a successful venture! I would do it.

Good luck with your first child! You will be really busy with that for a few years. And you are lucky to have a job that is not quite as stressful when you will be juggling all that.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 10:37AM
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I'm not really sure what your problem is...are you mad your parents won't just give you money or tell you how much you will get, or are you mad you are not making enough or don't like your job, or are you worried about your kids growing up spoiled or are you just mad that you've been spoiled and don't deserve it or respect yourself?

I think you know what the answer is... Live within your own means. Anything your parents give you should be put aside for extras or emergencies. I personally wouldn't even feel comfortable taking big handouts from my parents - which maybe something you should consider cutting off for the time being.

Until your parents are gone, you may not truly know what amount you will get; but I would never count on it anyway unless it was put in an actual trust for you. Money can be there one minute and gone the next. A bad financial investment, a big long health problem, a bad hobby etc. could eat up millons. Your parents really don't owe you anything, and shouldn't have to tell you what you are going to inherit.

My parents have a lot but I have never assumed I will have it to fall back on. If you quit acting like you can fall back on their money, you will start taking some responsibilty for yourself and learn to respect yourself more.

As for raising your own children.... If you want to raise self sufficient children...don't give them handouts. Make them work for what they get. And, I also don't think parents should be to communicating their financial situation to their kids. As long as you are providing for their needs, they really don't need to know how much is in or not in the bank (no matter what the age).

"Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime"Author unknown Sounds like you need to learn how to fish.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 12:26PM
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I think my problem is that I don't have healthy attitudes about money. My dad's intentions were good -- he wanted to protect us from the disasters he'd seen in other newly-wealthy families. I'm sure he wanted teach us that self fulfillment requires hard work. But somehow his methods didn't work out. I feel like the message I got instead was that you can get most things you want without working very hard.

I think not accepting any more handouts could be a step in the right direction, and I'll consider that. I don't think it solves the underlying issues though. It'd be easy to say that from now on I'm going to live completely within my own means. That I'm going to handle money issues completely differently with my own children. But making a clean break from attitudes and values that you were raised with is not an easy thing.

Also, it doesn't address my desire for some greater level of communication with my parents about this stuff. I'm not talking about "How much have you got and when am I going to get my hands on it?" But I would love for the awkwardness to end. To talk about their values, etc.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 2:11PM
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Personally, I would take their money and bank every cent of it for my children's college education fund. If you feel guilty about using it for yourself.

It is not that far away you know.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2007 at 1:32PM
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I'm just not seeing what they did to you that was so tramatic. What financial problems are you having because of them that you yourself are unable to fix? Many "Nouveau Riche" people don't know how to handle money correctly....they spoiled their children, impulse buy, etc. I'm not sure what you are hoping to accomplish by talking with them about their money values...unless you are talking about some other deep value system that was never developed in you or them.

It sounds to me that your parents enjoy giving you money but are even hinting at the fact that you shouldn't necessarily always expect it or rely on getting it. Sorry, but it's time to grow up and stop blaming your financial values on your parents. You're old enough to make decisions for yourself and realize that not every parent is perfect in every way. Pointing out their pitfalls is not going to help anything unless you are going to specifically ask them to quit giving you money. I'm just not understanding what they have done that was that awful that you may need to get I missing something? If you're totally clueless about how to handle money, I'd talk to a financial advisor, not a shrink. Who really cares if your parents are to blame?

    Bookmark   October 2, 2007 at 2:16PM
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Please don't feel guilty. Your parents are trying to share and help you, and I don't think they are doing it in such a bad way, either. How much or how little they tell you is their decision; don't sweat it. They told you, basically, "Here it is; enjoy it, but don't get too dependent on it, because it might not always be there in the future." Well, that's really all you need to know.

My parents have been very helpful to us, too. Our story is similar; no money when they started out, but eventually they did well. They have always helped my brother and me, with education, homes, and career. And when my kidz came along, they helped with their education, camp, etc., too. They told us pretty much what your folks tell you, although I can't say it ever struck me as being mysterious. Depending on what form their wealth is held (e.g., real estate, stocks), they may not really know what their net worth is or how likely it is to hold, lose, or increase its value. I am so grateful that my family never used money to control or manipulate. I didn't read anything in your post suggesting that yours does, either.

I know many others will encourage you to "stand on your own two feet" and "not accept handouts." And you seem to feel that you are not growing up enough because of their help. But I don't see it as a handout. It looks to me like they just see the extended family as still the family. I know that in the US a lot of people seem to think that once adult children marry, the parent-child bond should almost dissolve in favor of the husband-wife relationship. But not everyone feels that way; for many people, family is just family, and "the family money" is shared among everyone. After all, was it a "handout" when you still lived at home? Is it a "handout" for a non-working spouse to accept financial support? How about if the situation were reversed, and you were the wealthy one helping struggling parents -- is that a "handout"? I would prefer to give your family the benefit of the doubt and see your parents as continuing to participate in the entire family's welfare.

If that doesn't work for your family, then don't do it. But please don't spend time worrying if you are somehow doing "The Wrong Thing." Even if there ever were some sort of one-size-fits-all principle about accepting financial help from parents, remember that the economy and the circumstances of life change from generation to generation, so old "rules" may no longer apply. Remember when it was considered a dreadful mistake to spend more than 25% of your income on housing or for adult children to live with their parents? Ask today's 20-somethings trying to live in any major city about that.

If you are feeling insecure about your own maturity and abilities, I would think it's more likely that that is the anxiety most of us feel when considering parenthood. Or maybe you have some other reasons to feel insecure about yourself. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with money. But I don't see anything wrong with seeking therapy to help you sort out these feelings, no matter what is causing them.

I also agree that SHARING some of that money with people in need is not only the right thing to do anyway, it will almost certainly help you with feelings of guilt or not deserving your good fortune. A very smart and very wealthy woman I knew always told her children and grandchildren whenever she gave them a gift from a dollar in a valentine on up: "Spend some, save some, share some." Good advice, don't you think?

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 10, 2007 at 12:36PM
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It sounds like you want to know how much money your parents have, so you can buy more things or build a nicer house.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2007 at 5:37PM
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