Part 4: Children, Parents, & Money

There are many types of relationships bound up with money in our lives. We have talked about partners. Now, let’s discuss our own parents and children.

Dealing with Our Parents

It is not easy when we have always been given money by our parents (as adults) to say no once we are in recovery. And maybe the better choice for you is to continue accepting their gifts.

However, if you are now in recovery and see that the price you have paid by taking money from your parents is to leave you feeling stuck, manipulated, angry, embarrassed, or humiliated, you may want to work on this issue through your 12 Step writing. The fact is, there are few issues so deep as those involving our parents and money.

In the practical sense, it is not so easy to say no to money when you are in a difficult situation. But again, if accepting the gift is fraught with strings and keeps you stuck, then maybe you should consider breaking the cycle, even if it is painful.

As with all addictive behavior, when the pain of accepting the gift becomes worse than the pain you are avoiding by taking it, you will be willing to face the challenges of living in recovery.

Being in recovery from money insanity and debting doesn’t mean we never feel pain. It means we have a level playing field and can face pain without using. You are the only one who knows, in recovery, if accepting financial gifts from your parents is enabling you to stay sick with money. Indeed, this is a complex issue and there is no one right answer.

In my own life, money was a horrible, divisive element in my relationship with my father. For instance, I was manipulated by money and strings until I was in my mid-20s. My father’s only way to show love was through money, which, he also resented. So there was truly a mixed message throughout my growing up. I got everything I wanted, but there was hell to pay emotionally.

My mom died when I was 26, and right after her death, he gave me thousands to buy furniture for my apartment and continued to pay my rent, despite the fact that I was working.

But soon thereafter, he remarried a woman who convinced him to cut me off without a word. I didn’t find out until I got a letter from the health insurance company saying I was no longer covered and couldn’t reinstate the policy. That led to the conversation where my father angrily told me I was cut off. Just so. That’s it. Leaving me bewildered by this new life for which I wasn’t at all prepared. And an attitude by my parent that left me feeling ashamed and humiliated.

Though it seems like it would have been much easier for me if my father weaned me off gently after high school, I’ll bet that I would have been quite resentful no matter what (I only have to look at how weaning my son off financial dependence on me went … with great difficulty on both our parts, to put it mildly).

But, it doesn’t matter because that is not how it happened. It was only in recovery that I came to understand that, though I despised how it was done to me, it was truly for the best and I learned how to take care of myself (and my son) because of it.

I see adults in program afraid to say no to their parents’ money offers because that will trigger anger and afraid to say yes because they know that will trigger other issues of control by the parent.

And this is not just limited to parents. Brothers and sisters, indeed any family member, can use money as a way to control us.

Being in recovery regarding money and family means:

  • Breaking old patterns and habits.
  • Learning to stand on our own two feet as we can.
  • If we do accept a financial gift, we can still set boundaries that do not inflict pain upon us.
  • We can accept a gift with integrity and good feeling.
  • Understanding our own motivations about accepting money.
  • Seeing whether we are being manipulative and taking responsibility for that.
  • Having clarity about whether accepting the gift is enhancing our recovery.
  • And, finally, being in recovery means that, whether we do or don’t accept the gift, if the giving party still tries to manipulate and control us, we can see that for what it is and have compassion for them, instead of taking it personally and feeling ashamed.

Children & Money

Now, to the other side of the issue.

If you are like me, when you were active in your compulsive debting and spending disease, you couldn’t bear the thought of your children feeling pain or lack (just as I couldn’t bear it for myself). While my son’s friends were all wealthy, I was always living hand to mouth to credit card. So he had every new toy that he wanted (he never had to yearn because I always bought it before it got to that point).

Now, in recovery, I have learned that not giving in to my son’s every whim is a great gift to him and allows him to grow up. He now takes pride in saying that he wants to pay for something that I offer to pay for instead.

For me, it was in the nick of time, when he was just finishing high school and about to go to college. I still had some authority over his money and was able to judiciously choose (with the help of my loving PRG) what I would and would not pay for. As an added gift, I was able to talk with him about these issues as well. And stay calm and committed in the face of the brilliant “legal arguments” only a teenager can concoct followed by pouting, anger, and guilt to convince me to change my mind.

Here are some tips to help you with your children:

  • When your children cry that it isn’t fair when you have to (or choose to) say no to them, remember that pain is part of growth, for all of you. Maybe you can help them save toward the goal or ask them to save for 1/2 and you will pay 1/2 when they have enough if your spending plan can accomodate that.
  • If you are working the H.O.W. program, as with a partner, once you give them money for allowance, chores, etc., that is all you commit. It is not your responsibility to commit the individual expenditures. You only commit what leaves your account.
  • Keep a category called “Lost and Found Money” with some money in it (maybe $15-20) so that if you give them money for an item, expecting change later, and the correct amount isn’t returned, you have a buffer of money to make sure your spending plan is accurate.
  • Keep a category with a small amount of money for library fines. If you have more than one child and they take out lots of library books, it may be unmanageable for you to keep track of when they are due. You might take it out of their allowance if they are old enough to be responsible. However, these aren’t your books and I believe that this is not your debt though you may keep money in a category to cover it. That is a decision between you and your sponsor.
  • Talk to your children about your spending plan. When you say yes and when you say no, use the opportunity to help them understand what a spending plan is and the importance of living within one’s means.
  • What if you have more than one child and one receives a money gift but the person giving the gift accidentally forgot to give it to the other. How can you handle such a situation? There are a number of options (and maybe more I haven’t thought about!):
  1. Give the child the money, yourself. But then, would you need to deprive yourself in another category of your spending plan? If so, you may want to think about whether you would be giving your child the right message.
  2. Explain the situation to the child and maybe plan a special time together to make up for it. While that may not totally satisfy your child, you are gently helping him or her learn the painful lesson that life can sometimes be unfair.
  3. Talk to the giver about the situation, which could potentially cause embarrassment or even defensiveness if the giver insists that no one was left out. On the other hand, maybe the giver would want to know and make it right.
  4. Have the other child or children split their money with the one left out so they all learn a lesson in sharing.

As you can see, there is no cut and dried answer, and each choice involves some pain. But there are valuable lessons to be learned by each option.

Teaching our children about managing money and living within their means is a vital lesson they will never learn in school. It is truly up to us, as parents, to impart to them what we are learning in recovery.

The tool of a spending plan and record keeping, if you share it with your children, may make an impression you never imagined. My son proudly told me recently that he now tracks all his cash spending with a phone app. And I never thought he was paying attention over these past few years!

As a senior in college, he initially wasn’t going to get a credit card, but now has done so because he feels it will help him establish credit. He only uses it for items that are paid off each month, such as subscriptions. As of today, he is insistent that he does not want to live beyond his means and is committed to living on a cash basis.

Still, I sit holding my breath, so worried that the gene has been passed on to him. Yet, it is his path, not mine. And that is my last tip. Even though we can help teach our children, we cannot make their mistakes for them. We certainly made ours, but they must follow their own path and, hopefully, by being open about our mistakes and now our commitment to making better choices, we can help them to avert disaster.


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