(No) Money Changes Everything

May 20, 2009

I’ve written about abortion and depression and my relationship with my psychiatrist. I’ve written about perineal tears and my boobs and nursing another woman’s child. I’ve written about pretty much every uncomfortable thing that there is to write about, and yet it is this post that I don’t know how to begin. It is this post that I am reluctant to write. It is this post that will, I know, make me cringe in shame.

But I’m still going to write it. Because I need to say it – write it – out loud. I need to not be ashamed, and confessing shame is the only means I know to fighting shame. So.

We are – my family is – struggling financially. I know; who isn’t? There’s a recession going on. Everybody is feeling the pinch. Everybody is clucking about how tight things are, how precarious things seem, how challenging it all is. Everybody is worried. But that doesn’t make it any less embarrassing for me to admit that I am worried. I am worried. And a little bit ashamed. Because aren’t my husband and I supposed to be grown-ups? Aren’t we supposed to ensure that everything is always okay? Aren’t we supposed to be able to protect our family from the dark forces of fear and anxiety and indebtedness? Aren’t we supposed to be able to always, and under any circumstances, provide?

The downturn in the economy has compromised my husband’s industry, an industry in which he works freelance, and in which he has, historically, done very well. Historically. He hasn’t worked in well over a month. I wring a modest living out of writing – more than I did teaching political philosophy as a sessional lecturer – but it’s not enough to support us. Not nearly enough. And so we scramble, and we worry, and we fret about how to explain things to Emilia, who does not understand why we cannot go to her favorite restaurant for dinner, why we cannot take a trip across the country to visit Tanner, why we have begun to sell things. We tell her, dinner is nicer at home, we’ll go visit Tanner soon, it’s fun to sell things!

And then she asks, so will we sell more of our things tomorrow? And, will you sell my treehouse? Because I like my treehouse, and I don’t want you to sell it. And my heart breaks. Because I don’t want her to worry. I don’t know how to talk about this without causing her to worry. I am ashamed that we have to worry. I ashamed that I don’t know how to handle this.

I know that we’ll be fine, in the long run. We will be fine. My husband is very good at what he does, and although his industry might need – does need – to evolve and adapt, it won’t die. Even if it did – even if the work just ran out – there’d be something else to do. There’s always something else to do. And I am – all evidence to the contrary aside – not without skills. We’ll manage, whatever that looks like. And whatever that looks like will be good, because we’ll always have each other. Even if we’re living in a trailer in the woods – which, granted, is a lot less likely now that we’ve had to sell our trailer in the woods – we’ll be fine, because we’ll have each other. Which sounds unbearably trite, I know, but it’s nonetheless true for its triteness. We’ll have each other.

But that’s still hard to explain to a three-year old. Why we can’t, right now, have extras. Why we need to be content with ‘each other.’ Why we need to just make do, and to find some joy in that. Why we insist that this is good, this is fine, this is fun, when the worry is plainly written on our faces.

I see the confusion in her face, and I’m ashamed. Ashamed that I can’t explain it better. Ashamed that I set her up for this, by not working hard enough to let her know that her world of plenty should never be taken for granted. Ashamed that I took that world of plenty for granted. Ashamed that I am ashamed.

Which is, as I said, why I needed to say it out loud. Because maybe, maybe, if I can fight the shame, I can fight the worry, and if I can fight the worry, I can fight the confusion. For her. For us. So that it will, it truly will, all be okay.

So that I can say that, and mean it. For her.

Here is where I say, I so need commiseration. We need commiseration. Will you share your stories, or your advice? I was part of a call with Katie Couric yesterday, via the Silicon Valley Moms Group – of which Canada Moms Blog is a part – on the topic of children and the recession, and all I could think, throughout the call, was how it was easy for me to think abstractly about the recession, and talk about how to help the less fortunate, etc, etc, but that I was unwilling – wholly and shamefacedly unwilling – to talk about my own experience, and my own fear. Which meant, of course, that I had to suck it up and blog it, and it was – is – every bit as painful as I thought it would be. Anyone care to throw in her voice with mine, make it feel a little less scary? Or just, you know, tell me that I should be grateful to have a roof over my head and stop whining?

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    lifebehindthecurve May 22, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    Like all 100+ other people on here, I’ll state that you are definitely not alone. We’ve been trying to figure out ways to cut expenses with a minimal impact on our 5 and 2 year old sons. The good news is that, in doing so, we’re also becoming more active members of our community.

    For instance, instead of spending $30 on movie tickets and another $20+ on overpriced popcorn and drinks, we’ve started taking them to local high school musicals like Beauty and the Beast and the Music Man. Admission for them is free, for us is $10 or less (hubs usually just stays home). Students sell cookies for $1 at the intermission and the 2 year old is just as happy with water from the water fountain as he is with a bottle of water or a box juice. (It’s more fun, afterall.)

    I’ve NEVER said no to them when they asked for a book, as I want to instill a love of reading. But we just can’t afford to buy them books all the time, so I took my 5 year old to the local library to get his own library card. In addition to getting him access to more books than we would ever buy him, the library is a free activity with a reading area and quiet time toys where he can just hang out.

    We’re also fortunate to live in a city with tons of great local parks. So our big weekend outing might just be a drive across town to a playground they’ve never been to. It’s as good to them as going on a vacation.

    I recognize that some of these are simple solutions but I’m with you, I’m trying to minimize the impact on the kids during this time. Thanks for having the courage to acknowledge the fear and anxiety that so many of us are feeling.

    I also wholeheartedly endorse what the anonymous commenter above said about continuing with charity, even during hard economic times. Even though this is newer territory for us, it’s not for many many other people. Not only have we been trying to give a little each month to charities, I think it’s important that my kids learn that other children have it much harder than they do. So we’ve been making sure to talk to our 5 year old about why he needs to give his toys and clothes (and sometimes money) to other kids who don’t have access to it. We will all get through this, together.

    May-B May 23, 2009 at 1:23 am

    I grew up in a family with the same financial fears and worries. You’re doing the right thing. Give her age appropriate answers and keep the hope. This will not break her, nor you. I understand the fear and the shame, I watched my mom go through the same. But we made it. You will too.

    becky May 23, 2009 at 1:38 am

    My son isn’t old enough to notice yet. But it’s tough. So tough. My income dropped more than 50% last year when I went freelance so I could stay home with my son. I had a REALLY good job at a university. And I gave that up. I question that when I look at our finances and we struggle to keep our bills paid (especially health insurance!). I keep thinking that we should have saved more, spent less when I had the good-paying job. Yet we didn’t. And now our lives are tougher because of it.

    I just have to keep working to build my freelance writing so it will cover our bills better. My husband’s industry is hurting from the economy as well. He can only get so many hours right now.

    So yeah, I get some of what you’re saying. Trying so hard not to beat myself up over the choices I’ve (we’ve) made that put us in this situation. And hoping it will pass. Soon.

    Frugal Rock May 23, 2009 at 11:27 am

    My husband and I are highly educated and yet, we choose to survive on one starting teacher’s salary of 40,000 a year. I stay home with our two-year-old son. We live in a cozy two-bedroom apartment in the Junction and we couldn’t be happier. I don’t know how people view us from the outside but I can only imagine that they either feel sorry for us, or marvel at the tremendous waste of money-making potential. Our peers are all doing brilliantly by society’s standards, with large homes, two cars, and trips to Disney World with the kiddies. To us, having such mega-responsibilities such as mortgage and car payments, insurmountable credit card debt, and endless bills to pay would be like living with a giant noose around the neck.

    Scaling back and keeping it simple has been the key to our happiness and stress-free way of life. And believe it or not, these do not feel like sacrifices to us. (It’s all in your attitude!) We choose to rent, bike to work, and for-go frills like cable t.v., expensive blackberries, and impulse shoe purchases. We are not mowing the lawn on Saturdays, nor are we blowing snow in the winter. We find that living this way has freed up so much of our time. We still have enough money to take trips and eat well because we have simply shifted our priorities.

    This lifestyle was a conscious choice for us, but many people do not have the luxury of choosing. I think the reason why we don’t worry is that like you and your husband, we are equipped with an education. We know that we have transferable skills and can always find work.

    I don’t really have any advice for you, other than to let you know that change can be amazing. Embracing the unknown can be liberating, and cultivating a comfort with risk has many many payoffs. And you’re absolutely right; it may be trite but you always have each other. And that’s the most important thing. And money–well, easy come, easy go.

    Sasha May 23, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Thank you for this post, I needed it. I’ve read through all the comments, and unfortunately I can honestly say that out of everybody, I am in the worst position of all.

    We had to do IVF to get our babes, and I was in such a depression over it we literally used the last of our money to do this. Thank God, it worked and I have beautiful twins for whom I am endlessly grateful. My husband had a huge contract which would have enabled us to buy a house (free and clear) which fell apart two months into my pregnancy. We were left with nothing, and we had to move in with my parents. A year later, we are still here.

    My husband CANNOT find work, and believe me, he has looked. His industry has been very hard hit. We have ended up over 20,000 in debt despite moving in with the folks.

    It is a horrible situation, and though there are days I can cope and feel that things must, and will get better there are days, like today, where I am desperately anxious, depressed, fearful, and yes, angry. Angry that my husband can’t support his family. Angry and I can’t support my family. Hideously, horribly, ashamed, and so, so fearful.

    The only thing that keeps me afloat are my babes who are the light of my life, but I feel that perhaps I was wrong to bring them into this world when I can’t provide for them. Meanwhile, my marriage is suffering. My husband’s self-esteem is gone, and I’m afraid I can’t even try to prop it up anymore.

    When I hear of other friends and family who are doing well I literally feel sick. I wish I were a better person but I’m not.

    A couple of years ago I would never have believed this could happen. I had a fantastic apartment, beautiful things, was flying around the world on beautiful vacations. If I had a clue that this was even possible I would have saved, scrimped, but I never thought it would be. Lesson learned. Now if we could just find a way out.

    April May 24, 2009 at 11:18 am

    p.s. do you have skype? we use the video chat and my son LOOOOVES “visiting” my parents and my sister on the computer. it’s FREEEEE if you’re both using skype :-)

    Mrs.Chattypants May 24, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    In July of last year, my husband’s business partner gambled the company money away. As a result, the company folded. He was out of a job until November, when he started working construction. That job was only temporary, as with the failing economy, there were no other contracts on the horizon. My husband looked, but was still not able to find another job. At the end of January, he was laid off, and not having been there 90 days, he did not qualify for unemployment. The company laid off just about all of its employees. Now, fast forward four months and he has had numerous interviews and still no decent job. A friend of ours got him a job as a barback in a nudie bar-he took it. It was money, an honest job and we have been able to survive. I have been working as well and we have learned to let go the unnecessary things-like cell phones, cable and fast food. Even convenience foods, which means I cook a whole lot. I felt ashamed that my children had to go through this as I was the adult and Mike and I were not able to provide. They really surprised me. At Christmas, they only got a few things and funny, was that everything they did receive, they played with and appreciated. They understand why we can’t go to the movies or out to dinner because we explained to them about paying your bills and needing to have electricity, water and so forth. We had yard sales and sold stuff, theirs and ours, and kids, well, if your are honest with them, they are pretty resilient.
    It will be okay. You know that. It sucks royally and the fear just hangs there. BUT you just keep on keepin’ on and it will get better. You are not alone as many of us are struggling. And as corny as it is, you do have each other. And really, that is the most important thing. This is your “check” because you are rich in the things that matter. ((Hugs))

    Haley-O May 25, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I remember going through this as a teenager (during the last recession). All of a sudden we weren’t going away – which was a BIG deal in my Forest Hill High School…. We couldn’t buy clothes. And my dad was working all the time, trying to make ends meet. He was NOT happy, and my mother went back to work….

    These days, there’s a marked difference between my daughter’s room (born 2005) and my son’s (born 2007). She has the fancy furniture and dolls upon dolls. He has HER CRIB and only a change table, hardly any toys.

    We are struggling, too. I’ve had to work my butt off and feel blessed to have a part-time job because my husband’s job is completely unstable right now.

    I feel grateful, actually, that my daughter isn’t asking too many questions. I’m also grateful that she’ll learn from a young age things cost money and that you can’t have it all. I wasn’t so lucky, and I had a very difficult adolescence as a result….

    Most of us are, indeed, in the same boat as you are. It’s scary. But, we have each other…. ((Hugs))

    kgirl May 25, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    I wrote my Eat Me post about this a couple of months ago, when I couldn’t even afford a roast for a holiday dinner.
    Freelance is tough; it’s have or have not, and for us, last winter, it was have not.
    The thing is, the kids had no idea. They are not yet consumers; don’t expect gifts and treats when we walk into a store; are just as happy with a trip to the park as they are with a trip to Florida.

    It’s the adults that struggle through these times, and even if we know that things are not so desperate yet – that we will not lose our house; will still have something for dinner; will get through this – even still, it’s a struggle.

    Mother of the Groom Dresses May 25, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    A few years ago I really hit rock bottom and it seems to me now that that must have been my own private recession a little before the fact. The good news is that I am back on top now and can personally vouch for the fact that what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. You’ve gotta just hold on till its over and the thought of our children always makes us Moms 10 times stronger than we ever knew was possible. My blessings to all the other Moms out there in these difficult times xox

    Carol May 26, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    I could have written this post myself! As a matter of fact, I just sold my kids’ swingset. Of course, my kids are 3, 6, 10 and 11, so they clearly don’t believe me when I say selling things is fun! One day, it will get better. At least I hope so.

    R May 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I haven’t started selling things just yet (that’s on my TO-Do list: “learn how to sell on eBay or CraigsList” followed closely by “start going through crap and figuring out what we can live without”) but I’m taking things back that I’ve purchased recently… mostly clothes and outfits for the baby girl, but also a few for me… and to top it off that I have no money, and because I have no money (vicious cycle) I’ve managed to max out both of my credit cards… which the hubs just found out… it didn’t go over well… so I’m working full-time outside of the house, taking back purchases, trying to drum up work for my freelance business/side job, and looking for items that we can sell… and hubs – well, he’s not only working full time, but picking up as much overtime as possible at the Sheriff’s Department… which means seeing us less than the 2-3 days a week he sees us regularly…

    We can’t complain really because we both have jobs, we have our health and our beautiful baby girl… we have vehicles… but as far as having extra cash… we don’t. and it’s mostly my fault, of which I am ashamed… hubs works hard and puts money in our savings accounts, pays the majority of the bills, as well as the majority of the necessities around the house, and I… well, I work… and waste money on frivolous things… like outfits that are cute, but Emma won’t wear until NEXT summer… shirts I might wear once or twice after buying them for a wedding… it’s ridiculous….

    so while I’m not on the exact same page as you are, I’m not feeling so proud of myself lately… especially since I had paid one credit card down quite a bit over the past year or so… then managed to put $1500 back on it in just over a month on things we didn’t need… WOW. GREAT IDEA. or not. and now – my minimum payments are both RIDICULOUSLY high. GREAT IDEA #2. or not. so… working on that. and it’s a definite work in progress…

    thinking of you, sending good thoughts and prayers your way… it will get better, and it will be okay… some day… hopefully some day soon…

    Miss Know It All May 27, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I know it was hard to admit – but believe me, I can honestly say “I feel your pain.” My husband is an air craft mechanic. We have a 10 year old son. I work, but DH made substantially more that I do. Did you get that? MADE. As in, no longer makes. He was laid off in November. He was laid off right before our son’s 10th birthday. Christmas and Birthday were already bought and paid for, or it would have been slim. But this year? Not so much. We are making it, but not without sacrifice. And as is always the case…insult can always be added to injury. In March I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40. I will be fine – double mastectomy, chemo and raidation required – but I will live. I am blessed with a wonderful job – I have short term disability and bosses that are willing to work with me. I can work from home, and I can work when I feel like it. So far, I have not missed one dime in my paycheck. I have great health insurance. But with an unemployed husband, the co-pays are a bitch.

    All this while friends are able to spend money like its nothing. See, I have friends with money. Lots. Like, houses in NICE neighborhoods paid for in cash. Friends who love me, but raise an eyebrow while I try to explain I can’t afford a trip to the beach. Or Costa Rica. Or the Bahamas.

    So, basically, I say all of that to say this: You are not alone. You will provide the best way you know how. You will be the adult and your kids will be fine. There were probably times in our childhood that we dont remember (hopefully) when our parents struggled. But we are fine. And our kids will be fine, stronger in fact.

    BabyonBored May 27, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    I’m always a little late to the comment party on your blog, sister. But here’s my two pennies which may or may not have already been shared. I grew up poor, poor, poor. I couldn’t have a proper haircut or new clothes or any extras for a long long time. When my brother and sister came along 7 and 9 years after me, my mother was bringing in a better income (my stepfather barely ever worked). As an adult, I don’t ever think about being poor or not having had enough. It was plenty that I was loved. I appreciate having things now much much more than if all of it was just a given growing up. I learned sacrifice and I think it’s an important, so so important lesson to pass onto your children. This will pass and all will be well but your kids will be better for it. Take the shame out of your game. You are awesome rich or poor.

    Anonymous May 29, 2009 at 5:43 pm


    Revanche May 29, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    There’s no shame in being scared or worrying, it’s natural. Mine is a bit flipflopped in that I was scared that I couldn’t continue to take care of my family [parents] after the pending layoff.

    Something like ten years ago, both of them went through periods after their businesses failed in which they couldn’t hold a job for long, and then my mom’s health went out the door, and I’ve supported them ever since. Hadn’t ever struck me how completely dependent they were on me until my job loss was imminent. I still haven’t even told them that I expect to be out of a job in a month because I’m determined to find another way to support them before they have to worry about it.

    Wondering if you’re going to be able to make ends meet when you’re the sole provider(s) is completely nerve-wracking. But knowing that you can make it, once you get through, is one of the most blessed feelings you can have. And your daughter will learn, in some small way, to be self-sufficient, creative and resourceful for having this experience in her life, in her family.

    Booba Juice May 31, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    While I did not have time tonight to read ever comment, those that I did get to read made my night. I know that I am not alone, but being able to read stories of others who are in the same spot as my family is heartwarming.

    Fifteen months ago, my husband got out of the military. We had thought and discussed long and hard before we made that desion. We knew that most likely we would not be able to make as much in the civilian world as we did in the military, as my husband wasn’t able to get his degree while active duty. But ultimately our desire for him to be around more for our family won out on the desire to be better off financially. (While in the military he spent about 75% of the year away from home.)

    However now that we are civilians, and out on our own, I miss many things that the military ment for us financially. For example, while I was never one to go out shopping all the time, I did enjoy being able to get something if I saw it and wanted it. Now I look at the thing that is on clearence, and think, I wish I had the money to get that.

    We are keeping our head above water, but just bearly. But the thing is, I am learning to be content with less. And really, it hasn’t been all that bad. I have enjoyed making eating at home all the time fun, and exciting. Spending more time playing games with the family at home, not going out to have fun and entertainment. It has been an adventure. And while I would welcome an increase in income, I know that we are going to be okay. I really believe that. And we just have to do the best with what has been provided to us at this time in our lives, and know that it won’t always be this way.

    the weirdgirl June 1, 2009 at 1:27 am

    I’m another one who grew up without a whole lot of money. We were what is called “house rich, cash poor”. That meant thrift store clothes and powdered milk and no extra anything and so on. I went to a day camp one year but I suspect it was some freebie program for “those who qualified”. We never went on vacations like other people did; just lots of camping. I started babysitting really early so I could buy my OWN thrift store clothes. It went on for YEARS.

    But you know what? I’m actually proud of the person I’ve become because of those lean years. I have a very strong work ethic, I don’t take money for granted, I’m resourceful, and I’m very aware of the difference between when you can’t help your financial situation and when you’re making bad choices. I don’t see any shame in being in tough financial quarters; it just happens sometimes.

    I know it’s really hard. You’re not only worrying about how to make it through, you’re probably worrying about how it will affect Emilia emotionally. My advice is to try to be as matter of fact as possible about it with your daughter. I’ve been there and I can tell you the worry won’t go away. But it seems to me that the shame gets all tied up with the self-worth of owning stuff and that’s… just not a good path for kids to go down.

    Emilia will be fine. And you’ll feel better – still worried, but better – if you can drop the shame.


    chermonblie June 1, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    We’re there too. My husband was unemployed for 8 months and is now going to work… but not making anything – commission is rough when there are no customers.

    So… I am learning to cook inexpensive meals, making our own laundry soap, really enjoying the one Saturday a month when the grandparents come out and bring us a cooler full of food, doing without tv, sewing from my stash instead of buying new. It’ll get better… but I’m hoping my new found frugality sticks around!

    Karen June 4, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    My children's father divorced us all when the kids were 4,5, and 7. It was up to me to provide everything for them after that. I never told them fairy tales–they all knew just how much money we had, what we had to pay with it, and if there was anything left after the bills were paid, they could have a treat. Even at 4, my youngest daughter understood the concept that there had to be money in the bank to pay the bills.

    We all struggled through, they grew up knowing how to budget and how to save. They are in their 30's now. They learned early in life that not everyone can have everything they want. That if they save their money they can get something extra.

    I don't think it is shameful for kids to know you don't have enough. On the contrary, they need to know that sometimes you don't have enough. Knowing that prepares them for the real world much better than telling them that everything will be alright all the time.

    Lisa June 5, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Being thankful you have a roof over your head doesn't mean you can't also feel a little down at having to try to explain to your daughter why things can't be exactly how we'd like them to. Thank you for posting. Sometimes I think we all suffer in silence, thinking others will think less of us if we admit to not having it all under control. I don't think that's true. I know that for me, personally, it sure helps knowing I'm not alone in trying to tighten the belt just a little bit more, and a little bit more, and praying daily that we can make ends meet just one more month.

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