It used to be (back in the dark ages of the 1950’s) that kids learned about relationships from their parents and maybe from the parents of their best friends. In my house, we learned that Dad was the boss and everything, and I mean everything, revolved around his schedule, his likes and dislikes, his sense of right and wrong and his money.
That’s right. My parents were NOT equal and the money was all Dad’s.
Our family was the definition of old-fashioned. Dad went to work every day; Mom stayed home with the five kids, the laundry, the housework, the cooking, mending and shopping. The biggest argument my parents had was held at the end of each month when it was time for Dad to look at the “books.”
Arguing wasn’t really what happened during those sessions as the only voice we ever heard was Dad’s. Inquisition is a more apt description. It was not a pretty sight and even if you couldn’t see it, you could not miss the frequent and loud outbursts that emanated from Dad’s mouth.
My Mom was in a losing position before one word was spoken. The reason was simple math.
At the height of his career, Dad earned $24,000 a year before taxes. Out of that money, my mom had to feed, clothe and keep in “necessities” five children, a foster teenager, her mother-in-law, herself and Dad, keep the house and car running and tithe to the church. That was no mean feat and often there was little or nothing left at the end of the month.
Dad’s question was always the same — where did my money go? The real answer – spent on the family – was never good enough. And the war raged on around us. Little did we know how very much we were learning about how money shaped relationships.
My brother Mike controlled the cash in his house, just like Dad. His wife and children answered to him for every nickel and dime that went missing. Bob refused to talk about money or manage it. He put his paychecks in a drawer and only deposited them when his wife was telling him, at the top of her lungs, that their checking account was running on fumes.
I made money, lots of it. And I spent it, paid for my college education, raised a daughter on it and managed it for more than 20 years. I felt total control when it came to money…until I married Pat. Only then did I begin to understand how my parent’s monthly battle over money would affect my relationship to my husband. And what I discovered was that ugly behavior can be learned.
More on the battle over money in the next post.