Growing up, I never understood how money work, how my parents paid bills or whether or not there was debt. What I did understand was that my mother controlled the family finances, and if I wanted or needed anything “extra” I had better be prepared to build a case and beg for it from my mother. My father was far more easy going and a soft touch – if he had the cash he would definitely just give it to me, no questions asked. I hated asking my dad for money precisely for that reason. Every week when he got paid he would cash his check and hand my mother the bulk of it, keeping money for himself and the accepting his daily allowance of $4 for lunch (this was like 40+ years ago, so $4 went a lot farther).
I think a lot of my confusion about money and value and love comes from this dynamic. My mother would rarely to never come out with an absolute “no,” but never would she just say yes and give me what I requested. She would quiz me about what I was going to do with it, how sure was I not to lose it, what methods would I have to “check” that I had not lost it. Even then, I never knew until the morning of the need for cash (picture day, wanting to buy lunch, special craft projects at school, going on a field trip, etc.) whether or not I would actually get it. Then she would leave it on the table for me with a note not to lose it, etc.
One would think that I would understand that money was tight and we were a careful, frugal family based on those statements. But what made this so much worse – I used to get “paid” by my abuser for the little tasks he would have as his cover for me to come alone to his home every week. Watering his plants. Feeding his dog. Walking the dog. Cleaning up dog poo. Helping clean the house. The list goes on and on. How proud my mother was of me for earning those little sums – 50 cents here, $1 there – so proud she insisted I keep going even when I would soil myself to avoid going. She’s insist I clean up, change clothes, and get down there. And when I would come home, she would take the money I earned to “hold” it for me. I never got to spend it when we went downtown or to the grocery store; always the money she was “holding” for me was left at home to be held and saved for a future purchase.
I know now she deposited those sums into a savings account for me, but whatever I “earned” was matched in my sister’s account. When I was 18 and found out, I was well beyond furious. My mother’s reasoning? The accounts should be even. My sister was 4 years older yet our savings was not started until I was 2, so it was only natural she would match my earnings to make up for the 4 years my sister did not receive anything from my folks. Even at 18, when I was an adult, she hounded me about that account and questioned me about my purchases each and every time I made a withdrawal. I finally closed the account and opened one at another bank without her listed as a co-owner.
But why I wonder about money equalling love … whenever I wanted to do something that required money, or if I got so upset about her dilly-dallying and interrogating me about it, somehow that made the money happen. When I went through a phase and wanted to join Rainbow (masonic youth service organization) and needed a long dress for initiation and events, she would not commit to the purchase until I overheard one of the unusual, vocal fights she had with my father (usually it was more she was icy and silent with this crazed epression on her face and my father, drunk, would simply go to bed to pass out) left me in tears. Then there was money available for the dress, only I did not get to pick it out – she and my sister were downtown and found something they thought cute and purchased it for me. I hated it and felt so awful in it. I was even then the chubby kid, my sister more svelt as time passed and she grew taller, and this dress was clearly their attempt to find something that fit. It was equivalent to a mumu in shape, only a solid color with a bit of lace around the neckline and bell sleeves. Had I been with them to look at the entire selection I probably would have felt better about it. Instead I felt like they went and found the plainest, most shapeless dress possible and bought it with the expectation that I would be grateful to have a dress for my new group.
For my mother, giving money, buying things I desired, that was how she demonstrated love for me. I still see myself as begging, pleading, negotiating, and bargaining for it. And it sickens me. It’s not what I ever wanted for myself and thankfully have done everything short of bankruptcy to ensure it is not me. I did learn better ways to avoid debt and the specter of bankruptcy, but there were some close calls years ago before emotional healing allowing my common sense to return. But that’s another post for another day.
Oh the joys of childhood. I hate ever bringing it up because I can feel the vile bitternes of disappointment, anger, and frustration that turned toward hatred. Of my parents, sure, but always inwardly toward myself as well. There are a lot of times when I wish to erase any and all evidence of these memories in my brain tissue, yet if I lose that I lose part of the person I am right now. I just know I never want to feel that way about anyone or anything again, especially those I love most. For me money is a finite resource used for wants and needs in life, not a tool to manipulate and control.
Never will you hear me say I am happy with my childhood experiences. But I have done my best to reconcile them and be better any way possible.