Growing up, my parents argued about money constantly. Having been raised by a single mother in extreme poverty, my father worried there was never enough. Having grown up somewhat entitled, my mother believed that as long as there were checks left in the checkbook, she had spending power. And while my family was legitimately middle class, many of my childhood memories are about money, emotions, and drama.
Now married for over 45 years, my parents are retired. And they still disagree about money. While my mother has recently acquiesced to my father’s conservative budget, I know she misses those higher rolling days when family vacations and finer dining than TGI Fridays were a regular occurrence.
It’s no surprise that I carried some of my parents’ money drama into my own relationships. In my 20s, I looked for a man to rescue me financially. And while I found a sugar daddy, I also found myself in an abusive and controlling relationship that I narrowly escaped with my mind, body, and spirit intact.
In my late 20s, I became the responsible one. Maxing out my company’s 401K matching and saving for a rainy day, I began dating men who were wildly irresponsible with money. There was the hot 22 year old with the credit card fraud past I swept under the rug because his dimples were adorable (but whom I wisely never lent money to); The One I Wanted To Be The One, who also happened to be the one who couldn’t afford his truck payments and whose father constantly bailed him out of credit card debt; and then there was the magician who was too cocky to work for anyone else, but wasn’t sure how he was going to pay his mortgage. In each and every relationship I found myself in with a man, money was a key issue that ultimately contributed to our demise.
And then I met my husband. By far, the smartest, wisest, most financially stable individual I’ve ever known, this is a man who, regardless of what he makes will always have more than enough because he lives by a strict code of Living Within Your Means.
Problem solved, you might think. Lessons learned. Right?
Meeting and marrying a man with a healthy money mindset didn’t end my financial drama. Because the truth was, men and money weren’t ever the problem. Worthiness and self worth were.
After leaving my stable corporate job to build my own business ten years ago, I quickly over-invested in my success. Which led to years of making great money but also spending every dime – some going back into the business, some going to pay down the debt I’d accumulated and was still carrying – and sometimes still accumulating.
This yo-yo effect of money-in, money-out wore on my self esteem. I often wondered how can I be so successful and so… barely making ends meet?
I’ve long heard it said that What you resist persists. Because I never faced my inner self worth issues head-on – nor did I change the way I talked money with my man – this never ending cycle of financial-gain-meets-financial-need persisted. The only times I did share with my husband what was happening in my business was when I needed what we’ll call a bail out. After a couple of bail outs, my husband wisely put his foot down.
Enter Baby. Also known as my niece who at 13 months suddenly found herself with 2 parents in jail and a ward of the foster care system. While my husband and I had never wanted children – partly because of the financial burden having and raising them implied – we immediately stepped in as full time foster parents. My husband took time off work to care for the child part time and build his own business part time.
Which meant I became the sole breadwinner. The woman who for five years had struggled to keep herself afloat was suddenly faced with financing an entire family.
Cue the musical crescendo in the movie version of my life. This was a make or break moment. I had a choice – show up for my family or let them down. I chose to show up. After all, my husband had been there for me so many times when I needed it. Now he needed me to show up for us. I not only wanted to do it, I needed to do it.
What followed was the most excruciating and extraordinary two year journey into instant motherhood, money mastery, a deepening in my marriage, and a self worth wakeup call. What I’ve learned along the way has been priceless and life changing.
If you find yourself struggling in your relationship with yourself, the men in your life, and money, my hope is that my hard won lessons may help.
1. Get To Know Your Gremlins
Truth: You cannot and will not heal any shame or blame you have around money and men until you understand what the messages you send yourself on a daily basis about worth actually are. My gremlins connected back to a conversation I had with my own father when I was 15 and asked for money to go to the movies with my friends. “It’s like throwing it away,” he said as he tossed me a twenty dollar bill. Mind you, my father wasn’t a horrible human being. He was in the muck of his own money gremlins and I took them on. I internalized the beliefs that when someone gave me money, I threw it away. I wasn’t worth investing in.
As you tune in, take time to explore what your gremlins are saying about your worth. They’ll most likely be nasty and hateful at first. Allow yourself to listen. Until you give them a voice, you cannot change the channel.