Parental failings

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Last month, some long-time friends – a mother and daughter who share an approach to ‘right’ values (good solid British ‘get on with it’ people) and live non-hypocritically within that code — couldn’t help themselves and when I provided an opening, told me what they’d observed in our raising of our only child, now 26.

The issue was responsibility for managing one’s money and learning to be fully financially independent.  We hadn’t done a proper job.  In this, my husband Dave and I know we’ve never succeeded in getting the girl to produce a budget.  And we’ve helped out with cash gifts when we can.  She’s been pretty much on her own since she was 17 and went off to McGill.  Never totally solvent, with student loans and all, but managing with a little help from her parents.  Because both these women had worked hard for what they now have (good solid roofs over their heads, enough money to travel a little, a sense of modest well-being) they see their values vindicated in their own lives.

Mother and daughter are like family to me and it seemed not just a disagreement about what is important to teach your child, but a rebuke.  And it stung because there’s certainly an element of truth in it.

It was only later that I remembered more of the context of the years when our daughter lived with us.  Once she was into her middle teen years, both parents were working, and I was particularly embedded in developing a drop in-overnight program for people who were homeless.  Then and in my eight years working in housing with Yonge Street Mission, I encountered many men and women who had empty pockets and open hands and who loved for me to give them money.  Sometimes a toonie, sometimes a great deal more.  Anyone who came to the door at home to offer to clean the evestroughs got more payment than they’d earned.

Over time, in the last years of working, I was aware that I was inclined to give to some of the more undeserving of the crowd.  Was this perversity?  Sheer foolishness?  Or the enacting of some values that came from somewhere other than the common sense I was raised within (and that my old friends hearkened back to).

I have been reading Tracey Kidder’s book about Dr. Paul Farmer, who celebrates the tackling of lost causes, accomplishes a huge amount of healing in Haiti, and gives beyond reason. Farmer manifests my own and many others deep longing to be effective in helping the world, but goes the step further toward doing it without measuring the cost.  He doesn’t know beforehand if the ‘cause’ will be lost or gained.  His gift for  raising money to assist those lost causes is prodigious and is based on past results, but also on the sheer necessity – to him – of focusing on the need of that one person who needs his attention and particular medicine.

Dr. Farmer’s scope is wide and has taken him to mountains beyond mountains (the name of the book about him).  My scope has been small.  But to get swiftly religious, I don’t think Jesus minds that.  I think that Jesus gave beyond reason and focused on one at a time.  I think that’s the model I’ve unconsciously been following.  I can’t defend it.  My friend Susie is right when she told me, “if you’d kept back more, you’d have more now for when you need it with medical expenses”.  Right on.

But I’m maybe one of those who was put here to listen to a different voice than that of good old reason.  I was sent a husband who has his feet on the ground and who had kept us tuned as a family to sensible reasoning.  But I am different from him and sometimes have to act on that.  Can’t do it as much, being here in a whole new geographical location without my have-not buddies at close hand and not having a pay cheque.  But Christmas isn’t a bad time to reclaim the ridiculous giving impulse that sits deep down.

It will all work out, if each of us can figure out who we are and not accept being rebuked for it.

Regarding the parental errors?  There was reason.  How could my daughter Laura watch me give away $40 and then have me penalize and extract from her empty pockets the $30 overspent on falling asleep on the long-distance call to her boyfriend (at 16 years)?   We never thought we could be arbitrary with her and apply different standards than we practiced.

Mistaken maybe but it was what it was.  It’ll be interesting to see how she handles money-training with her own children, should she be so lucky.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Parental failings

  1. John Sherk

    It seems to me that a gift of any amount to a person on the street is an affirmation of the fundamental value of the person and recognizes that we do have a connection to each other. A friendly greeting, or at least making eye contact does a bit of the same.

    The debate over paying one’s children for chores is an interesting issue in parent/child financial relations. It seems to me that the healthiest approach is to keep the parent’s contribution of money and the child’s contribution of labour as separate ways that each contributes to the household. Parents recognize that children have financial needs, and children recognize that that various tasks need doing that they can help with, Helping each other in these ways enhances the semse of belonging in the family. For special, larger jobs, payment for the work may be entirely appropriate.

    Parents can help their children get jobs outside the family as age and opportunity allows.

    Just a few ideas- hope it doesn’t sound too formal..John

  2. What parent doesn’t question how they have ‘raised’ their children.
    I was once told by a therapist that I should not have survived my childhood. I should not be able to ‘function’ at all in our world. I should be; an addict, on the street, in jail, in a mental institution, (although I think our streets have taken its place.)violent, uneducated, disorganized and dirty, mean, a thief, a liar, a drinker, a statistic, dead or all of the above.
    I pay my bills. I keep myself and my space clean and I give gifts of things and stories to people. And make a point of donating to persons, not charities.
    Yet I survived. My son did not. Because I failed him. It wasn’t about money in either of our lives. It has always been about the lack of love. Given or received. My parents failed me. I failed my children. I lived. One of them died. I don’t know the reason. I don’t believe anyone else does either.
    A good parent may have the same or worse problems with their children. A child may have the same or worse problems with their parents yet forgive and succeed financially in their own lives. If there is an answer I don’t know it.
    One more thing. If I had a dime for every self-help book I have read ( including the great one in my hand at this moment) Both myself and my remaining child would be rich beyond the dreams of avarice. But, would we either of us………………..be happy?
    D

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