When I was a little girl, my mother stayed home with my three siblings and me while my dad went off to work. I remember her cooking, cleaning, and watching soap operas. She talked on the phone with friends and made the best brownies. She always mopped the floor on Tuesdays, and hung out the laundry even in the dead of winter.
She took her time doing things, never rushing through chores or acting like she couldn’t keep up with everything.
I’m not sure if this was because my memory is skewed and I wasn’t paying close enough attention or if this is how it really was.
I just remember thinking I always wanted to be a mother and stay at home with my kids like she did. I loved cooking and cleaning and wanted to sew, just like her.
When I was in junior high, she got a job as a secretary and was happy about it. My dad wasn’t, but he took her out shopping to buy some nice clothes to wear. She had to dress up, and after being a stay-at-home mom for so long, all she had were T-shirts and Lee Jeans.
When they came home with a few department store bags overflowing with a few dresses, heels, and a few suits, my father showed me the receipts.
Looking back now, I see he wanted his family to see that he had purchased these things for his wife because she didn’t have any money — it was his — something he was always very clear about.
After my mother had a few years of working (and moving up the corporate ladder) under her belt, she left my father. She had more than enough money to take care of herself and was always dressed to the nines.
I clearly remember one day after they divorced, when my father had run into my mother at the grocery store. He said, “You mother looks different. She’s always wearing skirts and lots of eyeshadow. She never used to do that.”
I remember wanting to say, “Maybe that’s because you never let her spend your money on such things,” but I didn’t. My father used the belt on our bare asses if we talked back, and it wasn’t worth it to speak up.
I could give other examples of how my parents’ marriage and divorce should have made me open my eyes to the importance of being somewhat financially independent, but it didn’t leave that much of an impression. In my mind, I always wanted to stay home with my children. I figured the money thing would work itself out.
And, at least at first, it did. I married someone who was more than happy to support his family and encouraged me to stay at home when we had children — although if I had wanted to work, he would have supported that too.
He was in no way like my father when it came to money, but he was a saver, thrifty, and I always felt like I had to ask permission to spend money. Like many couples, we had disagreements on what we thought was important. I loved buying clothes for the kids, and he wanted me to tone it down. I felt guilty if I spent money on getting my hair done because he thought it was a waste. If I wanted to go out to eat, there were times we’d argue.
He was also in charge of the checkbook, our retirement account, and all our other finances.
When we divorced, I was nervous about handling the money. I didn’t want to take on the budget or think about the fact I had to make a certain income now. It was overwhelming and left me frozen with anxiety many times as I stood in the shower, wondering if I was going to be able to do it on my own.
This isn’t a story of getting screwed over and having my credit ruined. My ex-husband was very good with money and there were no surprises. This was more of a realization that I’d depended on someone else for so long to make (and manage) the money while I stood on the sidelines, never having any real control. And then suddenly, it was different, and I was unprepared.
These past years have been hard, and the adjustment has cost me a lot of sleep. There have been many days I’ve realized how much easier times were when my sole responsibility was to take care of the kids and leave the money to my husband.
I have a very different take on things now, though. And it’s something I bring up to my kids all the time: It is actually much easier to take charge of your own finances, have control, and know what’s going on than it is to depend on someone else to do it.
I have zero guilt when I buy something I know I can afford. I get to choose if I want to take my kids out to eat without an argument. I know exactly what’s going on in my bank account, and I don’t need permission from anyone to buy a handbag.
If I ever live with someone again, even if we are married, I will never, ever have a joint checking account with them without having one for myself. I will never depend on anyone to manage my money again, and I will always make sure I will be taken care of if anything should happen to the relationship.
I didn’t think I’d ever feel relaxed about money when my ex-husband, who was the breadwinner and manager of our money for so long, moved out and I was on my own. But now, it gives me immense peace of mind knowing I can handle it all on my own, without help, and this is the relationship I need to have with money for the rest of my life.
I believe you should share a lot of things in a partnership. However, I will never share all of my money with someone. I will always have my own accounts and pay close attention to them, because this feels a hell of a lot more empowering than standing in the shower, wondering what I’m going to do next.