The Money Trap

We get by.  Barely.  Well sometimes less than barely.  Between seven kids, choosing to work less so we can homeschool them, and working the type of jobs we do, we struggle.

Now, please don’t hear that as a complaint.  We have all we need.  And much of what we want.  I just mean that our budget is an accountant’s dream.  You end up back at zero pretty much all the time.

We all know that money is one of the things that couples often fight about.  It is the place where power, respect, selfishness, and our fears all meet.  That can be a dangerous mix.  But just because you have very little (or even a lot of) money doesn’t mean you have to let it be the place that sabotages your relationships.  Here are a few simple steps that might help.

  1. Try a cash system.  One of the frustrating money matters for many couples is the opening of the credit card bill.  That is when we discover that we WAY overshot the budget.  And now, because of interest and fees, we have even less for next month.  Instead, at the beginning of the month get your paycheck cashed, and put the money in envelopes labeled with how that money is supposed to be spent.  When the envelope runs out, that’s it.  Of course you have to resist the urge to grab the credit card.
  2. Focus on relationships. Worrying about money produces nothing good.  What if instead you focused your mental and emotional energies on the relationships that matter in your life?  This doesn’t mean avoiding unpleasant topics.  Rather, when you feel yourself beginning to worry, take the kids for a bike ride or go to the park and swing together.  Play with your infant on the living room floor.  Grab your spouse for an impromptu dance session.  You will rediscover that the things you care about the most are actually free.
  3. Set limits on money talk. Budgets and bills and credit cards and payments and salaries can dominate our conversations.  Try setting a limit.  Only talk about finances at set aside moments and for a finite amount of time.  Have a budget meeting, rather than sprinkling monetary concerns into every other conversation.  Financial worries and fiscal concerns will eat up however much time you give them.  So, only give them a little.
  4. Be thankful. This doesn’t mean simply seeing how much you actually have or comparing ourselves to those who have less.  Rather, look at all the ways our relationships bring us joy, help us mature, challenge our faith, and bring us peace.  When I am truly thankful I may begin by focusing on monetary blessings, but very quickly that is overwhelmed by the people who love me and care for me.  A deep session of thankfulness typically leaves us less concerned about stuff and more focused on people.

These are good ideas.  They will help.  But ultimately we have to make a decision about money in our relationships.  Money can be a difficult issue that we work on together.  Or, we can view our partner as the problem.  It is all about how they spend the money, their selfishness, their unwillingness to pitch in.  Just remember, once we view our partner as the opposing team, then we have to win.  And if we win in a war about money against our partner, our relationship loses.

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The D Word

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It may be the worst word in the English language.  Worse than any curse word.  Why?  Because it shreds our emotions and makes us horrible to be around.  The word?  Deserve.

Many of us feel guilty, unworthy.  When bad things happen, we feel like we are getting what we deserve.  Which only makes us feel terrible about ourselves and absolutely no fun to be around.

On the other hand, some of us think we deserve better.  When things go wrong, or the world doesn’t work the way we think it should; we feel let down, abused and mistreated.  Which of course makes us gripey, whiney, and self-righteous.  Even worse to be around than those guilty schmucks.

You see, when we use the word deserve, it typically leads to misery.  Both ours and others.

This is especially true in relationships.  Lots of us feel, deep down inside, that when things don’t work in our relationships that is just us getting what we deserve.  We are not worth being treated well.  So, we give off a vibe that says “spit on me, I won’t mind”.

Others of us feel that we deserve to be made happy by our relationships.  So when someone lets us down, whether they meant to or not, we mount our high horse and scream about how unfair life is and how we deserve better.  (By the way, neither of these positions makes anyone actually want to love you.)

On the other hand, people who find fulfillment in their relationships don’t think about what they deserve.  Instead, they focus on what they can give.  They look at what they can do to improve themselves.  How can I be a better listener?  What can I do to be more welcoming?  Where can I best use my talents to help others?  Those finding fulfillment in relationships drop the “de” from deserve.

It sounds simple, and it truly is.  It is just difficult to do.  Stop looking at what you should get, and focus on what you can give.  Don’t focus on what you deserve; focus on how you can serve.

If you want to be unhappy, if you desire to be miserable, just spend the next hour or so thinking about what you deserve.  You will either feel totally guilty or completely uncared for.  Now doesn’t that feel good?!

But if you want to be happy, if you desire some joy in your life, then drop deserve from your vocabulary.

Slightly Stressed

 

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A little honesty today. I have seven children (that’s not the honesty part). Most of the time I am really glad I do. They bring joy, fun, and many opportunities for growth in my life. But every once in a while it is overwhelming. It has been almost fifteen years since nobody in our house needed a diaper change. A trip to the grocery store obliterates the budget. The other day I was in Wal-Mart. Just getting a couple of little things. Had my three-year old and ten month old with me. Suddenly, I had an urgent need to use the restroom. What do you do? Yes, I sat on a toilet while holding a ten month old and trying to keep an eye on a three-year old. When I walked out of the stall carrying a baby with my pants still down (underwear was up!) the employee at the sink looked at me like I was Ted Bundy.

What I am saying is this: it is very easy to be overrun, overwhelmed and just want it over. I desperately need reminders of why I am doing this, and the beauty of what I am doing. So here are a few tips to help us all get through the days when it seems like too much.

Hug every kid. When it feels overwhelming just stop. Stop trying. Stop talking. And just walk around and give everyone a hug. Then see where you are.

Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. Find something to be thankful for. That dollar you found in the dryer. The friend who unexpectedly called to just say hello. The child who didn’t do what you wanted, but instead colored a picture for you. Say “thank you” out loud.

Notice the good in everything. Our one-year-old likes to scream. Don’t know why. Don’t think there is a reason. But he likes to hit you out of nowhere with a Roger Daltry level yell. It will make your ears bleed. And, he does it in the middle of the night. Yes, a scream combined with still waking up several times a night. So what could possibly be the good I see here? Nothing. Just kidding. The good is hard to see. But if you have ever been at the birth of a child, then you know that the sound of their first cry/scream is actually joy to your ears. It means they are breathing, healthy, alive. My son’s screams leave no doubt he is alive and healthy. I am so glad he is.

Do less. I know that seems counter-intuitive. When we are behind and stressed our tendency is to work harder and try to “get it all done.” Oh, we are a bunch of Martha’s. Sometimes what is most needed is to stop, sit down, and let the world fly by for a minute. Watch your son play with his Hot Wheels. Listen to your daughter tell her silly story. I know, the dishes need to be washed. But is that what is most needed? Is that what you will remember in twenty years? That you got all the chores done? So many times we say that we need to get stuff done so we can do what we really want or what really matters. Why not do what really matters first? Has anyone ever, in the history of the world, said that their biggest regret in life was that they played with their child instead of doing the laundry?

The point is, don’t let everything that needs to be done overwhelm your reason for doing it. You vacuum because you love your family (right?). But if the need to get the vacuuming done makes you stressed and irritable, that’s not loving. I don’t want a dirty rug, but what’s it worth?