Coin of the Realm

heather grad smallMy daughter is in her twenties, which I recall as a tough decade. As she’s said, nobody warns you that being a grown-up is hard. Adulthood looms like a bedtime-less, three-desserts-a-day, self-determined wonderland of freedom, but the reality is harder and scarier than we can imagine… at least for a while.

money binSometimes, Beloved Offspring beats herself up for not being through with her education, other times, she beats herself up for not being entirely self-sufficient financially. In both cases, she faces a much steeper climb than I did–my education was nearly free, and minimum wage went a lot farther–but she can’t realize that. Something she said the other day reminded me of a notion raised in my divorce mediation training nearly twenty years ago.

Show-UpWe were talking about alimony, and the instructor made a disquieting point: The assumption in all cases of alimony is that financial self-sufficiency is the hall mark and sine qua non of adulthood. People who can’t “pay their way,” are to be scorned or pitied, and if they are disabled, well, there’s a good chance they’re freeloading–or so we might suspect.

keep-calm-and-work-hard-1269Our public policy bears out this thinking. Anybody receiving public assistance must not only prove they’re job hunting and put in volunteer hours, but they must accept offered employment and then turn their children over to strangers to care for. Those strangers are paid meager wages (because anybody can do child care?), but we favor employing two people at low wages, to allowing a parent to raise his or her children for even the first few years–doing much of the same work as the day care center–without any compensation at all.

Caring_for_our_elderly1This is one example, though I realize it’s not without complications. Nonetheless, the SNAP program has the lowest rate of fraud of any government program, and most families use it for less than nine months, so it’s not a bad example. Another example: In Australia, if you’re staying home to look after grandma, you get a subsidy for that. Here, you’re supposed to pay exorbitant amounts to strangers to do the same job, and generally do it far worse than you would.

We are conditioned to think if what we’re doing is uncompensated, it doesn’t matter, or at the very least, it’s not “adult Artist school little girl painting watercolors portraitwork.” This devalues care providers of all kinds, devalues creativity, devalues students, devalues retirees, and all the people whose gifts are creative and emotional rather than easily “employed.”

I know we need people to work outside the home, and to work in jobs that are unappealing. I’ve dipped ice cream, washed radioactive glassware, bussed tables, and so forth, but always with the assumption that those were stepping stones. When I got a “real” job, I’d be self-supporting.

realWe can’t all love our jobs all the time, but why isn’t love–which is at least as important to our wellbeing and sanity as food, clothing and shelter–valued as highly as coin? I consider a life without money, and that’s bearable. I’d need to barter, to keep good friends around, and to be a good friend.

But a life without love… you couldn’t pay me enough to tempt me to try that.

I can’t respond to comments as easily as I’d like to this week, but I do want to hear your thoughts on love, work, and money.

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19 comments on “Coin of the Realm

  1. Great post Grace! I so agree.

    I live in a very conservative mid-west state and there is very little help available to the working poor. And you wouldn’t believe the number of hoops they have to jump through to get that help.

    I’m often amazed at the amount of rage some have for “welfare cheats” and the lack of rage they have for Corporate or Wall Street cheats. We have cheats on every level of society. To use that as a justification for denying people the help they need to keep body and soul together is shameful.

    Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox.

    Happy to see you are having such a good time in Scotland. I’m not on Facebook nor do I want to be, but I do pull up your blog from time to time to read your Facebook posts there. Oh, and congratulations on those RITA award nominations.

    • I came a cross gal here in Scotland who was vociferous in her resentment of people who wouldn’t “get off their a$$es…” I pointed out to her that bad luck, poor health, minority status, etc. aren’t a matter of anybody being lazy.

      She was unconvinced. Meanwhile, she’d forgotten a charger for her camera, didn’t know how to get the tokens for the laundry, couldn’t get the cash machines to take her card…and the good folk around her all stepped forward to help.


  2. Great post.

    I am amazed at the number of people that I know who live paycheck to paycheck and have huge credit card bills. It truly boggles my mind. The spend money to keep their kids in sports, themselves in clothes and keeping up with the neighbors. What’s the value here?

    In contrast, I have several friends who work part time and care for their aging parents or grand child because they feel strongly that it’s the right thing to do. They live modestly and are happy I see the value in this type of lifestyle.

    My twenty something daughter worries about career choices, too. I have told her to look around and observe …and asked her if she thinks money makes you happy.

    My experience is that you need money to pay the mortgage, the tuition (yikes), put food on the table and kibble in the bowls…but it doesn’t bring you happiness, love does!

    Am loving the photos from Scotland and your Facebook posts.
    It’s almost like we are traveling along with you!

    Happy Easter!

    • AGREE. Some people sit on the wealth their parents gave them and use it to buy TWELVE Formula One racing cars, while one out of five children in the US wakes up to chronic poverty.

  3. Such a great topic,and timely for me- my cousin and her husband went to an East African country for christian missionary work- and then his mom had a massive stroke. They had to abandon their dream to come home and care for her.The sad thing is. there are other family members that could have stepped up to the plate, but didn’t. I truly wish that they could receive some sort of of compensation for all of the loving care that they have given!

    • Yes… when somebody has to give up a dream and fly halfway around the world to pick up the elder care slack, there should be support for them. Not simply a pat on the back, and “Gee, thanks!”

      Our population is aging, and I’m hoping this is one area we take a closer look at.

  4. Your comments about the *freeloader* disabled people struck a nerve. Many people don’t know what a truly disabled person has to do to get assistance or what the rules are for that assistance. There is often pity and scorn but just plain ignorance too. No one chooses to be disabled and on disability, but some think it’s a party for the lazy. Isn’t so.

    I have mentioned before my eldest son has autism. I may not have mentioned he’s in his 30s. In order for him to have any sort of health insurance, it must be Medicaid with hoops to jump through for him to keep it. In order for him to have assistance of any kind, he is not able to have a full time job or make over a certain amount of money or own property or have a bank balance over a certain figure. The services are in place for him and we follow those rules because when we are not able to care for him, he will need those things and we don’t want him to have to be on a waiting list (which sometimes is as long as ten years)when the time comes. Right now, he lives with us in our family home (and is required to pay us rent) and we are able to provide anything he needs but it is his future we are worried about.

    It always has confused me that someone getting assistance because of developmental disability is treated this way. He’s a hard worker…whether stuffing envelopes, stocking grocery store shelves, sweeping the floor or wiping down tables, he puts his all in it. With a job coach he is awesome! He wants to work, but it is not in his best interest to pursue any full time job, so we cobble together things for him to or to volunteer for so he is busy but not getting paid.

    Autism is a lifelong disability and if he is ever cured, it will be in the news, believe me! But we are expected to prove every so often he is still disabled. I can see in certain instances someone may improve and be able to get back in the job market but not with a developmental disability such as autism.

    • I’ve often wondered at this paradox: You have to wily, tenacious, articulate, and relentless to get disability, and the more disabled you are, the less likely it is you’ll be able to navigate the qualification system.

      Yes, there are cheaters and freeloaders, but as you say, there are a lot more people who simply don’t know how stingy and aggravating our disability system is.

  5. Well said, it’s really easy to forget that ‘work’ is a relative thing that we’ve somehow turned into a value judgement as opposed to an occupation or necessary activity…making money is working vs not making money is budging on them that do…..sighhh.
    Loving the travel tales and pics 🙂

    • Ask any new parent what’s harder: Getting up and down all night with that baby, for months, or sitting at a desk, developing spreadsheets, etc.

      There’s a paycheck, and then there’s the effort you put forth no matter what.

  6. Hmm… let’s see I could have gone into advertising or become a lawyer(sorry Grace) but neither appealed to me. I wasn’t interested in making a certain income. I wanted to do something I actually liked. My two main loves are books and food ( don’t tell my husband). I was in the food industry for a while, but that is hard work. I now deal with books and everyone is much happier. I don’t drive a fancy car or live in a fancy house, but I am happy. I took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference.

    • And how I WISH I could pull every six year old aside, and warn their older self: Very few people will warn you that listening to what makes you happy is more important than almost anything else. But watch Anne, listen to Sue. Don’t be fooled.

      Be happy.

  7. Caregivers of all sorts are horribly undervalued in society. When I got pregnant with my eldest (he’ll be 21 this summer), I earned more than my husband. However, we decided that one of us was going to stay at home with the kiddo. Since my husband wanted to become a manager and advance up the corporate ladder, he ‘drew the short straw’ and stayed in the workforce. We cut expenses drastically so that we didn’t go into debt with one wage earner.

    Fifteen or so years later, I went back to work full time, but didn’t go back into my previous career as a technical writer – in part because of the hours, in part because many of the people I interviewed with belittled my decade and a half as a mother and school volunteer. I was told flat out by one person that had he been the one choosing who to interview, a mom who valued her kids over her job would not have made his list. Sadly, buy the time I heard this I was used to the veiled comments and wasn’t surprised.

    I don’t regret staying home with the kids at all. We are lucky in that we were able to do well with one wage earner — not all families are able to do so.

    It sounds like you are having a wonderful time in Scotland, Grace!

    • Now that’s interesting. YOU made more money, but HE “got” to stay in the workforce. (Or you “got” to stay home.” I wonder if, twenty years on, you’d have made the same choice.

      In most Scandinavian countries, there’s about a year of paid family leave, and the rule is both parents MUST take some of it. I kinda like that.

      • I do like that Scandinavian law — for so many reasons: delaying daycare expenses if both parents will continue to work; more time bonding with the child for each parent; the opportunity for both parents to understand just how demanding full time child care can be. Those are just off the top of my head, I’m sure there are lots more.

        In all honesty, we would make the same decision. We are better off financially with him being the wage earner — he has more patience with ‘playing the corporate game’ and that helped him get the promotions he wanted. I have more patience with the kids and we were lucky that they’ve grown up as well as they have.

  8. I’ve worked with minority/low income kids my entire 34 years as an elementary teacher. If there’s one thing I’m convinced of—it’s that education is the key to solving so many problems. Sounds like a cliché, or a politicians’ rallying cry, but for me, it’s real.