A few days ago, I did something I swore to myself I would never do. I took money from one of my children.
When I was little, my sisters and I each had a silver barrel piggy bank. Every Christmas and birthday, we would usually get one or two crisp new dollar bills from an aunt, and at other times a few quarters here and there from the Tooth Fairy. We would carefully "hide" our money away in our piggy banks, perched on top of the old piano by the furnace grate. I say "hide" because the money was not truly hidden, and everyone knew where to find our piggy banks. Each time we got something to add to it, we would clean it out and count our loot, carefully stacking the bills and organizing the coins before putting it all back.
Our family was not well off. By today's standards, we were probably lower class, not even scraping the bottom of lower-middle-class. My dad worked hard, driving a rig for Pennzoil and my mom alternated between staying at home with us, when they could afford it, and working when they couldn't, running a fabric store and later as a secretary in a real estate office.
We lived on a farm and grew vegetables all summer to eat in the winter and while we never lacked for the necessities of life, there were quite a few things that we wanted, but never got. (I still wonder what Santa did with that Barbie's Dream House that was on my list for years.). In my mind, the money in my piggy bank was mine, to do with what I wanted. I don't remember anything specific now, but I'm sure at the time I had grand plans for how that money would be spent.
Such dreams went put the window in the cold light of reality, as dreams sometimes do. I distinctly remember one night at home, when Dad asked where our piggy banks were. (A rhetorical question, we were sure, since they were in plain sight where they had always been.). His response to our reply was to ask that we bring them to him. Several minutes later he had taken a few dollars from each of us and returned the banks to their spots. Several minutes after that, he left to go to the store.
The details of what else was said in response to our protests or mom's reaction are lost to time. I do remember how, at first, we thought he was joking, only to realize he was not when he left the house and our money was not returned. I vaguely recall being told that the money was needed to buy milk and bread, and only now wonder if he used it to buy cigarettes as well. There is certainly no way to know. But I distinctly remember how I felt when he took that money, and I remember telling myself that I would never do the same thing to my own kids.
As I sit here now, an adult with children of my own and responsibilities, I certainly understand the pressures of parenthood. I can appreciate the worry when the bills come and add up to more than the last paycheck. I appreciate it even more now that I own my own business and have to pay everyone else first. What if there just isn't enough to go around? What do you do?
The girls have savings accounts, both with some money given to them for birthdays and holidays. I only half jokingly tell them that they have more money in the bank than I do. They don't really have a concept that it is there, or how much there is, and it has always generally been an unspoken agreement between Rob and I that their money would be theirs for a car or college or something they wanted when they got older. That money has always been figuratively untouchable. I don't consider it when I look at our balances and I never thought I would consider it when it came time to pay bills. Until Monday.
I mentioned before, one of the struggles of owing your own business is paying everyone else first. This becomes more of a struggle when your clients don't pay you in a timely way and you end up juggling your business responsibilities and your personal ones. This time, with no way to avoid either, I made a tough decision to dip into the untouchable well.
I still cringe when I think of it, but at the same time, I do not think there is anything "wrong" in what I did. I used some of one of the girls' money to pay a bill. I did not use it to buy clothes or go out for drinks or dinner. I used it to pay a bill that was going past due and had no other way. Part of me thinks "there is always another way." At the same time, the defensive part of me thinks that I have purchased so much for them over the years -books, toys, trips to Disneyland and everywhere else- that are "extras", that this washes out in the end. I can't decide which side I ultimately fall on, especially since I know how it feels and swore I'd never do that.
One slight difference between my piggy bank story and this one - my dad took the cash from my bank, right in front of me. I borrowed money from my child without her knowing it. It doesn't change the basic event, but I think it does make a difference in how it is perceived. She has money -cash- in her wallet. I think if I had taken that, particularly while she was looking, it would have been more difficult. Is it easier on me because she likely will never know it is gone?
I am hopeful that when my clients pay me what is owed, I can pay the rest of this months' bills and pay back the money we borrowed from the kids. I am also hopeful that monthly cash flow rights itself well enough that I won't have to struggle with this dilemma again. It seems strange and slightly odd to me that I would have to borrow money from my child. Then again, when you consider all of the things I have bought for them "just because" (aside from food, clothes and a roof over their heads), maybe a little "give and take" in that department isn't so strange after all.
But that doesn't mean I don't still feel guilty.