This post is part of the February “Coffee Talk”, sponsored by Sandy at firstgenamerican.com. A variety of people will be posting what their tax returns say about them. Check it out!
Filing our taxes last year marked the end of a long financial saga winding up my mother’s complicated estate. It had taken years to get the last details ironed out, and by then, the general emotional loss has been well tucked in to a corner of my heart. But when we got to deduct those final settlement fees (that lowered our taxes, thank you, thank you!) I felt like the last string had been cut. To put it bluntly, it was the symbolic end of the Mom Safety Net. Even though it had become was as ineffective as a faded blanky, its disappearance made a difference.
This a loaded topic. Some relatives recently has a spat over who bears more financial responsibility when children are adult. Is it the grown kids’ job to step in to aid the older parents, or the older parents job to step in and help the adult kids with the grandchildren? Of course, there are hardnosed practicalities that dictate how these responsibilities are played out, but I’ve learned that outside of specific situations, different families have different core expectations. In my mother’s family, it was that the oldest generation stays financially involved with the younger ones. In my father’s, the grown kids stepped in for the aging parents. And those expectations also differed with sons and daughters.
In my case, with my mother (then divorced from my father), the flow of money flowed in one direction: from her to me. The flow of love, visits, emotional support and short-term physical assistance certainly went two ways, but financially, I just noodled along as a young adult. I worked and lived on very little so I could travel. I made ends meets, paid my purposely-tiny rent, didn’t incur debt, and thought only vaguely about long-term stability because I knew she’d help out if I messed up.
I certainly didn’t get a free ride, but she helped with the fun stuff I couldn’t afford on my own, both relatively minor — my first couch — and extremely major — assistance on the down payment for my first house.
Now I’m now the “top” generation. It’s up to me to make wise decisions for the remainder of my life and for the next generation. And perhaps it’s my obligation to offer my kids the same largesse. Which means I’d better tackle head-on my feelings/fear/inhibitions about money. And I have plenty — of fears, that is.
I wouldn’t say my mom’s flow of money in my direction was unhealthy or disabling — she certainly tried to avoid this. But one way or another, I didn’t tackle the more practical side of life until the last 15 years or so. By that I mean how to pair desires more concretely with paying for them, while also holding down a mortgage, paying tuition, health care, heating bills – all those irritating life realities that bossily nudge themselves to the head of the budget line, often knocking the fun stuff right off the list.
So if the last 15 years were my training ground for grappling with these issues, the tax return was like graduating and being sent out into the world – I’m on my own. Whatever I do or don’t do with the assets on my plate is my responsibility.
I’ve had 10 years to grieve her passing, but this last step has the vertiginous feeling of standing at a cliff’s edge. It’s a whole new level of growing up and I’ve got lots of self-doubt. But one thing being over 50 has taughtme is that while self-doubt certainly gets in the way, it ultimately doesn’t mean anything in terms of what one can achieve.
So feel free to remind me of this at any time, ok?