These are the questions at the heart of this newsletter. Four parents at different stages of the parenting journey recently worked with these questions in writing and now offer their responses to you. I hope these pieces will spark reflection on your relationship with children and money. Here are some ways you might do that:
- Describe a grace/breakthrough moment in your journey with money and children.
- Write a letter to your children explaining your values, what you have done with money and why
- Invite your children to share what they have learned about money from you.
- What are the money messages that you received from your family? Which do you want to pass on? Which do you want to shift? Why?
- What do you want to teach future generations (even beyond your children) about money
What is the money for?
The author of this piece prefers to remain anonymous. Names and some geographic details have been changed.
My father’s family owns and runs a family business founded in Europe in 1541. Its business was textile manufacturing until the 1970s/80s, when the manufacturing closed and the company turned to property and investments. My mother’s family were brewers and whiskey distillers. My childhood was privileged. We lived in a large house and my sister and I went to private boarding schools for our secondary education, but our lifestyle was not lavish.
My married life with my husband, Robert, was supplemented by regular checks from my distiller grandfather, although at the time my husband was well paid as a TV reporter. When my mother died in 2002, her life insurance meant that Robert could study for a doctorate in theology and I could work for a very low wage. We had connected with Harvest Time early in our marriage, and gave two friends, also studying theology, substantial gifts so they could complete their studies.
But when my father died in 2004, Robert and I inherited half of my parents’ estate. Robert and I prayed about what this money was for. We had an adventure trying to give my childhood home to a group of enclosed Benedictine nuns for a new convent, but in the end the nuns bought some land to build a convent from scratch and we sold my parents’ house on the open market.
In 2005, after as much prayer as we were mature enough to pray, Robert and I moved with ten-week old baby Juliet for Robert to teach moral theology at a Catholic university. We were able to buy a house in a walkable, green and affluent neighborhood and I was able to stay home with Juliet because we were not dependent on Robert’s meager salary as a professor. The move, leaving my job, becoming a mother with no parents around made the transition very hard. Robert’s job as a professor didn’t seem worth it. We trusted the prayers we had prayed but we wondered why we were in this new place. We also still wondered what the money was for.
Then, just after Clare was born, Juliet was diagnosed with a brain injury at the age of three. Coincidentally, or we believe providentially, the principal of the school where Juliet had just started preschool had once worked with children with all sorts of brain injuries. The organization where he had worked was in walking distance from our house. We researched and researched and prayed and prayed. After Robert and I attended the seminar for parents at this organization, we decided to start their intensive therapeutic program with Juliet. We could even contemplate this dramatic change to our lives because of the money I had inherited.
At the same time, Robert was not feeling deeply called to be a professor. He felt that the parish, not the university, was where the real action needed to be. Before becoming a Catholic in 2005, he had thought about getting ordained as a priest. Then, the priest who had received him into the Catholic church, had encouraged him to consider becoming a deacon. The idea of becoming a deacon seemed to encompass his passion for the life of the mind and the ordinariness of the parish.
God seemed to be showing us why we had moved (for the therapy offered so close by) and what the money was for, for now (to quit the job as a professor, do the therapy with Juliet and train to become a deacon). We had been a ‘normal’ family, dad working, mom raising two kids at home. But now we felt God was calling us quite clearly to become a rather abnormal family and this meant coming out of the closet as rich people, to a certain extent, since at least some friends and neighbors would start to speculate and ask questions about how we supported ourselves without an obvious steady job.
God did not lead us with pillars of cloud and fire. We listened to our restless hearts, asking again and again ‘What are we doing here?’ We knew it was a real question. We trusted our prayers and discernment. We trusted that God had led us to our new home for a reason and that he would show us why. We spent six months researching treatment for brain injuries and praying for guidance. We walked to the five-day parent seminar for kids with brain injuries praying the rosary daily. We both felt at peace with changing our lives to accommodate a therapeutic regime. Once Robert quit his job, we realized there was now time for the deacon training. We stopped asking why we were here and what the money was for.
This new way of life has been our life for the last four years. Some shifts have happened. Theresa was born. Robert does make a little money now, writing freelance. God willing, he will be ordained as a deacon in 2017.
The answers we found to the questions, ‘why are we here’ and ‘what is our money for’, have not been permanently answered. Those questions will come up again. But for now, we have been given the grace to respond to what we believe is God’s call on us.
By Rose Feerick
My dear beloved sons,
You are receiving an incredible gift.
The gift is of money. And it is more than that. It is also a gift of spirit. As I hope you have learned by now, money communicates a certain spirit. Some-times that spirit is clutching, tight, fearful, or greedy. Sometimes it is opened wide and filled with love – like your eyes when you are making music or playing on the beach. Often there is a little bit of both. The primary intention that I hope you can feel comes with this gift of money is love – for you and for the world you live in. As I invite you to join me in stewarding this gift, I want you to understand a bit about its history.
When you were little, your grandparents put aside a small amount of money for each of you. This money was meant to be a seed that would grow into a larger amount that could help with the expenses of a college education. As such, it was an expression of your grandparents’ love and care for you.
As you know, your grandparents both have a deep generosity at the heart of who they are. Since you are now receiving an expression of that, I want you to understand the roots of their commitment to sharing.
Your grandfather grew up as the eldest son of Irish immigrants. His family placed a high value on caring for other members of the family. If one member was able to be financially successful – as Grandad was – it was understood that he had a moral obligation to share with those who were in need within the family, within the community, and within the world. Your grandfather has taken these obligations seriously and has done his best to share the resources he has had access to widely, especially with the church and the private Catholic institutions that educated him.
Your grandmother was also the descendent of Irish immigrants. Her father’s mother grew up in Donegal. Her mother’s mother in County Cork. Nana’s paternal grandfather descended from a family that may have been in the US as early as the Mayflower. Her maternal grandfather was Swiss. Nana’s parents lived through the Great Depression and experienced much of the financial hardship of that time. Out of that experience her family came to value thrift and saving. Nana also grew up on land that was her grandfather’s farm, part of which makes up the great lawn of the house where we gather for family reunions each summer. Nana’s family was not wealthy when she was growing up – but they had enough.
They were also devout Catholics. For Nana, being Christian meant that she had a responsibility to care for people who were struggling financially. She has always done that in ways that were full of heart. I remember well the Thanksgiving Food Drives at our school. Nana never sent us in with one or two cans. Our family showed up with a station wagon full of groceries!
The savings that your grandparents set aside for you are an expression of their generosity that was formed by their families and religious faith.
In addition to the money saved by your grandparents, a friend of mine with whom I was in community also set aside some money for your college education. At the time, our family was in the divorce transition and it was not clear how things would land financially. Taking seriously the role of community in caring for children, she decided to put aside a small amount of money each month that she imagined might someday cover the cost of college books. She invested that money with a community development credit union.
A few years later, when our family was in a better place, she and I decided to share that money with a child whose family did not have access to any financial resources. Even though those funds are no longer in your college savings, I want you to know about what she did. First, I want you to see how you have been held and cared for by spiritual community. My friend’s support — along with others in that community — provided a very real web that allowed our family to move through a difficult time. Second, her passion for community development financial institutions inspired me to learn more about them. A good portion of your savings is still invested at the credit union into which she deposited money for you.
I have also saved some money for your education from my income so I want to share a bit about how I look at money.
Though I grew up with the privileges that come with the culture of wealth (education, health care, vacations, security), from the time I was a young child I have been aware that not everyone has those privileges. That has always struck me as unfair. As a young adult, I worked with people who are economically poor in this country. I also traveled to Haiti to try to understand what was happening globally. Those experiences led me to see that there is something very wrong with the economic system in which we live. The fact that some people struggle to survive while others have far more than enough is a painful reality that is hard for my heart to hold.
Later, I came to see that the economic system with its dependence on consumption and extraction of natural resources is causing great harm to the earth. That is, I believe that in addition to harming millions of people, the system is not sustainable.
I have thus made it my life’s work to try to figure out how to find a different way with money, starting with myself. One way I have done that is by choosing to live relatively simply and to turn down opportunities to pursue a high paying career in order to work for non-profit organizations. I also chose to give away much of the money that I received as a young adult.
In the course of trying to live my way into a relationship with money that felt in alignment with my faith, I had a powerful experience of the love that is at the core of everything. This love of God – as far as I can tell – is trying to turn things around in this world. I try to participate in that turning through my financial choices. I seek to spend, give, and invest money in ways that participate in what I believe God is doing in the world. I do not do that perfectly, but whenever I do find that alignment, I feel that something holy happens. Money becomes sacrament.
Thanks to the work of many financial visionaries, there is now an entire movement in the financial world to create investment vehicles that are helping to seed economic models that make sure that everyone has enough and that honor the earth. In recent years, I have been trying to move money into these kinds of investments. This brings me great joy.
It is now time for you to join me in this work. Though you legally cannot manage the savings that your grandparents and I have put aside for you, I want to invite you into the conversation about how to invest your college savings. My hope is to weave together your grandparents’ caring and generosity; my friend’s example of investing in ways that care for all children; my belief in the power of aligning money and faith; and your own vision and values. I also hope that this process might help you to learn about how money works, our family’s values, and inspire you to find ways that money can be a gift to and through you. I am excited to be in this process with you!
Juicy, Creative Flow
By Nancy Thurston
In 2001, Howard and I wrote a letter to our children about our financial legacy and hopes for them. Don McClanen titled it our “Love Letter” and circulated it among people connected to Harvest Time at that time.
Writing this letter to our children, then 19 and 15, helped Howard and I clarify our values about how we wanted to work with the family financial inheritance that came to me after the death of my father in 2001.
Several things were clear. We wanted money to flow, countering the tendency for money to get dammed up into the accounts of a few in the midst of an unjust world. We knew that all children, all of future generations, were our true heirs, not just our two children. Though we are committed to a simple lifestyle, we knew we weren’t giving all or most of our money away. And we were clear that we wanted the bulk of our gifting to our children to occur during our lifetimes, not at our death. But the details were a mystery.
We’ve lived into part of that answer in the intervening 12 years. During that time both graduated from college and are employed. Both have had periods of struggling to cover all of their bills with their income.
Currently, although the financial situation of our oldest has stabilized, our youngest is a caregiver at an assisted living facility, a job she loves and one that does enormous good. And one that pays just a few dollars over minimum wage—inadequate for basic expenses for her family of two.
As Howard and I have sat with the situations of our adult children, we have come upon two ways to support them financially that are aligned with our values. One way is by offering a limited annual exclusion gift. That helps pay for health insurance and housing. A family financial legacy has always been part of Howard’s and my income too, but it was needed only for savings and extras.
Our daughter is aware that receiving financial support sets her apart from her co-workers. She said, “I don’t want to rely on family to pay my bills, but it is the only way I can get by. Being an adult, I want to be completely independent but that isn’t really realistic, given how the job market is right now.”
Our juiciest arrangement, however, emerged a few years ago when Howard and I were trying to figure out how to help our adult children pay for extra costs or debts. We decided to make an offer that they earn this money by doing work that nurtures their creativity, health, vitality or their connection to the greater community. This arrangement continues.
The work options offered are varied. Do some form of creativity you love. Read books that support your own mental, physical, financial, emotional growth. Volunteer in the community. Engage in things that support your body such as healthy cooking, walking, or exercise. Help out neighbors near and far away.
This arrangement is fully in line with Howard’s and my commitment to support local businesses and individuals doing the work of their hearts and results in gift given to all of us involved.
I wish all who are underpaid, unemployed or underemployed could earn money by doing things that serve the greater community and their own development. For now, however, using family resources to support our grown children in such a juicy, creative manner is a first step.
Nancy’s recent memoir, Big Topics at Midnight: A Texas Girl Wakes up to Race, Gender, Power and Herself, contains an extensive discussion of her relationship with money and her children. To purchase or learn more about Big Topics at Midnight, visit www.nancymthurston.com. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book is given to Harvest Time.
Money and Nothing
By Steven C. Bonsey
I hope that Elisabeth and I have helped our children to learn about spending money wisely and using it as a means of doing good, but it was my son Sam whose work taught me about the limits of money’s power and the riches beyond.
Money is wonderfully useful for flying to East Africa, and our family has done a lot of that in recent years.
With the help of an airline ticket many years ago Elisabeth found her way to a schoolroom in Kakamega, where she fell in love with Kenya and its people. Later other tickets helped her to introduce me to lovely, inspired folks doing sacrificial work in faith-based projects in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. We became involved together in a variety of modest partner-ships in health care, reconciliation and youth empowerment. We struggled with the challenges of working with money across boundaries of culture. We saw the good that it could do and the harm.
Sam, meanwhile, used a ticket to get to know some farmers in Korogwe, Tanzania and to hear their ideas of how shared knowledge of new agricultural practices and cooperation in transporting their produce to market could yield greater prosperity for their families.
With an able American partner Sam formed an organization, 2Seeds.org, to bring bright young college graduates into villages to work with local leaders to bring their own resources to bear upon the challenges facing their communities. The ‘project coordinators’ would bring their energy, curiosity and enthusiasm; they would bring no answers, no expertise and no money.
Two years ago I had the chance to visit some 2Seeds projects with Sam. I came from an Amahoro Gathering in Mombasa, a conference of emerging African church leaders. I helped to finance the conference. While there I had conversations with two gifted leaders whose work I helped to fund, and with a few other exceptional leaders who were interested in discussing a partnership with me.
After a long bus ride across the border, I was relieved to put myself in my son’s hands, to let him negotiate the fare for the matatu and buy the snacks in the marketplace. I was happy to lay aside the role in which I so often found myself in my African travels, a role which at the best times filled me with awe and gratitude and which at its worst made me feel like a walking ATM with a large target painted on.
Sam and I visited a primary school where once there had been no money for school lunches but where there had been land sitting idle. Now students and teachers tended gardens of peppers and melons, which were sold in the market to buy maize and beans for the midday meal.
We visited another school where a classroom was used to teach permaculture to adults. At first the participants had grumbled when they received no per diem payments for their attendance, as was the custom when other western NGO’s came to town. A single elder had supported 2Seeds in insisting that attendance should be motivated by the desire to learn. As a result their training was unusually effective. Remarkably, some participants actually practiced what they learned once the trainers left town.
More than once the 2Seeds philosophy has been sorely tested. In the year after my visit Kwakiliga, the poorest and driest of the villages, and the community closest to Sam’s heart, suffered a long and terrible drought. The most advanced of the new agricultural techniques could yield nothing without rain. Sam saw the proud elders have nothing to feed their children. Should he raise money to buy them food, to bring some relief?
My heart went out to him as for months he and his partner project coordinator struggled with this question and, in a small but real way, suffered with their friends. At last they were able to identify from a Brazilian source a means of using appropriate technology to raise chickens even in drought conditions. They worked hand in hand with their friends to construct the first chicken shack. The project was a success and the sense of victory — even for me, at a distance — was great.
One afternoon during my visit with Sam, we stopped at a hut for tea. I was introduced to the elderly couple who lived there as ‘baba Sam,’ Sam’s father.
I sat in a chair by the door while the conversation carried on in Swahili. I remember thinking: I am no one here — I know nothing, not even where I am. I have nothing to offer here. I would be lost apart from the hospitality of these good people. The thought left me oddly peaceful.
The old gentleman of the house sat next to me. Every so often he would turn and bow toward me with a smile and say, “Karibu, baba Sam. Karibu sana.” Welcome, father of Sam; you are most welcome.
“Asante,” I would respond. “Asante sana.” Thank you. Thank you very much.
I felt the warmth of his greeting sink in. It seemed to feed my soul.