In this weekly feature I answer your personal finance questions.
Dear Emma, WTF?!
My family lives in an affluent suburb outside of a major city. You know the scene: crazy property taxes, excellent schools, snotty moms and fancy cars. That was our life, and even though my husband and I split four years ago, it still looks roughly the same — except now I’m barely making it financially. We decided that it was important to stay in the house for the sake of continuity, especially keeping the kids in their schools.
Even though my son and daughter were just 5 and 6 at the time of the divorce, they were very aware that most families did not look like ours, and as they get older, I sense an increased sense of shame that we are a “broken family.” Meanwhile, each year that my kids get older, our income — which is far below most people we know — becomes a bigger deal. For example, my son who is 11, is really embarrassed that he can’t join his friends at sleep-away camp this summer, but we really just can’t afford it. And my daughter was devastated that she can no longer go to gymnastics with her girlfriends three days a week after school, and she recently said those girls now snub her at school.
I feel like we’re all making these sacrifices to stay in our community, home and schools – but at what price?
Sobbing in Suburbia
There are two types of mothers: Those who love their kids, and those who do not. Kidding!
But there really are three types:
There are mothers who scramble and sacrifice to make sure their children fit in and have every socially-expected advantage all throughout their childhoods, and then welcome them into their basements after college until they get married, and then go into debt to pay for a ridiculous wedding at the Sheraton.
And then there are mothers who believe that experience makes you a better person, expects her children to embrace their tough luck and makes up for all their hardship with a hearty sense of humor and lots of hugs.
And the third type is where I fall: Somewhere in between. Who the hell am I kidding? I’m totally a Type 2.
Only you can decide whether it is worth staying put, or relocating to a community where you may fit in better, economically. Here are some things to consider:
1. One thing you did not mention in your message is where you fit into this equation. Do you like your community? Do you have friends, neighbors, relative from whom you pull support, friendship and companionship? What do you stand to loose should you move away – even a couple of towns over?
2. How much do you value community? Is it important to you as a person to feel connected to people around you — or are you more of a loner content to roll your eyes at everyone around you? With which attitude do you raise your children?
3. What is more important to you as a parent: A child’s academic education, or social development?
4. Are you dating? It sounds like it would be a nightmare to meet cool dudes in that town! Do you care?
5. Do you value all the material things that seem to be getting your kids down? Are you at peace with your marital situation? If you are discontent, it will be difficult for your children to come to terms with their reality.
6. Do you have the inner strength to guide your children through the rest of their childhoods in this situation? It takes a certain confidence and inner resources to find ways to fit in and feel connected when all outward pressures suggest that is an impossibility. You all can be happy – but the source of that light must come from you. Do you have what it takes?