When parents just don’t understand

Immigrant parents have a reputation that precede them and Mr r&R’s mother is no exception. If you’re ever given the opportunity to meet her, you’ll be struck by her youthful glow, warmth and genuine interest in how you’re connected to her only son.  What might feel like an interrogation is really just her getting to know you.  If you pass, you may also be gifted a Ziploc bag of tomatoes from her garden and a free history lesson about real life in Jamaica—not the $hit you see on TV and Instagram.

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Through her sorta-thick patois accent, she may also share stories of her experience raising Mr. r&R as a single Mom in Brooklyn, NYC during the 80’s. It’s a story of survival and having faith that everything will work out in time if you maintain your belief in God.  But as someone who was a co-star to this experience, Mr. r&R’s recollection of his upbringing doesn’t seem to conjure up as many feel-good moments as his Mom’s PG version.  In his rated MA version, “the struggle” plays a pivotal and leading role in the narrative.  While we didn’t know it then, the 80s in NY would come to be known as the crack era.  Need we say more?

Looking back, it’s clear that Mr. r&R’s Mom was particularly skilled at getting by.  They never experienced eviction, never succumbed to drug or alcohol abuse, always had a roof over their heads and food on the table.  Even when she moved down to Atlanta after the Olympics, though the turntables wobbled, they never fell down.  Fast forward twenty years later and Mr. r&R has adopted and improved upon his mother’s survival tactics, graduated from college, got married, became a father and is pacing towards an early retirement in his 40’s.  But while Mr. r&R has slowly chipped away at explaining our intentions over the years, it’s still clear that she doesn’t fully understand what the hell we’re doing and why.

When we explain our challenges at work to her, she is eager to chime in and convey her similar experiences when she was working.  However, she’s unfamiliar with the degree of stress and complexity that we bear because she never held roles with such high accountability.  Likewise, she’s never earned as much as we do and is unfamiliar with the responsibility that comes with actively managing a complex set of accounts, investments, property, cash inflows and outflows.  To make matters more complicated, she’s never been married, so she’s also unfamiliar with how to do all of the above as a team. We believe her natural inclination is to assume that it’s simply easier for us to do everything because there are two of us. While that is true to a degree, it doesn’t fully acknowledge the complexity of our lives.  In short, everything ain’t easy, even if we make it look like it is.

If you are the first [and/or only] one to go to college in your family then you are likely to deal with some or even more of these issues.  Likely, while you are glad that you made progress for yourself and your family, you are also fatigued from having to lift others up while your climbing.  This extra weight can manifest itself in many ways like paying rent or mortgages, sending money to help those in need, picking up the tab for outings and celebrations, serving as the repairman, taxi driver, trip planner, tech support etc.  Unless your cup runneth over, this support can take it’s toll over time and can be problematic if you are enabling bad habits or ignoring your own needs.

A few weeks ago in Charlotte NC, a young lady approached us after a National Association of Black Accountants panel discussion and expressed concerns about her parents being on the same financialpage as her. Because of her, we’re peeling back a few layers of this onion based on our experience.  Basically, it boils down to “how do I talk to my parents about money” or “how do I get my parents to be on the same page as me”?   There is no secret sauce here but below are three tactics we think may help.

1. Humble yo a$$

Just because you took a class, workshop, watched a documentary, read a few books and opened an account does not make you a financial expert.  Your parents still remember when you wanted to be a ballerina, astronaut, athlete, actor and engineer over the course of a summer so they’re completely entitled to think “this too shall pass”.  Though you may be serious this time it is just as likely that at some point down the line you revert to your old ways.  It’s also likely that your parents have significantly more friends and family members reinforcing their own beliefs about how to spend their time and money so be mindful that you’re just one voice at a particular point in time wanting them to think and act differently.  In our case, Mrs. r&R’s father has a photogenic memory of the bailouts he’s provided her.  As a result, it’s taking him some time to understand who his daughter has become.2. Start small and make it count

Instead of sitting your parents down and dumping your entire life-changing worldview on them, take it in bite size pieces. Be sure to make that little niblet count though.  Otherwise, it’ll go in one ear and out the other. For example, while at the dinner table a few years ago we decided to share that our rent had gone up considerably for our rental property netting us a nice little bump in passive income. That little mention led to a full on conversation about real estate investing and our experience with it.  Today, we now get questions like “how’s the rental?”“did you fill the vacancy?” or “do you have plans on getting another one”?  We’ve also strategically planned drive-by’s of the rental property if we know we have one of the parents in the car.  This makes it REAL for them and also gives them something else to brag about to their old church friends.  The key is to start with a trickle of mentions that turn into lessons, which grow into habits that ultimately shape their new perception of you.

3. Know your history

Your parents are not just your parents; they are hard working adults and children of a particular day and age.  It’s important that you know more about what social norms were when they were your age because those are the times that shaped their thinking. It matters less that your parents don’t understand new technology if you don’t understand the times that created the need for it.  For us, we have to remind ourselves of where Mrs. r&R’s mother come’s from, how she was raised and how the sum of her life experience shaped her point-of-view about money.  She’s one of nine children raised in a Baptist household from a small TX town, she’s among the first generation of colored people to go to desegregated schools and was raised to find honor in hard work given women weren’t always granted an opportunity to do so.  Yet even if you’re an expert on all things, your ability to navigate these conversation with facts may not matter because the counterpoints and emotions have been deeply ingrained over decades.


The point is…all is not lost.  There will be awkward silences, arguments, progress will be made and regressions will occur.  Take the good with the bad but overall, just enjoy them while they’re here.

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5 comments

  1. Dear Mr. & Mrs. Rich and Regular,

    Thank you for posting about the difficulties that younger people have when discussing finances with their parents. It is often strange to impart financial knowledge to parents, as they are the ones that have many more years of life experience and managed to raise a family based on their current knowledge. I like tip #2 “Start small and make it count.” I will try this method and see where it gets me.

    Thanks again!

    • Thank you and good luck Honest Accountant. If you learn a 4th and 5th tip, please share. I think we ALL could use the help 😉

    • Been there. Don’t have all the answers yet but something tells us that avoiding the conversation altogether is NOT the way to go. Estate planning, for instance, requires conversation.

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