A while ago we went to a used bookstore with all the kids. My son (then age 6) was looking at some Calvin & Hobbes collections and I went down a different aisle with my youngest daughter. We wandered around the store together for a bit and then made our way back to where I thought my son would be. We found him barely holding back tears and scared. He thought we had left the store without him. He was obviously and understandably upset. But why is my son’s response to feeling left behind so intuitively obvious?
The Fundamental Question
John Bowlby, a pioneer of the attachment theory of development, studied young children interacting with their mothers. He found that children who had strong bonds with their mothers often had many advantages over their less fortunate peers throughout life. These children seemed more confident, had less social anxiety, and so on. Bowlby posited that it was the continuous feedback loop of the child reaching out for support and finding it as a child that cultivated a life of confidence.
In the 1990s, researchers began asking whether attachment theory could also predict the health of adult relationships. Did the same give and take — where one person reaches out for support and either finds it or does not — matter to grown ups? They found that, indeed, the best partnerships are built on continually deepening calls for support that are answered.
Adult relationships, like those between a mother and child, all hinge on the answer to a fundamental question being asked from one person to the other: Are you there for me? When the answer is an easy yes, the relationship strengthens — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But when the answer is no (as it was for my son for a brief while) the relationship strains.
Learning about attachment theory and the fundamental question that it shines a light on got me thinking. Could that same fundamental question also play out in relationships with money, making it difficult to become financially aware after repeatedly feeling like money isn’t there for you? I hear a lot of people say negative things about finance and money, often in charged emotional terms. I’m just such an idiot about money. The bank is always screwing me over on fees. There just never seems to be enough at the end of the month. I’m scared I won’t have enough for retirement, but I just get so overwhelmed trying to figure it out.
After the frustration and denigration of knowing you cannot pay outright for something you need, most people turn to others to find a feeling of support. Is it any wonder one of the most common things couples fight about is money? The emotional stakes are high: Money isn’t there for me — are you?
In my own relationship with money, the answer to the Are you there for me? question was often a resounding “No.”
- Money, are you there for me to pay the hospital bill? No.
- Money, are you there for me to pay for the repairs I need to get my car working again? No.
- Money, are you there for me to pay for law school? No.
But another voice piped up and answered with a resounding YES. That voice belonged to credit. All that credit amounted to nearly $250,000 in debt. And a whole lot of stress. And constantly getting negative feedback from money pitfalls made me want to avoid dealing with money issues. It was just easier to pay the minimum payments and sweep the bills under the rug than to think about the long term consequences.
Changing the Dynamic: Supporting My Money
Of course, the reason money was never there for me was by my own design. My spending was out of control. I had no savings to speak of. I hadn’t learned to see the world through an abundance mindset.
Changing my relationship with money began with deciding I needed to be there for my money before I could expect it to be there for me. (As I’ve found with most aspects of life, changing anything begins with changing yourself.) When my paycheck came rolling in, and money asked me Are you there for me to help save and spend me wisely?, I had to start answering with a resounding YES. Just waiting around for financial problems to sort themselves out without examining my own finances wasn’t good enough.
I needed to start actively taking care of my money. I decided on a financial vision, financial independence, not just getting out of debt, which keeps me motivated to stay on track. Paying attention to my cash flow means that hiccups like my pool pump breaking or having to buy new tires for one of our cars — both of which happened in December — are not the stress inducing catastrophes they once would have been. Indeed, we were still able to treat the kids to one of the biggest Christmas gifts we’ve ever given them. And it felt easy, and was paid for in cash. Once we’ve rocketed our way out of debt, we’ll be on the fast track to financial independence by doing nothing and letting our money grow itself.
Money is starting to be there for me.