By Madelaine Claire Weiss
My maternal grandmother wholly owned and operated a successful business back in the day when not a lot of women did. She had to have known something about money. My mother ran the numbers for a good-sized payroll for our family business, out loud, without a calculator, at the kitchen table as if she were speaking in tongue. And, I cannot recall having a single conversation with either one of these two women, nor anyone else for that matter, about how I would take care of myself when I grew up. Although, now that I think of it, to her credit, Grandmom Bessie did play Monopoly with me a lot.
Maybe some parents tend not to talk with their kids about money because their parents didn’t talk with them. I also imagine some parents don’t want the kids to know about family finances because they are afraid it will worry the kids, and also get out the door. Little pitchers have big ears—and mouths. Do you really want your neighbors to know your net worth or your income? And if not, why not? Shame and fear, that’s why not. Shame over what we don’t have, shame over what we do have, and fear over who will think and do what about what we do or don’t have.
The Whitehall Studies on social position and health support the Hobbesian view of human nature as a war of all against all. To survive and prosper you have to do better than others. In a world of scarce resources, survival depends on constantly striving to outdo your fellow human beings.
Shameful indeed, to even consider such a thing about ourselves, let alone to expose it to anyone else. So, money talk is pretty much, all around, taboo. As one mentor put it when I was in training, “You’ll be able to talk with people about just about anything, including their sex lives, but try talking to them about their money!” The taboo is not new, and likely not going away anytime soon, unless we do something about it ourselves.
The Whitehall Studies began in 1967, before we had Facebook and FOMO, but you get the idea. Same, Same. Humans are comparing animals, as ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ affirms.
But guess what: Thoughts are not facts. You are not your money. And your money is not you. Heaven help us all if, in reality, there is not more to us than that. Yes, it is true, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2020 report on Stress in the Time of Covid, that “The economy is reported as a significant source of stress by 7 in 10 adults (70%).” And the National Endowment for Financial Education reported 9 in 10 Americans feeling anxious about money right now.
All the more reason to be talking about it, with family…or friends, colleagues, a mindset professional and, of course, your financial advisor. There is plenty of good support to go around that can really make a difference—once we can get over our inherent shame and fear enough to break the money talk taboo.
Madelaine Claire Weiss, LICSW, MBA, BCC is a Board-Certified Executive, Career, Life Coach, author and former Psychotherapist. Her forthcoming book is Getting to G.R.E.A.T: 5-Step Strategy for Work and Life…Based on Science and True Stories.