The Money We Earn, the Parents We Have

At Marketplace, Anna Holmes tells her “money story,” which is about the moment she began earning a six-figure income and came to the realization that she was earning more money than either of her parents, who stressed out about money while raising her and her sister. She says:

My parents’ financial insecurities made me feel impotent and terrified, and then, as I got older, they made me angry and determined, at which point I vowed that I would avenge some of the bad choices they had made and circumstances they had endured by growing up to become a wealthy adult, thereby ensuring that they would never have to worry about money again.

I would pay off my mom’s house, and buy my father a bungalow in nearby Berkeley, plus the Chevy Suburban he always wanted. They would, through me, obtain a status that they had not been able to attain otherwise, and when people looked at them they would not see a struggling single mom overwhelmed by two difficult adolescent daughters or a soft-spoken, middle-aged African-American male.

They would see two loving, intelligent, passionate, authentic human beings, and maybe, just maybe, my parents would be karmically rewarded for it.

I can relate a lot to this as a person who earns more than my parents, who never went to college and have worked in blue-collar or service jobs while raising my siblings and me. And like Anna, I also want to avoid the financial stressors my parents had while raising me and still have as they near retirement with little in savings. And I want to make enough money to help them pay off their house in full (which I’ve been doing, little by little, with each check I send home every month).

Anna says that earning six-figures filled her with pride, but that she didn’t have much to show for it besides a few new outfits and fancier dinners in her life (I’m hearing a little bit of lifestyle inflation here). But she also comes to understand that making more money symbolized not only the potential for what she could do for her parents, but also that her parents had succeeded in providing her with access to the kind of life where a six-figure income was even possible.

“That, really, was all they had ever wanted to do,” she says.

I hope it’s the same for me, though I’ll feel good about it all once my parents’ house is paid off.

Photo: Kevin Dooley

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