Friday, April 06, 2012

I'm Done Apologizing, I Think


We are doing pretty well.
It's hard to even write that down. The guilt wells up inside me like the steam inside Old Faithful and I want to cap it quickly and turn away. In our circle of friends, there are those who have been really affected by unemployment, decreased benefits, and exorbitant health care costs (especially if they have kids with special needs). At the school Eve attends, there are fully 30% of the kids who are on some sort of scholarship or financial aid and that diversity is a big part of the reason we love that school. Every day I read blogs written by people who are railing against the inequities in our society that create incredible hardships for hardworking individuals and make it nearly impossible for them to get ahead.

Bubba and I are ahead.

But that doesn't make us the enemy. I have a hard time not getting defensive about our relative financial security and trying to explain it away. The fact is, we both came from very meager beginnings and made it to college with a great deal of financial aid. We emerged with mountains of school loan debt and both took temporary jobs while we waited for our dream jobs to materialize. We were lucky in many ways, finding ourselves in the right place at the right time and Bubba got a job with unheard-of benefits. He also drew on his lessons about money management and was very conservative, maneuvering our finances deftly throughout the years. We purchased our first house before real estate prices skyrocketed and sold before the bubble burst.

We have worked very hard over the years and have volunteered in our community and donated both time and money to causes we believe in. And I still have guilt.

I have guilt when I talk to friends about our new home purchase because I know some of them are struggling to make house payments.

I have guilt when I tell my little sister we're headed to Hawaii for a vacation this summer with the girls because I know she's scraping money together for a long weekend in Vegas - her first vacation since she got married over a year ago.

I know that my closest friends are excited to see photos of the new house we'll move in to this summer.
I know that my family members don't begrudge us the tropical vacation as a family.
I know that my friends who have kids with special needs don't resent me because my kids are growing and thriving.

The notion that it might not be okay to share things about my life with friends and family seems silly, but there are times when I worry that some of the details might be misconstrued. We are fairly open with our girls about the cost of things - gasoline, new shoes, even mortgage payments. We talk often about the difference between 'want' and 'need' and how to decide when it is important to buy something. They understand that some of the things we value - fresh, organic whole foods, for example - also might be valued by others but are, more often than not, financially out-of-reach. They realize that we have family members who cannot afford many of the luxuries we have and that we help them out when we can. But at the end of the day, I don't want the message to my girls to be one of guilt and shame.

I don't want them to feel as though we ought not to indulge ourselves in a trip to Hawaii if we can afford it. We all work very hard throughout the year and enjoy spending time together as a family. I don't want them to think that they have to hide the nice things we do for ourselves out of a sense of propriety or deference to others. Their father is not Bernie Madoff or some former executive at Enron. His business has created nearly 30 jobs in the past three years and his employees are compensated well and given a great benefit package. We are committed to being a part of our community and doing what we can to make a difference for the families who are struggling and working hard to make their lives better. Hiding our own successes feels to me like an admission of guilt and, the fact is, we are guilty of nothing more than a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.

So, we are doing pretty well.
And that does not make us the enemy.

16 comments:

Elizabeth Young said...

Well said, you have no reason to feel guilty. Simply be thankful for the blessings and wisdom you have been given and then enjoy! I think it's those who are unaware of others who are not doing so well around them who maybe need a nudge, but your post was right on!

Angi said...

I hear ya. I quit telling some people when or where we're going for vacations because I got tired of hearing "oh, that must be nice". Actually, it is nice. We work hard at our jobs and our kids work hard in school, so I feel we deserve some time off.

fullsoulahead.com said...

I don't think you should feel guilty for any of the blessings that come your way.

But I get triggered when people who have money use the "I work hard" line. Because truly, there are so many people who work so much harder than we can ever imagine, who make minimum wage, or less, and who struggle financially. There are those for whom life situations have deemed college way out of reach. For many of the upper class, "I work hard" is a defense to justify not giving a shit about the poor(I know this isn't you). As if anyone who doesn't have money is in that position because they are a lazy slacker, and that is just not true. Especially now, when an injury or illness or yes, a special needs child can put a family into financial ruin quickly. I look at men working on rooftops in the beating sun. Women cleaning hotels day after day. Waiting tables for 20 + years. Special needs aides working for peanuts. So many people uninsured, working so very hard every day with never a vacation. Not just this year, but never. Ever. Claiming that I work hard is ridiculous next to that. Ahem....sorry for that rant.

That being said, I understand your survivor's guilt, (I too suffer from it) but we don't have to justify our blessings. Rock Hawaii Kari. Leave the guilt behind. If others can't be happy for you that is their deal. Just continue to be your own appreciative gracious self.

kario said...

You are absolutely right, Michelle. Some of the hardest working people I know barely have their heads above water. I wish the system didn't work the way it does, when being in the right place at the right time has so much to do with financial stability. I have been so lucky so many times in my life - a great high school counselor who helped me ferret out grant and scholarship money and complete my college applications, employers who took a chance on my 'life experience' as opposed to my work history, marrying Bubba who is an absolute wizard at managing money (if it were up to me, we'd be bankrupt three times over, at least). I can only hope that with a partnership between those of us who have more because of luck and those struggling for more who are working their tails off, we can slowly but surely turn the tide. And, for my 'trigger,' let's start with Universal Healthcare, dammit!

Anonymous said...

Kario,
You have no reason to feel guilty for what you have since you worked hard to attain it. Yes, you are luckier than most, but that isn't your fault either--it's just the way life works. You are in a wonderful position, however, to give to charities and homeless kids, etc., that so many in dire straits no longer can. So you are blessed in so many ways. Be proud of it!!

Micki Peluso

Pat Garcia Schaack said...

Hi Kario,
I have just read your blog and i can understand where you are coming from but you don't need to feel guilty. You are where you are because of right choices and decisions and it is beautiful to read how you are giving back to your community. Go ahead and enjoy that vacation to Hawaii.
Enjoyed reading your blog.
Ciao,
Patricia

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Elizabeth said...

Ditto Full Soul Ahead.

And I'd suggest not looking at your feelings as "guilty" but as self-aware. I think it behooves those who have many privileges to be self-aware, to know that despite their good fortune, part of it is due to luck and like all things -- good or bad -- ebbs and flows.

Have a wonderful vacation!

P said...

No two people make the same amount of money. Enjoy what you have earned--guilt free. What bothers me is when people who have so much, complain that they don't have more.

Carrie Link said...

Guilt is TFBS. Sensitivity is the key. I am triggered when I tell someone something I'm struggling with, and they immediately tell me how great/easy/cheap/fun their situation is in comparison.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Kari, I read all of your posts, I promise, even if I have been quite absent from the comment section ... But today, I will :)

How many years have we know each others, how many struggles and beautiful moments, heart to heart conversations have we shared, many with a good cup of coffee in your beautiful house, sitting at the table.

I come to you with my struggles, worries, you bring me light, love and compassion. I come to you sharing happy time, we laugh and have a great time. I disappear from the scene, you check on me, on all of us. My daughter has another medical procedure, you bring me flowers, a cute bear, and beautiful card, all I have kept preciously.

This is all I see, your friendship, your love, care and compassion for me and my family. Would I love it that my kids do not struggle, of course I would, would I love it to not struggle so much, of course I would, would I love it to not have to worry about medical bills and insurance, of course I would.

Am I jealous or envious of you, no I am not, not in a second, not in a minute. I am happy for you, happy that you have a beautiful house, happy to receive great pictures from your vacations, happy that you have a beautiful family, just because you are my friend and all I wish for you is peace and happiness.

What would hurt me is if you would stop inviting me so I can not see your beautiful house, stop sharing your great vacation plans and happy times, stop sharing your kids accomplishment, because then I would feel that you stop sharing your life with me, to protect me, or because our lives are different on some aspects and make these differences apparent when I do not focus on them now. This is not what I want or need.

I agree with Carrie, sensitivity is key, and this you have, plenty of it, naturally, so please enjoy all that life is bringing to you, without any guilt, because, honestly and sincerely, I am happy for you.

- Isabelle

Daron Henson said...

Your piece, "I'm Done Apologizing, I Think" on the trials and tribulations and, of course, success in you life was interesting. It is always stimulating to come across a piece of writing for its own sake.

Peggi Tustan said...

Kari, appreciated your blog. I can totally relate to carrying the false guilt of a blessed life when others around me are struggling. I think it's part of that "woman guilt" thing. We always seem to find something to feel guilty about, even when life is good.

Bella said...

Kario, good for you for enjoying your life and not feeling like you have to hide or apologize for your success. I find that when life smiles at us this way, it's best to be appreciative of what we have and hope that others will also have the same blessings. Guilt is bad for the soul and I for one try to avoid it at all costs. At the end of the day, those who truly care about you will be happy that you're happy! :)

Alicia (Dr. Mom) said...

oh my gosh, i can TOTALLLY relate to this. I find myself in a similar situation with similar feelings. Im always feeling guilty for "having" even though nothing was handed to us and we worked (and still work) hard for it. It's like success-guilt and i constantly find myself trying to self-depricate and "explain" my nice life style and be very modest about it. The fact is, we appreciate every day of our life and know our blessings are far more than financial. As long as you know what really matters in life, you should never apologize for what you have worked hard for. :)

Astra said...

Not only do I have the "want" versus "need" talk with my kids, I say it out loud for myself. There are things in life I want, but don't need. Do I have to apologize for wanting them? I don't think so.
I loved this post. I loved the comment from Isabelle!

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