Updated on 07.13.07

The Connection Between Financial Choices And Personal Values: The Kind Of Parent I Want To Be

Trent Hamm

Quite often, my wife and I find ourselves very thankful for the financial situation that we’re in. We’re healthy and of sound mind and we have the financial capacity to afford everything we actually need and we are able to live in a beautiful house with two healthy children. We’re lucky.

One of our closest friends isn’t so lucky. She and her husband have four children between the ages of nine and two. They currently rent a three bedroom house where the two oldest children share a room and the two youngest children share a room. Whenever we visit them, it’s a tidal wave of happiness and playfulness with those four children. They’re energetic, obviously incredibly happy, and yet they’re also well-mannered. The oldest one, in particular, is quite intelligent and a rather free spirit – she’s nine, is obsessed with painting, and has a real talent for painting people’s faces and capturing their mood in elegant, simple strokes.

Sounds like a wonderful family, doesn’t it? But right beneath it, my wife and I know how much it takes for them to keep it all together. First of all, the father of the children has served multiple tours of duty in Iraq in the National Guard and has had duties extended almost without warning. While this has brought them some income, it has also meant that he’s been distant from his children for long stretches at a time while facing the trauma of war – no amount of money can replace that lost time.

This has left the four children at home alone with their mother, and how she holds her life together, I’ll never know. While her husband served in Iraq, she would stay up during the day with her children, catching naps here and there as her only source of sleep. After the children were in bed, their grandmother would come over and sleep there four nights out of the week. Why? So the mother could go to work all night, ten hours a day, four days a week, doing manual labor.

It gets more tragic. She also found time to go through the required schooling to be a nurse, but just as she completed the training, she was diagnosed with a rather severe form of fibromyalgia. This condition actually made it impossible for her to do the work of a nurse, so the money and the time invested in that was lost and she had to return to her stocking job at Wal-Mart. As time has gone on, she has been relegated to jobs that require less and less physical demand, leaving her mostly working as a greeter at the store.

After all this has happened to them, they’re still not in debt, manage to pay all of their bills, are slowly saving for a house, and manage to have raised four wonderful children who fill their home with a special energy.

Every time I ever think that life has dealt me a difficult hand, I think of them. They have played the hand that life has dealt them magnificently and stand out as a beacon for both of us as to how you can avoid the debt monster and can deal with tragic circumstances and still provide an amazing home for your children.

What’s the lesson that can be learned here? Your life choices, financial and otherwise, are a reflection of the values that you truly hold, and the more you understand those basic values, the better your financial and other life choices will be. These two people are the most committed parents I know and their choices always revolve around those children. Being good parents is the most important thing to them by far and every choice they make reflects that. As a result, their house is filled with happiness, even though they have plenty of reason to feel some self-pity. Their values and their financial and personal choices are in complete alignment, and together they can overcome almost any hardship.

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  1. dong says:

    That’s great story, and great example of the strength character many people still have. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Harm says:

    Thank you for sharing that….
    It helps to have inspirations….and examples
    of good people to bring any of my minor
    complaints with life into perspective.
    Hugs to your friend and her family

  3. Mark A says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us. It’s an encouragement as my wife and I look to begin our own family soon.

  4. Kristina says:

    I’m confusing about why this story is tragic. I think it’s a normal story of sensible people acting financially responsible. It’s not tragic or a hardship to have 4 children in a 3-bedroom house. This used to be the norm in the US. It still is better than the norm in most countries. At some point, over-indulged Americans got the idea that they deserved massive homes and that they were being traumatized by having to share any personal space…so homes got insanely big and our debt exploded. Also, I again don’t understand why her work situation is tragic. She works a normal 40 hours per week with the help of her family – that’s how it’s suppose to be. And her husband chose to sign up with the military, which means he chose to be in a situation where he is getting deployed and has lost some control of his life. the only part of the story that I find tragic is her health concerns – that is sad, and I wish her the best. As for everything else – they sound like a normal, happy, healthy family with hard working parents. And a strong example that children’s happiness is not conditioned on material wealth or living in a huge house.

  5. Shannon says:

    What is tragic is that she cannot afford to sleep an uninterrupted 8 hours, and works during nights making minimum wage and watches her children during the day. This is the kind of labor-slavery we used to see a hundred years ago…during the industrial revolution. Women used to watch their children during the day and then tie them to the bed-post by the ankle while they went out to work all night in factories. At least in this story the grandmother comes to watch over at night.

  6. AgentSully says:

    This story resonates with me because I am a big believer in being positive and making the most of your circumstances, especially when children are involved. That right there is the best teaching you can do for your kids, through your actions.

    Best regards! Sully

  7. lorax says:

    I know folks in similar situations. My heart goes out to your friends.

  8. Brip Blap says:

    I don’t think that story was tragic, either – I think it was actually pretty nice. I shared a room with my brother until I was about 10 or 11 years old. Our room was so small we had to have bunk beds, because two beds wouldn’t fit side by side. If we hadn’t moved to a much smaller town where housing was cheap enough for my parents to afford a very, very small 3 bedroom house I doubt I would ever have worried about it too much. My wife (her family are immigrants), her sister and parents lived in a two-bedroom apartment in New York when they immigrated. She has never had a room to herself – she lived at home until we were married and now (obviously) we share a room.

    Your friend’s condition and her sleep problems are not to be envied, for sure, but at least she’s lucky to have relatives to help, a lot of people don’t have that (we don’t have any near enough to help out).

    So while there’s a lot to be sad about in that story, I also think it’s a good story about a strong family where the parents are sacrificing to provide a good home for their kids. It’s admirable that they are avoiding the temptation to run up their debt.

    The tragedy is probably that the husband is having tours extended at random, which as far as I can tell is going to keep happening for many years. Unless the war ends some day, the real risk your friends will face is not the temptation to incur debt or troubles with child care, but that their father will be killed in action, depriving his kids of a dad. Whatever you think of the war, that’s the true (potential) tragedy. I really hope that he stays safe for their sake, and his.

  9. yvie says:

    You have to wonder if the mom’s fibromyalgia wasn’t brought on by her not taking care of herself over a period of time. She survived on too little, interrupted sleep for too long, perhaps.

    I think that your health is so important; you have to be careful what you do in order not to ruin it.

  10. Liz says:

    The story for the children is pricelessly perfect. From the kid’s perspective, that’s everything life is supposed to be, except that their dad is missing.

    The tragedy is that parents like these, parents who are awesome, are in such a horrible situation where their mother doesn’t get to sleep because she’d rather watch them than sleep (a good thing, but not sleeping is absolutely awful for you)and is now in pretty bad physical condition. Their dad is never there for them even though he desperately loves them, I’m sure.

    And then there are those parents who could be there for their children, easily and without effort, that simply don’t bother.

  11. savvy says:

    Doesn’t sound terribly horrible to me. Kids sharing a bedroom is a good thing, not a bad thing in my mind, especially when it’s two to a room. The mom works, which many moms do, and even has the benefit of having a family member watch her children. Many parents don’t have that. Her husband is in Iraq, but he is providing for his family in the way they chose. She is not a widow, she has excellent family support, her children are healthy and happy, and it sounds like they are making ends meet.

  12. Millionaire Mommy Next Door says:

    I grew up sharing a room with my two siblings, and up until I became a teenager, I was perfectly happy with these circumstances.

    My dad was a workaholic. His financial choices were not conducive to creating the best family. Fortunately my mom had her values and priorities in alignment with our family’s needs. In the end I learned important things from both parents.

    I created a Baby Step exercise I’ve named “Identify Your Spending Values” ( http://millionairemommynextdoor.blogspot.com/2007/07/take-inventory-identify-your-spending.html ) that I find very helpful in this regard. Identifying, prioritizing and living according to our personal values is key to our well-being and happiness.

    Thanks for sharing this illustrative story.
    ~Millionaire Mommy Next Door

  13. Ursula says:

    Regarding your friend with the fibromyalgia … I don’t think that Nurse or Stock-Clerk are her only two choices. A nursing degree is very valuable, and just because she can’t perform actual nursing duties doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of other things she can do besides being a stock clerk. I work in the medical arena so I can tell you from experience that there are TONS of well-paying office jobs for folks with nursing degrees. I would recommend your friend looking into her local hospitals and medical facilities for more stimulating, better paying jobs that can utilize her education.

  14. Lisa says:

    Please tell your friend that her education/money is not wasted. Many nurses do jobs that are just paperwork. When I graduated with my nursing degree something similiar happened to one of my classmates and she never worked the floor. In fact her job was to evaluate charts by the floor nurses(me for one) for an independent evaluating company. After many exhausting days I can tell you I was envious. The job I have now I got because of my nursing degree even though it has nothing to do with nursing. Most school nurse jobs have very little heavy physical work and pay much better than Walmart.

  15. Tricia says:

    I would also point out that there are many non-physical nursing jobs such as consulting that she could do. There is no reason for her to be working as a greeter at Wal-Mart. Maybe she does not know this and maybe you could fill her in!

  16. Sam says:

    Man why did you make this post..made me shed a tear.

    I can relate to this family. When I was a little, my dad worked as a seaman (until today, im now 28) while my mom took the responsibility of both mom and dad. It was a tough task for mom but she has no choice. My dad would stay with us for “vacation” for 2 months every year and the remaining 10 months he would be in luxury ship working as cook.

    And you’re right, no amount of money can replace the amount of time lost with our father. Thats why I’m blogging now to make more money, making sure that history will never repeat itself.

    Very dramatic post sir.

    Sam of Philippines

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