Funny how you dig yourself into a hole by the teaspoon – Lionel Shriver
Have you ever heard the above quote? I don’t think a lot of people have. When most people think about using teaspoons to dig holes, they often imagine someone trying to break out of prison. Which actually, in a way, I suppose you could say that I was!
One of the interesting things about being a financial coach is that although I hear lots of different people’s “money stories” in a given week, I never really talk about my own. It’s not important, really, from a client’s perspective – after all, they are coming to me for help with their situation, not so they can hear about mine.
That being said, when you are a coach you are being trusted with hearing and holding, people’s vulnerabilities. Those anxieties, worries and stresses that they don’t want “other people” to know, they will tell you. That level of openness, of vulnerability and rawness requires (necessitates even) honesty. Transparency. A willingness not to hold things back, in case it hinders the progress that the client can make in the coaching process.
With that in mind, I feel that level of honesty and transparency deserves the same back from me. A rawness, a “real-life” story, rather than a curated picture, so that you understand the journey that I and my family came through, and how that journey has brought me to being The Family Money Coach; the person who understands where you are.
So without further ado – please, read on.
Just like the headline suggests, my real-life money story starts with a teaspoon. Just an ordinary one. Well, a dirty one, but ordinary in every other way.
Ever since we bought our house Richard, my husband, has a habit of leaving used teaspoons on the side of the sink. Have you ever realised that as the teaspoon dries, the tea congeals? When it does, the teaspoon gets “stuck”, cemented in place. When you peel it off from the sink surface, it leaves a stain. This is one of my “bug-bears”. I hate that he does it, I hate constantly cleaning those stains, but hey, in most marriages we all annoy our spouses, don’t we? We all have those things that we do that drive the other person mental, but you don’t address them because “life is too short”, or “it’s not worth the bother”. The teaspoon thing is mine. It’s not worth creating a “mountain out of mole-hill” as my mother would have said.
For a long time, I agreed with her. Heck, there must be several things I do to annoy my husband that he doesn’t draw to my attention, so why should I draw this to his?
However, on a particular day in April, after suffering through 7 months of pregnancy with severe morning sickness, constant headaches and no sleep; I snapped. I literally couldn’t take it anymore. I made a “throw away comment” about him “not caring enough” to just stop with the teaspoon stains, (I bet you can hear the sarcastic tone I used), and that opened the flood gates to a massive argument. An argument to rival the best – we argued for hours, the row moving from the kitchen, to living room, back again and even ending up at 11pm with pregnant me sleeping on the sofa, Richard in our bedroom and neither of us willing to capitulate.
The next day, we both apologised to each other. We apologised for our tones, for our language, for throwing around judgments and sarcastic comments and for not “hearing each other”. BUT. The problem with those apologies was that they didn’t fix the issue. Yes, Richard could promise to “do better” when it came to teaspoon placement, and I could try to “think before I spoke”, but actually, neither of those things were the issue. They weren’t the problem, they were only a symptom. A physical manifestation of what was really going on in our marriage.
The real problem was that this argument wasn’t about teaspoons. It wasn’t about sink stains, and it wasn’t even about being 7 months pregnant and suffering severe morning sickness. The real argument was about everything else. The problem was our individual anxieties, stresses, feelings of overwhelm and the fact that we each separately felt like the very foundations of our relationship were constantly shifting under our feet, as the due date of the baby got closer.
Just like I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, in our own peculiar (read unhelpful, sabotaging) ways, Richard and I were trying to break out “of emotional prison” through the medium of that teaspoon argument. We were both bottling things up, trying to pack away or feelings and our worries – putting ourselves in an emotional prison, because we each thought that the other one wouldn’t “get” how we were feeling, that they wouldn’t “understand”.
When my husband and I found out that we were expecting a baby, we had been together for 4 years and married for 1. In our relationship thus far we had always thought that we were good communicators – we thought we talked about things that bothered us, and we believed that we didn’t let issues “fester”. Disputes, when they did come up (and they did – believe me!) were largely resolved within 24 hours.
Unsurprising then, that we didn’t think we needed to worry about our relationship when preparing for a baby – because we thought everything was “good”. As the due date for our baby crept closer, we got more and more busy planning for the baby, thinking about what to buy, doing NCT classes, pre-natal exercises and the like; that for a while, we didn’t notice any change at all. We didn’t notice that maybe we weren’t talking as much as we used to, or that when we did talk we were short with each other, that we were starting to snap, rather than “chat”. Whatever changes we did each notice we probably put down to hormones and stress (me) and tiredness and work (him).
So when we had the “teaspoon” argument, it was a complete shock to the system for us both. It was a shock because we were confronted, head-on, with all those things that we had been bottling up, all those anxieties and feelings that we had been putting in “prison”, lest they “rock the boat”.
Although the “teaspoon argument” was awful at the time, it was also useful. It provided a catalyst for change, a call to “action”. What it forced us to realise was that we were going through a massive life transition, and neither of us really knew how to deal with it.
We didn’t know how to “be” parents, we were each scared of failing, of not being “the right kind” of parents or of providing the “right lifestyle” for the baby we hadn’t met yet. We didn’t even know what kind of lifestyle we wanted to provide, and yet we already felt the weight of societal expectations for how we were going to raise this new person, what things we should or would buy, whether we would use professional childcare or bring in extra help at home to “lighten the load”. We were each battling with these feelings and these stresses before we even met our child – so no wonder we were also both worried about what it was going to be like after the birth. We felt scared, overwhelmed, out of control. Like we were all at sea without a compass or an anchor.
Yet, through the fog of all of those feelings, and as a result of “that” argument, we also knew that we needed help to be able to communicate better together, so that we could work better as a team, for the benefit of our family. So that we could work together, both to decide what our family vision would look like, what our ideal family future was; and to create a joint plan to help us realise it – on our terms, and in our way.
That realisation happened nearly 2 years ago. Since “that” argument; Richard and I decided to bring in a third party – a trained professional who could help us create a clear family plan that worked for us, and for our child. We hired a coach.
We worked with E (our coach) for a little over 2 months intensely, and then for several more months on a “follow up and check-in” process. Working with E got us through the last months of my pregnancy, and into the first few months of Rosalind’s life – giving us the space (and forcing us to take the time!) to really connect with each other, and to listen to each other. To appreciate each other’s feelings and viewpoint, and to adapt our styles and our individual aims to our new joint future.
Through that coaching experience we became better at articulating what we each want, what we need from the other person and when we think we need to “review” our plans because they aren’t working.
In fact our communication is probably better than when we first met. It’s better because we both share the same vision – the same goals. We don’t have the same approaches in every situation, nor do we immediately adopt the same strategies to deal with each new “issue” as it arises. What we do have is a clear shared aim, and a clear shared plan for achieving those aims, in a way that best suits and complements our family. Now, instead of feeling “all at sea” and like the “ground is shifting beneath our feet”, we feel like we have a compass to direct us, a firm “anchor” for when the sea is choppy and that we can balance even when the ground wobbles.
That transition in our family life was my catalyst for training to become a family financial coach. That realisation that shifting from being a couple to being a “family” was so overwhelming and encompassed every area of our lives. I realised that if we went through it, other couples were also going through the same thing.
Being a family financial coach isn’t just about the money. Whilst planning your family finances is a key flashpoint in many relationships as we transition from being a couple to being a family, that transition also encompasses every area of our relationships and our lives. So my financial coaching does too. I will help you to create a clear financial family future, create a strategy to help you both live the family life that you want, but I will also do something else too.
I will help you to feel heard. Feel understood, appreciated and supported by each other as you transition into this new phase of your lives.
Because family financial coaching isn’t only about the finances. It’s about the FAMILY.
Charlotte Lidstone, Money Communication Coach