Editor’s note: Each Thursday, we feature a throwback piece from Topology’s predecessor, catapult magazine. In this essay from 2006, Amy Carpenter Leugs examines the role of money in her life and in her identity as a parent.
The Well of Providence is deep. It is the buckets we bring to it that are small.
Abundance. It’s a beautiful word, but one I’ve not often heard in Christian circles. The interfaith believers I know have been quicker to adopt the term, to explore and claim the concept that there is “enough and more than enough”—enough money, enough material things, enough earthly comfort and blessings, love and generosity.
The Easter traditions that many Christians just celebrated—coloring and hiding eggs, wearing new clothes, allusions to the Easter Bunny for children—are historical symbols of abundance, of the hope and belief that this planting will be a good one, that this birthing will have a joyous outcome, that the world will provide enough and maybe even more than enough.
More recently, I have heard the term discussed by other unschoolers. As Sandra Dodd writes in her essay about “spoiling” children,
I have known children who suffer preventive deprivation by parents who don’t want to spoil them, who are bullies away from home and always clamor to have their way, to be first, to have more. I have known children who are given their way, an opportunity to be first, and more than they ask for—and they are fine with going second, with sharing, or with giving up the best seat to someone who just really wants it.
Longtime unschoolers such as Sandra have helped me to see how an attitude of scarcity contributes to children who grow up to be greedy, afraid, pushy, addictive, selfish, or just generally unhappy people. There are many ways to live out an attitude of scarcity. But those children who are raised with an attitude of abundance: there is a gentleness, a compassion similar to all these children-growing-into-adults, and though it looks like self-restraint, it seems to come from a sense of “enoughness.” As in, “there will be enough when I want some.”
When I first heard the term, I figured I had a pretty good understanding of abundance. I am incredibly grateful for the many little things in life. Talking about money doesn’t make me uncomfortable. My tastes are fairly simple, which helps keeps our family expenses reasonable. I get it, right?
Maybe. And maybe there’s more.
The truth about childhood, as many of us have had to endure it, is inconceivable, scandalous, painful. Not uncommonly, it is monstrous. Invariably, it is repressed.
Alice Miller, psychologist and attachment parenting theorist
This has been an interesting few months for me, a time of growth and renewal in a very inner and personal sense. As our family continues our journey of unschooling and peaceful parenting, I have had to, as Alice Miller suggests, look into my own past, my own childhood, my own infancy even, at memories and emotions stored in some wordless box deep within me.
With a tight chest and shaking hands, I have asked my mother to re-open some of those old issues. I re-train myself to remember that I am an adult now, and nobody has the power over me that they had when I was a child. I grieve the way our culture treats children as second-class beings. More personally, I grieve the way I was treated in childhood by people who truly loved me as best they knew how.
From these experiences, a new, tender sprout of Self has emerged. It is not, as mainstream culture would assert, a greedy, selfish, spoiled little Self—not by any means. But it is a Self that realizes how much more is given to us by God. More love, more happiness, more joy, more freedom, more acceptance than many of us ever realize.
So this new Self re-encountered that word that I thought I had put to rest: abundance. It cropped up again and again until my new Self began to think it was being stalked. I took another good look at that word, that concept, and the world did that funny inside-out thing it does when something Big and possibly Divine is trying to shove itself into your skull.
Up until now, our joyful, peaceful, unschooling lives have always seemed to have a catch. That is, you can’t fill your stomach on joy, and peace may help you sleep better at night, but it won’t provide bed, blanket, or bedroom. My husband works a corporate job in order to support our wonderful lives, and I am truly grateful every day for all that he does for us. He does like his job, most days, and so up until now, my best hope for our two boys was that they, too, could find jobs that they would enjoy, most days, when they went out into the world.
But armed with a new curiosity about that word—abundance—I picked up a book from which I would have probably run screaming a few months ago.
The servant who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, “Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”
Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki is recommended by people like Zig Ziglar and Anthony Robbins, for Pete’s sake. (My apologies to their fans, but they completely creep me out.) The book was on lots of bestseller lists for a long time, and the cover text is more than pleased to tell you all about it. The writing is, well, adequate, and not much more.
The reality of the Rich Dad about whom Kiyosaki writes has been questioned. The introductory story is nonetheless compelling, in the sense that it brought into the light attitudes and ideas that I had never thought about before.
Kiyosaki grew up with a mentor (“rich dad”) who was actually his best friend’s father. His biological father (“poor dad”) shared the views about money that many of us have—a view that is widely shared in Christian circles, especially among Christians who work for social justice (typically, my kind of Christian).
“Money is the root of evil,” we say, and we petition and protest about corporate control in the U.S. and globally. We often feel that our efforts are small compared to the power wielded by these corporations, but we don’t know what else to do. We are not at the table where the big win/win solutions are negotiated.
“I don’t really care about money,” we say, but maybe our not caring translates into not knowing enough to work wisely with money, or the people who control it. “I work because I love my job,” we proclaim, and that is wonderful, because we will be working that job or one very like it for a very long time, and we know it.
And yet all of these statements, protecting and defending our lack of knowledge, don’t account for the mystery of money, its sense of flow. In a sense, money is only an idea, and people who understand this can create more of it. In another sense, money is manifestation, along with our bodies and trees and other living things that grow. As with anything that has both an intellectual and physical side, there is a place where those aspects of money join and create something more—something with spirit and soul. This is what we are missing when we make these statements—the soul of finance.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad makes it clear that Kiyosaki respected his “poor dad” very much—his father was a Ph.D. and a teacher who eventually held high offices in the state government of Hawaii, a man with a passion for learning and education. But Kiyosaki also respected his rich dad, who, with only an eighth grade education, made his own fortune starting with a chain of small, convenience-store businesses.
What drew me into the story was that Kiyosaki loved and respected both these men and because of that, he had to think very carefully about their opposing attitudes about money. It is this, above all else, that rings very true to me: Kiyosaki speaks with the voice of someone who has faced that tension, who has held it inside of him because there was no other place to put it, and who, in the end, learned from it.
So when Rich Dad showed a nine-year-old Kiyosaki a fundamentally different way to think about money—about its availability and its abundance, even when lacking a paycheck—that young boy and his friend started their own profitable business within a month. It’s a great story—one that I re-told to my son, who will soon be nine—and I encourage readers to pick up the book if only for that story, found within the first few chapters.
Now, 50 years later, Kiyosaki and his Rich Dad corporation are trying to teach the rest of us how the rich think about money. He promotes financial intelligence, and introduces this curriculum into schools. In a very unschooling-friendly approach, he has developed board games to teach people the basics of accounting and investing, how to see money with their minds instead of their eyes.
And Kiyosaki is very, very rich. I don’t mean in emotional terms, though that might also be true. The guy has a lot of money, by all accounts.
His company sells these products, though there are discounts and free resources available to teachers, homeschoolers, and students. Still, as with all financial gurus, cynics claim that he’s making his money from the sale of these products rather than from the techniques taught within.
None of this tension—between those hawking a program and their critics—is new to me, or to anyone reading this, I’m sure. What is new to me is that I’m willing to put the cynics’ warnings aside for now. I’m willing to read, to consider, to think, even as there is a risk of getting burned. I’m willing to pay money for financial advice. I’m willing to learn about real estate and investing and incorporating my own business—me, the woman whose skin used to crawl within ten feet of a salesperson, whose sinuses started acting up when approaching a corporate board room.
Of course, that physical reaction is a telling indicator of the tension and emotion surrounding the issue of money. The non-rational part of our brains is tremendously influential when it comes to the seemingly numbers-driven, dollars-and-sense subject of money. We take the money-related emotions and opinions of our parents, our teachers, and internalize them so that they seem completely rational—so rational that it would be foolish to question them.
So how do we go about unearthing all the fears that have been passed down to us? These fears include the fear of making mistakes and losing money; the fear of looking dumb as we try to gain real-world knowledge about business and investing; the fear that we will succeed, only to find that we’ve lost something important along the way, as our cultural mythology articulates in stories and movies that feature rich people.
It is never easy to face down our fears. But for me, now that I know that talking about money is talking about emotions—well, emotions are my turf. The hard part was not knowing for over thirty years. I’ve faced down the pounding heart, the sweaty hands, the shaky voice, the certainty that I’m foolish and wrong before—when I spoke out about discrimination against gays, when I explored interfaith writings, when I had a home birth, when we started unschooling, when I opened a dialogue with my mother about painful issues. I’ve faced it all down before—maybe I can do it again.
So now there is a new tension to hold within me, and I do not know where it will lead. I know my concern for corporate control of public policy and consumer culture is not going away—nor is my growing conviction that the progressive approach of regulation is usually reactionary and doomed, showing no real understanding of the system within which we all live. Can I find the balance between being socially progressive and financially literate, between rubbing elbows with long-haired protestors one day and with investors in polo shirts the next?
I know this swirl of not-knowing will live inside of me for a time—maybe a long time—as I read and ponder and try to become financially literate in a way that is not usually taught in schools. I’m willing to make mistakes, a process I’ve not accepted before, but something my newly discovered Self has realized is a wonderful way to learn.
I’m willing to believe that my husband could have more independence and free time, and that my sons’ lives could be lived with their father more present than not. I’m willing to believe that when my sons grow into adults, they will have more options than I previously thought. I will continue to listen to both the poor mom and the emerging rich mom within me, to weigh what they say and how they feel.
I’m willing to hope that my sons can take this small, experimental seed that we are growing in our house—this seed of trust and joy—within their little Selves, and that they will have not only the voice, but the earthly means, to spread that trust and joy a little farther in God’s world.
For now, that is enough. It is more than enough.