Ending a co-dependent lifestyle
Two months ago, I made a decision to take on a mentee, a young single woman with a two-year-old son. Letís call her Mary. Mary is a server at a restaurant that my husband and I have been going to for years. Sheís always happy to see us and shares her latest stories within those fleeting moments between food deliveries to the table. By the time she brings our bill, weíre caught up on the happenings in her life.
We assumed Mary was married raising her son, but on this particular evening we learned she lived with her parents. This time she looked sad, and something she said let me know she needed some guidance. So I gave her my business card and told her to call me. This is her story.
Growing up, as long as she can remember, Mary witnessed her momís co-dependent behavior toward her high-functioning alcoholic father. To this day, things havenít changed. They live in a nice home and both parents earn a consistent income, but a fair amount of arguing and frustration is always present.
By the time Mary was 18, she developed issues with addiction as well. She enrolled in an outpatient rehab facility where she met her boyfriend and soon after they started dating. A short time later, she learned he had a mental illness that contributed to his addictions, but it didnít keep them apart. Within a year, but not married, they were expecting a child. Mary was 23 and excited to start a new life with him so she could move out of her parentsí house. She wanted to feel like a grown-up and felt this was her opportunity to experience freedom for the first time. They found an apartment and moved in together. This false sense of freedom blindsided her, as she walked into the same co-dependent life she experienced growing up with her parents.
Six months after their son was born, Mary realized her relationship with her sonís father was quickly deteriorating. His mood swings threatened any sense of safety for her and the baby, and she returned to her parentsí home again.
Mary kept her restaurant job working evenings while her mom babysat. She felt her life slipping toward a hopeless dead end. Freedom seemed like a faraway dream.
Itís been two years; I asked Mary to call me a couple of months ago. When we started working together she said, ďI donít really have any concept of money, of how much I make, or how much I spend. My parents always gave me what I wanted.Ē This is the archetype of the Innocent. Mary never learned about money or how to manage it. After discussing her history, her role models, and the environment she grew up in, we started looking at her expenses, how to read payroll stubs, and calculated her income. She actually loved doing the numbers and couldnít wait to know more about everything!
We looked at how much she spent, then calculated how much it would cost for her to live on her own with her son. I could see the wheels turning and she quickly realized she needed a higher-paying job in a nicer restaurant. She saw her life more confidently and creatively every week. The gift of having her son inspired her to envision more for herself and her son. She was motivated to apply for a better job, pay off her debt, and experience real independence through her own efforts and competence.
Mary is a sweet, kind, bright young woman who needed a break. She was trying her best to survive against all odds. I knew we had a feeling of closeness that couldnít be explained, as if we were meant to meet each other. She told me she prayed for help, and knew our meeting was the answer to her prayers. I made sure she told her mom about us working together, and if her mom wanted to talk, I would be available.
Innocents have a hard time asking for help. Itís often because theyíre ashamed or embarrassed about their financial situation. They think they shouldíve known how to manage their money ďfrom the beginning.Ē The truth is that most of us arenít taught about money by our parents or in school, unless we enroll in these subjects. So itís important and necessary to ask for help when youíre feeling lost, overwhelmed, or lack the confidence to take your next step toward independence.
Mary mentions how grateful she is every time we see her, not only for her financial education, but for being a better role model for her son, and for ending the co-dependent life she once knew.