Whether you’re talking about being thrifty or spend-happy, planning for retirement, or working out a budget with a partner, money is an emotional matter – one that for women is affected dramatically by their relationship with their mother.
Rosjke Hasseldine, Psychotherapist and author of the upcoming book, “What’s Really Going on Between Mothers and Daughters,” first discovered this link in the beginning of her career as a mental health counselor when she set out to understand her clients better.
“When I first started 20 years ago, I was fairly fresh out of college and sort of doing what I was taught to be doing,” she said, “I realized fairly quickly it just wasn’t working.”
Instead of using the traditional method to conduct genograms, or relationship mapping, she highlighted the relationship women had with their mothers and how their mothers reacted with their own maternal figures.
“To understand my female clients I really had to understand what had been going on with the women in their family,” she said, “When I started doing that, the work I did with women changed. I could see from my clients that I understood what it meant to be them.”
By exploring the mother-daughter relationship, Hasseldine began to understand more and more how to help her clients understand the emotional – and financial – patterns in their lives and thus make strong, permanent changes for the better.
“It helped them connect the dots in their own behavior.”
Selfless Versus Selfish with Money
One of the biggest challenges women face is reluctance to put their own needs first. A decision that Hasseldine said is motivated by emotions and can significantly impact a woman’s finances.
“Culturally, and generationally, women have been expected to take care of their children,” she said. “So their money goes to that.”
This trend has continued, as generations of women learn from each other to consider the needs of the family above their own.
“No one asked my mother and grandmother, ‘what do you need?’ or ‘what do you want?’” she said. “They were expected to give but not to receive.”
That pervasive mindset, of what it means to be a mother, a wife and a woman is passed on during childhood.
“My mother didn’t work and didn’t believe that women should work – even though she was a school teacher before she got married.”
It’s not just children, Hasseldine said, culturally women have been taught to downplay their own needs when faced with the needs of their partner.
“We’re only now waking up to the fact that women have needs; We have financial needs, we have needs in a relationship,” she said. “The more we wake that up, the stronger women will feel about owning their own financial well-being.”
Women are afraid of seeming selfish, a word Hasseldine said she wants gone.
“The whole word selfish needs a ceremonial burning. It kicks in so fast, often when you’re not being selfish,” she said. “The word has become meaningless because it’s used to pressure women back into a role of being a caregiver, neglecting themselves.”
The ‘Bag Lady’ Fear
Those behaviors can have lasting affects on a woman’s life, long after her children are grown.
Women will buy things for their children first, even when her children are adults. “Women over-give in relationships and with money.”
And it’s a serious problem.
“So many women struggle with poverty in their 60’s and 70’s because they’ve taken care of everyone else,” she said.
Many women go their whole lives without much control over their money, and with what little money they do control they buy things for their children first, she said. Some even cash out retirement products to help their children without considering the consequences.
“Their needs haven’t been met.”
This pattern can have dire consequences.
“Hence the ‘bag lady’ fear that so many women have,” Hasseldine said, referring to homeless women who carry bags around an area to collect things that might be of use or traded for money. “In a sense, there’s some level of reality to that.”
She’s right. According to a 2014 report from the National Women’s Law Center, more than twice as many women over age 65 live in poverty than men in the same age range.
Breaking the Cycle
How do you break the cycle and prevent a life filled with bags and devoid of meaning? Know your generational patterns, know your own needs and set out to get them.
“It all boils down to really looking at what you need, not just physically – what you need emotionally,” she said.
People can use spending to meet an emotional need, one that they often haven’t come to terms with or feel empowered to express. Hasseldine explained that if you know what you need emotionally, you’ll know what you need as far as money goes. She said women must examine and understand where their financial beliefs come from to truly make progress.
“By knowing yourself and knowing your needs, you’re not responding subconsciously – you’re being real.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that you should simply do the opposite of a destructive pattern you’ve spotted. Like the thrifty daughter of a spend-happy mother.
“The opposite is still not authentically you,” Hasseldine said, “We’re still reacting to someone else’s pattern instead of deciding our own pattern.”
This is especially important when starting a family of your own.
“Both parties would be really good to have some understanding of how money was communicated and dealt with within both of your respective families; What was your mother and father’s relationship with money? How are the women in your family allowed to treat money? Are they encouraged to take care of their needs?” questions Hasseldine. “If not, it’s important to have that discussion now.”
“You’re so much more real and so much more authentically yourself – you’re going to make good choices.”