Thursday, December 18, 2008

An Emotional Month of Reading

I've had a book titled (Not) Keeping Up with Our Parents by Nan Mooney on my reading list for several months - probably a year. I spotted it at our local library a couple of weeks ago, and snatched it up.

I was quite surprised at the emotional response this book evoked in me, especially since most of the book reads like a report or thesis (complete with end notes), with a few anecdotes thrown in. I expected more interviews and anecdotes. Mooney introduces topics with anecdotes, and supports their experiences with research and general observations of American culture today.

What emotions did this book elicit? Relief - my husband and I are not alone in my struggles in this economy. Sadness - that people in my generation are facing these issues. Relief - again - that I was able to graduate from college without any student loan debt, unlike almost everyone interviewed in this book. Sorrow - again - wondering what assumptions and expectations do we have as a generation and as a society that we feel so 'on the brink' of survival?

Mooney's message throughout the book is that we, as a society, need to pressure the government to continue to pressure the government to provide health care, child care and retirement funding so that people can feel safe. She scoffs at the individualistic spirit that America is founded upon.

I think that America was more founded upon individual responsibility within a community than individualistic spirit. In our homeschool for the past year and a half, my children and I have been studying American history. I have been struck by the intense sense of community in the books we've been reading. While people generally felt a high sense of personal responsibility, I've noticed that rarely did people live in isolation from some sort of community. Even in The Little House on the Prairie, the Ingalls depended upon their neighbors.

Perhaps part of our underlying sense of panic - financial and in general - is a result of our isolation from community - our near neighbors and our faith communities. Before our parents' and grandparents' generations, our families and our faith communities gave a sense of security. The idea that no matter what happened, we could get through it together.

That changed with the Great Depression, when collectively, society looked to the government. Today, however, the government has proved it's not a great steward of money and responsibility for our personal financial security. No matter how hard it is for my family to make it financially, I do not want to hand over more taxes to the government, assuming that they'll take good care of my children, my health or my future.

Bottom line: our security should rest in a personal relationship with Yahweh, not in our government.

After reading this book, I am all the more committed to working with my children to get them through college without any school loans. From what I read, in most of the people's lives profiled in this book, the student loan payments are the proverbial 'straw the breaks the camel's back.' That, and child care costs. Which is why it makes sense for a parent to stay home with their children when they're young. It's certainly worth crunching numbers.

After reading Mooney's book, I see similar symptoms not only in my family, but also in those of my friends. However, I think the cause of those symptoms are different than her conclusions. As a society as a whole, we've shifted away from local, faith-based communities, we have high, perhaps unrealistic, expectations of what our lives should be like, we have become dependent upon debt to finance that life which has left a huge burden on our shoulders, and we have shifted away from the traditional family model of society - mother, father and children at home with a loving parent or family member as a caretaker.

In my case, we've made some choices with hard consequences, which has made it hard for us. Plus, we live in a high-cost area, which squeezes our dollars more. However, my faith is in Yahweh, who sees me, my family and will provide in ways I cannot see. And just because we cannot save right now for our children's college education doesn't mean that we won't have the income to pay for it when the time comes. Especially if we can continue to be disciplined in managing our expenses.

Speaking of income - if you feel a sense of affinity with Mooney's book, I'd recommend to you also read Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Cash-Flow Quadrant by Robert Kiyosaki. A new economy requires new thinking.

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