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"I don't know if Jim and I can continue to live together.' (money problems in the family)

"I don't know if Jim and I can continue to live together."

"I don't know if Jim and I can survive if we continue to live together." Mrs. Shea, a tall, slender woman in her early 30s, spoke quickly. "We're both much better when we are alone with our friends. I imagine our best friends aren't aware of how much trouble we are having.

"Our major problems center around money. Right now if I mention money or any project that might cost money to do, Jim gets angry. Lately no matter what I say he gets angry. It seems that he's chronically dissatisfied with me.

"Much of this centers around our eight-year-old daughter Judy. Judy was born with spina bifida, and her rehab and everyday life has been a very costly business. Our friends and family think that it's all covered by insurance. But, they have no idea how much we have to pay out of our own pockets.

"Thankfully, Judy has done well. She's remained relatively healthy. Our doctor says she does not have the range of complications that other youngsters with the same condition have. But we are always worried about what the next step in her growing up is going to bring. We know that each year there have to be medical re-evaluations of her, and every year something has to be done. A lot of this is covered by insurance. But we began to realize how much was not when we found we had so little money left for anything.

"A week ago, Jim and I had a big fight about the latest bill from our pediatrician. He raised his fees for seeing Judy, and I'm sure all other patients, ten dollars a visit. That's not a lot of money, but Jim was out-raged. Not at the doctors--at me! He wanted to know why he hadn't been informed and why I hadn't spoken directly to the pediatrician.

"This kind of thing then gets into a standard criticism of me. That is, that I don't keep track of the medical expenses; that I have never-ending desires; that I want too much; and that I don't understand our family's financial dilemma.

"We had different ways of handling money when we got married. I used to have to account for every cent of the allowance my father gave me. So I was in the habit of keeping detailed records. When we first got married and we were both working, Jim took care of the general bills. We had one checking account, but I also kept accurate track of whatever checks I was writing. But he sometimes did and sometimes didn't. At that time, we used to joke about it.

"Nothing really changed even when our oldest daughter Sandy was born. We both were doing reasonably well. I stopped working for a couple of years except for occasional part-time work whenever we needed to get something special, and Jim advanced in his career.

"All that shifted when Judy was born. In some ways, it's been like an eight year nightmare. The first year I hardly remember at all. We were fortunate that both our families pitched in to help us. It just seemed there was an endless parade of people in and out of the house, helping us with the daily chores, taking care of Sandy and being available to deal with our other friends when we felt too pained to deal with them.

"I know I felt that Jim did more than anyone could expect a husband to do. Another criticism of me is about how unappreciated he feels and how much he feels that he has taken the major share of the burdens. Whenever that argument starts, I begin to feel I've been taken advantage of.

"By the time Judy had her first birthday, we began to get a clearer picture of our financial problems. Even though Jim had gotten another big raise at work, it was clear that with adjusting things at home and getting to and from the hospital, a variety of expenses were not going to be covered by the insurance policy.

"About that time, we both began to understand the full implications of Judy's problem. She had a life long dilemma; each year was going to require medical evaluations. Nobody could promise anything at that time -- things are much better now. And we couldn't get a clear picture of what the future medical costs were going to be, how much was going to be covered by insurance, and what was going to be deductible. For example, we just paid our income tax. When Judy was young, we could get a tax deduction for our medical expenses. With the new tax law, that's essentially gone. So, the small amount of tax refund we used to count as a bonus for ourselves to do something that we hadn't planned seems to have been taken from us.

"We also have great differences about how the house should look and be cared for. Whenever I want to do something around the house, Jim always makes me feel that I'm stealing from the family.

"I live here every day. The kids live here every day. The house doesn't seem to mean anywhere near as much to him, but it's a burden to me. It's almost an annual fight every spring. As soon as the weather gets better and I want to do work around the house, get something painted or replaced, or do something about the yard, Jim says there's not enough money, and why don't I understand that.

"When Judy got to be five and was in school every day, I went back to work part-time. I thought this would be helpful in the battle for our financial sanity. But I feel that this has just increased the problem rather than decreased it. Jim wants to know why I don't get a better job and when will I be ready to work full-time.

"I feel that I'm on a treadmill. I do everything. I take care of the house, I take care of my children, I take care of my husband. I go to work. I bring the money home.

"Whenever I want something for myself, I get nothing. When I first joined the spina bifida group, I discovered how many single parents there were. At first I didn't really pay attention to it. Then it began to scare me. When I began to see how hard we have to work just to do the ordinary things, I could understand why so many people get divorced. Now I have finally reached the point where I'd rather try to work my life out alone rather than constantly being criticized for things that I don't think I did."

"I understand how badly Sally feels. I know sometimes I overreact, but I don't think that really represents what I think of Sally." Mr. Shea, a tall, stocky man in his early forties, sat forward in his chair and spoke softly.

"We do have different ways of handling money; we were brought up differently. So I find myself in the spot of trying to plan ahead to see how much money we're going to need next year and the year after. Actually, right now, I find myself trying to figure out if we have enough money for the next two months, never mind for the next year. So I find myself trying to convince Sally that she should look ahead and plan with me. When I do that, she feels criticized.

"You know, when Judy was first born, we both were committed to making sure that she had the best of everything. There was no reason for a youngster to suffer unduly because she was born with a medical problem. At that time, I don't think either one of us understood what that really meant.

"I think Sally and I still have that same commitment, but I find it exhausts me. I've discovered I'm even trapped in my job. I've got a reasonably good health insurance policy, and Judy is covered by it. But every time I thought I might have a better opportunity elsewhere, I have found that she would not be eligible for new coverage because of her condition. I've lost track of how I can figure out what the risks are worth, or how much more money would I have to make and how much can I anticipate her health costs to be, to figure out whether it's going to be worthwhile to move on. I don't even know who to begin to ask about this.

"If I start to discuss this with Sally, she just leaves the room. That really makes me feel terrible. Whenever we try to figure out what we're going to do, I know I'm excessively concerned. I'm accustomed to planning a year ahead, and I think now I'm just too upset to plan a year ahead.

"I don't like to say no to anybody. I certainly don't want to say no to my daughters, and I don't want to say no to my wife. Sally doesn't understand that when I start to raise questions, I just want to know if we can pay for it, and what it would mean to the future. Meanwhile, I know we're letting a lot of things go that will cost more later. I suppose I think that if I can only get through until later, I would feel better.

"Sally lives in the house more of the time; it's more important to her. I'm spending more time away from home in order to make the money to stay close to my family and maintain the house. It's all crazy.

"However, I think we do well most of the year. Maybe these problems are under the surface, because that's what Sally begins to say -- that we just run away from problems. I think we do all right, and we have a relatively good time as a family.

"It's whenever we have to deal with Judy's physical problems that we get into trouble. I have never had any long-term health problems in my own family. We had to spend some time with my grandmother at the end of her life, but she was able to live at home. Sally's family had a long-term problem with a grandmother who lived to be almost 90. For the last 15 years of her life, she was chronically ill, and there was a lot of time and money spent.

"I know the health issue makes us both nervous. Years ago, when Judy was born and I asked 'How are we going to manage this?' or 'What is it going to cost us?' she said, 'Don't worry, my father will take care of it, or my brother will take care of it.' That just made things worse.

"First of all, I'm not sure it's realistic to expect them to do anything. And secondly, we were so dependent on them earlier that it's uncomfortable for me, and I think for Sally too, because they have expectations that we'd take care of certain things for them that I don't think they would dare ask -- of anyone -- except it's a way of paying off the emotional debt that we have.

"They were exceptionally helpful in the first year or two of Judy's life. Now, sure, they're very important to Sally, and not as much to me. And I think that's another focus of troubles. You know, ordinarily I think that we should be able to solve our problems without help. And sometimes I think, well, we're going to need help to solve them. But I think sometimes Sally feels they're not solvable at all. That also begins to upset me. At this point, I'm not sure what the issues are or what the direction should be.

"I keep telling her that we should do more for ourselves. I'm always begging her to take a vacation trip without the kids -- or go out more or entertain again in our home. I think we felt if we were getting more for ourselves, we could do more for our children. Right now I feel that we put out a lot and get very little. When I say this, Sally accuses me of being selfish and only interested in myself. And then our arguments begin."


The Sheas came to discuss their marriage problems. Mrs. Shea felt that their struggles about family finances were so difficult because of the expenses for their eight-year-old daughter who has spina bifida that there was no way the marriage could be saved. Mr. Shea agreed that they did have continual problems that stemmed from the financial difficulties around their daughter's care, but felt that his wife underestimated how well they got along together. They both agreed that they did not anticipate what the costs, both medical and personal, were going to be for their Judy. Now, they know Judy's medical costs are likely to be continuous. Nearly each year of her life has confronted them with a necessary medical procedure, and each year their share of the cost of these procedures increased.

Mrs. Shea felt victimized by her husband's response to financial difficulties. He held her accountable for all the financial burdens. She felt personally responsible for any increase in medical costs. He challenged her requests for any improvements of the house and its upkeep.

Mrs. Shea had stayed home from her job after the birth of her children in order to provide them with care and herself with adequate time for mothering. But because of the problems in the first years of her daughter's life, she was unable to return to work until Judy was almost five. This not only reduced the amount of money available to the family during that period of time through her labors, but limited the amount of time she could work when she returned.

Mrs. Shea felt that her husband continuously made her feel responsible for the lack of available finances. And whenever she asked for something, he intimated that more would be available if she were to do more. She found that her husband responded with anger when she indicated that her family could help them with the financial difficulties.

Mr. Shea felt his wife underestimated his concern for her and her welfare and his recognition of how hard she worked. He focused on her response to spending money on their own activities. He perceived the struggle as one concerning how much money was going to be spent for their daughter Judy and whether there was going to be anything left over for their own vacations or interests.

Parents faced with chronic illness in their children and continuous medical expenses often feel depleted emotionally. In this situation, people often turn to the things out of their past life that provided them with satisfaction. In the Shea family, Mrs. Shea found comfort in her own home and home life. She felt her husband was insensitive to the way the house looked and that he had underestimated how important it was for her. Mr. Shea searched for activities away from his job and the family that would give them pleasure, and he found that his wife saw them as his own selfishness.

When a child does have a chronic medical condition, parents often feel themselves to be failures. Despite the fact that the Sheas agreed that they both had participated actively in trying to provide an optimal environment for their daughter, they both felt they were failures in their essential roles.

Mrs. Shea felt that no matter how hard she tried, the next year brought unanticipated problems in the life of her daughter. Mr. Shea felt that no matter how much money he earned, the unknown challenge of the future's financial burdens meant that it was never going to be enough.
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Article Details
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Author:Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Previous Article:Serving the underserved: caring for people who are both old and mentally retarded.
Next Article:Launching Kevin into the mainstream.

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