Frenchie: Hi, my name is Frenchie. I'm 32 years old and I live in the state of Texas. And there are a lot of different things that have been running through my mind as the only person in my family that is getting a stable income.
From Death, Sex & Money, this is Financial Therapy. I’m Amanda Clayman.
Frenchie lives in a college town in Texas. She works at the university there, while getting her PhD in adult education.
Frenchie: I have an average middle class income and I don't have any debt outside of my student loans, and my mortgage for my house, which is longterm. Um, I have about three months to four months of emergency savings and we are not at risk of any furloughs or layoffs as employees for the time being.
So in the short term, it’s not herself she’s worried about. It’s her family.
Frenchie: My dad is retired. My mom passed away whenI was a teenager. Um, and my three sisters each have experienced different COVID related financial changes.
Frenchie has given her family money in the past when they’ve needed it...so now, she’s thinking ahead to what her role might be in this crisis.
Frenchie: And I've been trying to balance wanting to be available to support, and also respecting their boundaries and their need to want to figure it out on their own. Um, and also what my boundaries will look like in terms of my needs for myself.
After the break, my session with Frenchie.
This is Financial Therapy from Death, Sex & Money. I’m Amanda Clayman. I called Frenchie on a recent Friday afternoon in quarantine.
Frenchie: I just got off of a virtual baby shower, so I'm in a very pleasant mood.
Amanda: Did they send a doll to your house that you had to diaper for a contest?
Frenchie: No, it was actually no weird diapering. We played, uh, "The Price Is Right" for baby items. I have no kids so all this was just like fun, but also mind blowing. [laughs]
Amanda: I think especially like before you acclimate to the numbers of, of how expensive things are with children, all of it seems insane. Like insane.
Frenchie: Yeah. It was the funnest virtual baby shower have ever attended.
Amanda: That is lovely. So why don't we start then by just telling me--can you tell me a little bit about your family?
Frenchie: Yes. So my immediate family, I have three sisters, so there are four of us total between the ages of 29 and 34. My sister who is currently experiencing furlough, she works in corporate retail and I worry that she's going to completely lose her job. So what does that mean for her? Is she going to have to leave her apartment? My youngest sister, she's experienced underemployment, unemployment. Uh, she's left some positions in the past couple of years based on her, uh, needs and the fit. My dad is fine for now, but he's at risk in general. He was at risk before this pandemic happened. So I am very worried about his health. And if anything happens to him, what will that mean for my sister who lives at home with my dad and my nephews who are at home with her. And what will that look like, because I know that I, I can't support multiple households, but just this feeling of not knowing...it's a lot of unknowns and that is a lot of how my anxiety manifests, because I know that I can't control any of this.
Amanda: Right. And you mentioned your mom passed away when you were a teenager. How old were you?
Frenchie: 16. It was...yeah. It was, it's, it's weird cause part of that, that time period feels like a blur in some respects. I just was very, very good about, uh, compartmentalizing and shifting my energy to stay busy, um, as a way to cope. I was essentially never home. Um, and I threw myself into all these extracurricular activities. Um, so I was in band and some other orchestras as well. Uh, but I realized, I remember it being just a lot of silence in, um, being able to talk about anything meaningful. Of course, we'd have conversations about the day to day things, but I really don't have a lot of recollection about us spending dedicated moments to talk about the impact of my mother's death on us as a family. And I think that a lot of that has to do with how my parents were raised. So they're both from the rural South, from Louisiana. We are a Black family and there's a lot of, from what I've learned, there's this notion of, uh, keeping your feelings and experiences, not necessarily bottled up, but yeah, that openness isn't as present in my family. And I think that as adults, I would say that my sisters and I, we have to actively practice this being more open and vulnerable, um, with each other. To each other about each other and about a whole host of other things. But those for sure, those experiences are...are things that I've tried to avoid thinking about a lot, but now I have a better understanding of what, how that has shaped who I am and how my family operates today.
Amanda: Yeah. I mean, undoubtedly it would shape the trajectory of your family and what roles people fall into with each other and how comfortable they fit some of those roles. Um, and it's natural too, in another crisis for us to sort of call back in our minds to another crisis that we've been through, what we did, sort of how we related to each other. You know, sometimes that comes in the form of like, "Well you always do this!" or, "You never do this!" Because we are re-experiencing an earlier trauma when we're being triggered by what's happening in the present.
Frenchie: Yes. And you mentioning the making connections between crises, uh, really makes me think of when my father became ill, he had a stroke about four years ago, which was precipitated by a heart attack. So he basically had a heart attack and a stroke within a couple hours of each other. And so at the time I was living out of state, and so I flew down within a matter of hours. Uh, but being there in the moment when my father was in the hospital, and trying to get a sense of what he would need and how I felt my role could be there. So I am often the one that. I'm a planner. I am very analytical, logistic and so I can easily turn off my feeling part and turn on my thinking and doing part in ways that are very productive but also can be really hurtful and crass to people around me because I don't prioritize your feelings if I, I'm thinking about, okay, this is what we need to get done at all costs. If that means that I'm going to tell you things that you don't want to hear or in ways that you aren't going to receive. And so I, I can't walk on eggshells around things that I know that, um, my sisters, uh, would sometimes be very sensitive about at the time. And I reflect on a lot about that and how I would do things now, or how I've approached responding to challenges and conflict and even this ongoing crisis now.
Amanda: Were there any, um, financial dimensions to either the loss of your mom or when your father had his stroke?
Frenchie: Yes. Both of my parents were trained accountants, and that's actually how they met. And they were not very open about their finances with us as children. They definitely--their approach to parenting was that we are parents, you are children, they're things that we worry about. There are things that you don't worry about. So their health and finances were two example of things that they did not disclose to us. I did know that my mom had a little bit of a shopping habit. So my dad discovered that she had a lot of different store credit cards.
Amanda: So even between the two of them, there are things that weren't talked about.
Frenchie: Yeah. And I, to my understanding, my mom was the one that was primarily handling a lot of the finances. And my dad ended up running into some issues with back property taxes that became an issue for a number of years starting when I was in college. Um, and the way I discovered that is because my account was connected to his, uh, so he can deposit money into my account. And I checked my bank account one day and it was completely cleared out. And when I called the bank, they said, you need to talk to the IRS because they're the ones that have taken your money and there's nothing we can do. And so I called my dad and he had to explained to me that his income was garnished in order to start paying the back property taxes.
Amanda: It feels like with both your mom and dad that it was really hard for them to speak up, and even ask for help when they found themselves getting into trouble with money.
Frenchie: Yes. That was, I did learn that. Um, and I really didn't recognize it until I had my first job out of my master's program and it was not a very high paying job. I think I was making like $30,000 a year. And my dad, he reached out to me one day and I think it was maybe a year into me working and said that I really need your help, but he asked me to cosign on a loan that was related to the ongoing tax issues and that--it just put so much pressure on me. Because I think at the time my two youngest sisters were still in college. My oldest sister, she had just had her first baby, and so he saw me as the one that probably would be the most reliable to help support. And now that I think about it, I feel like that maybe was the start of me being seen by my family or at least my father as a, um, a source of stability even though--I mean making $30,000 a year fresh out of grad school is really not really stable at all. And I ended up--I didn't co-sign on the loan because I didn't know who the distributor who was financing it. And so I ended up taking out a loan for a smaller amount. But it was, it was hard because I know that it took a lot in him to reach out, but I also know it was, it was hard for me to really challenge him, and to challenge him in a way that I felt like was respectful, but also acknowledging what I needed. Because it ended up creating a lot of stress and anxiety on myself to feel like I had to exhaust my options to make sure that our house didn't get sold at auction.
Amanda: What's it like for you--I mean, on the one hand, I hear you I hear you taking this very, um, pragmatic approach. It's a reasonable ask when you're being put in that position, um, to say, "Okay, I want to help, but here are kind of the terms of how I want to help and how we can communicate about this going forward." Um, and to feel that shift in the the role dynamics between father and daughter. It seemed like your dad was really struggling with some of that. How was that for you?
Frenchie: Yeah, it was, um, it was disheartening, uh, because I know my father is always--well, he took on a lot of responsibility when he became a single parent, essentially. And I remember that conversation with him asking me, I can tell by the tone of the voice how much a struggle for him to reach out to me as his child to ask for that, that type of help. Because that I think was the shift, or maybe was one of the shifts where I started to be seen by my siblings as a source of support, and really how it informs how I’m seen today. My dad, he said that in his will, I'm the executor or the point of...whatever that is, the point of contact for his will should anything happen. And I keep thinking like, why am I the person? Because I am pragmatic. I am in all respects pretty responsible. And so it's interesting to see that how other people see me based on how they, what role they see me playing in their lives. Especially with my dad.
Amanda: As we're talking about this, since we're just getting to know each other, I want to make sure that I'm getting, uh, an accurate sense of who you are. Because I wonder who's showing up in this moment. Like, um, you mentioned before the, that in a crisis that you tend to, like, you will want to put on your analytical hat and just think like, what needs to be done here. Um.
Amanda: Is that, is that where you live most of the time and that kind of a space or is that that crisis Frenchie?
Frenchie: Uh...you're good, Amanda. I have struggled a lot with always being a doer and a planner and not always being able to sit in the moment and allow myself just to exist, to feel, to be. Um, and that has served me well in a lot of respects because I'm very productive and I'm high achieving and ambitious. But that has created some challenges for me to be able to really determine who I am and develop emotionally outside of the things I do or the successes that I have or what I achieve in my life. And so there have been some feelings of, um, using ambition and perfectionism as a shield for feeling that I've never truly reached a level of adequacy and acceptance of who I am and where I am in life.
Amanda: Yeah. It's, you know, it's hard. I--when you are telling me the story of how things were in your family, some of what I'm doing as I'm listening is, is hearing the pieces that were present but weren't talked about or acknowledged until after the fact, and imagining how that must've felt to have been living with that reality, but that reality is secret. And, like thinking about your father struggling with managing the money and the taxes and not being able to talk about that until it was a crisis. Or your mother, uh, with, with her secret spending however big of a deal or not big of a deal that was--there was a lot of stress in the family that was happening, at least with, with your mom and dad that was not ever acknowledged, but is very likely that you and your sisters were picking up on non-verbally.
Amanda: And what the message is in that kind of a situation is that we don't talk about stress. There is stress, but we are sending you a loud and clear signal that we do not acknowledge it. And when we grow up in a household like that, we become as adults, people who do have a harder time sitting in our own stress because we haven't seen that modeled. Like a healthy way to be in those feelings. So like, "Oh, there's some feelings over here. And I can see them and I can describe them, but I'd rather not go into them." And there's wanting to really find the right system or the right words to be able to go in and manage this and even manage the personalities of the people involved so that we can have a neat solution that works for everybody, but we don't have to get too deeply into the messiness of how you feel and how other people feel.
Frenchie: Yes. Yes. I would say that I've approached a lot of my life as being a compromiser and wanting to have some type of amicable solutions and will often dismiss or devalue or compartmentalize my own needs and feelings in order to make sure that we're all managing something collectively in a decent way. So that's definitely been a struggle for me being more upfront about who I am, how I'm feeling, how things are impacting me.
Amanda: But it's, it's a catch-22 in some ways, because you end up not ever being to truly and deeply relate and connect to the people in your life, on that emotional level. And so I wonder, you know, if you would be comfortable if we, just even in our conversation now, try to get a little bit more clarity about some of the feelings that you have going into this situation and potentially slipping into this being a source of support or even caretaking with some members of your family. Do you--can I prompt you a little bit in this direction?
Amanda: Okay. So right now, as you think about the role that you're in with your family, um, are you angry at all?
Amanda: No. Are you nervous?
Amanda: Okay. Are you resentful?
Frenchie: I'm not resentful. I feel like that is...that is difficult because there...I'm trying to find a way to put this into words. Uh--I want to be there for my family and I want to know that I am there for my family. But I--the other thing I'm thinking about is this notion of me being the most stable in my family financially and knowing what narratives have really resonated with me as a Black woman who is educated, has a decent middle class job. I feel like I finally reached the point where I am comfortable in being able to take care of myself. Like I just paid off all my, um, my car debt and like some credit cards here and there and I can start to feel comfortable and breathe. And it literally was maybe a month ago that I experienced this. Now there's the ramifications of all of what's going on with the pandemic and how that's affected my family and it feels for me that--feeling like I can't breathe and just be comfortable for a period of time. That's kind of where where I am right now. And so I wouldn't say it's resentment, but it's more a frustration of not being able to breathe. And back to the point of--the reason why I bring up me, who I am as a black woman is, uh, I feel like there's this, this narrative of being strong and invincible, and particularly with some Black women who receive a level of success and how they are relied upon a lot by their family members to provide different levels of support. And I do feel like that is an easy narrative to apply to me. Um, and it's, it's difficult to sometimes separate myself from being the one that always has to have it together. Because I also also ask: if something happens to me, is anybody going to be able to support me? And right now, I feel like the answer is no.
Amanda: I just want to, I want to give that thought a moment. Because that is, that's a thought with a big feeling underneath it.
Frenchie: I have a friend that recently experienced a health crisis where she had to get emergency surgery, and I keep thinking if I were to have one big emergency like that, there would be no recourse of support for me. So I don't know to what extent I put this pressure on myself, or how much of it is just the reality of it that I can't rely on my dad. He is supporting my sister and my nephews lot. Um, so I can't rely on him. Um, my other--my youngest sister has been through all these changes and she's still coming into where she is and what she wants to do.
Frenchie: And that, that is, um, where I've struggled a lot and, and I feel like it was a very isolating experience, um, in regards to me and my family.
Amanda: Yeah. And so I'm imagining how difficult it is to, be conceiving of stepping into a role, um, where you want to be helpful. But on the other hand, you don't--you don't feel like you can step into the role of leader in a way, the way that your parents might have, where, where they sort of controlled all the information and they were in charge sort of until they weren't in charge. And so you can see that, like it doesn't work for me to just step in and be the benevolent dictator and say how it's going to be and be able to give everybody money. That doesn't work. Um, on the other hand, I don't know how else this is supposed to go, and if it's a safe place for me to come in and want to be helpful, but also be able to be really vulnerable and scared about what that's gonna look like. And so I wonder how it would feel for you to imagine this as a scenario of you going in as the one who wants to talk about it, but who doesn't have all of the answers about how this should go. How do you think that would be received?
Frenchie: I have actually started to have the conversation with my two younger sisters. Definitely the one right under me. She's had a more recent experience with having her life be changed financially, uh, particularly due to the pandemic. So I really didn't--at first when she mentioned that she had been furloughed, I immediately was like, okay. What do you need right now? I'm going to send you some, money, I'm going to send you some gift cards, dah, dah, dah. And I did, I sent her some things. And then I took a step step back and thought about how quick I was able to jump to the aid and feel like I had to do something and not really asking what--where she was and how she felt. And so, last week I, um, was able to talk to her more, and I just kind of asked like, how you're feeling about this? What are you thinking? Um, and let her talk. And then I shared a little bit about, um, me wanting to be there to support, but not knowing how to approach it. And, uh, and then my youngest sister was there too, and she chimed in and they both essentially said that we want to be able to figure stuff out on our own. And we, we know that you are there and we want to be able to, uh, use you, and maybe we need to do a better job of reaching out. We didn't reach any conclusion but it was good for me to just leave it open to having a conversation, instead of wanting to figure out what to do specifically.
Amanda: You know, I'm a big believer that, um, lessons that we need to learn are ways that we can grow often show up in the situations that we find ourselves in with money. And, one of the themes that, that we've been talking about in various ways in this conversation is sort of how you relate to the unknown, how you rise to meet a challenge when you perceive a challenge. Like, what's the mode that you switch into? And it's clear that, that the mode that you like to be in, in lots of ways, um, is doing something about it. Is going right into action and figuring out a plan and what needs to be done. Um, and I wonder if one of the ways that you are sort of stretching in the situation that we're in now, is how to do it when you don't really get to be the one who provides a solution or who gets to come in and say, this is the way that we're going to do it. And, and to, to be in the complicated messiness of what that's like.
Frenchie: Yes. Yes. it kind of goes back to my earlier point of, I've struggled with, um, wanting to control a lot of things in my life. Um, and that has manifested in a lot of different ways. And so I'm at--I don't know if I have the skills yet to be at a place to manage it well, but I recognize it. And I am trying to work through what it means not to always be in control. If only were that easy.
Amanda: I know! I'm just going to lay out a roadmap and then you just jump into it! It's just like that!
Frenchie: I will say that as my relationships have evolved over the time and we've shifted to becoming adults, I'm often the one that is called, uh, but I have definitely been better at establishing those boundaries and trusting that things will still be okay. And saying "no" has not ended the world, I've learned.
Amanda: I feel like I need that on a pillow.
Frenchie: I have, actually, I'm at my office right now and I have a sticky note on my desk, and there are four ways that I've written how to say no, but I need that reminder.
And we've got a picture of Frenchie’s four ways to say no on Instagram--head on over to @deathsexmoney to see it.
And that’s it for this special financial therapy series. We want to hear out your feedback...what you got out of listening...and if you’d want to hear more. Tell us...at deathsexmoney.org/ftsurvey
This special series was produced by the team at Death, Sex & Money: Anabel Bacon, Anna Sale, Katie Bishop, Afi Yellow-Duke, Emily Botein, and Andrew Dunn, with additional editing by Jenny Lawton.
Original music by Isaac Jones.
Special thanks to the other people at WNYC who worked to make this series possible-- especially Sahar Baharloo, Ray Chao, Millie Christie-Dervaux, Andrew Golis, Theodora Kuslan, Emily Mann, Celia Muller, Kim Nowacki, Brisa Robinson, Jennifer Houlihan Roussel, Paula Szchuman, Sarah Sandbach, Maria Silva, and Michelle Xu.
You can find me on Instagram @amandaclayman, and on Twitter: @mandaclay
Regular episodes of Death, Sex & Money are back next week….starting with your stories about money...and love.
Lola Davidson: When everything you have is provided for you by someone, then it’s real easy for everything you are to be provided by that someone. And so when that someone is gone, you’re left wondering who you are.
I’m Amanda Clayman….this is Financial Therapy from Death, Sex & Money and WNYC.