“I’ve had it! I’m calling my lawyer and changing my will!”
That’s how a close friend started a phone conversation this morning. I get an I’m-cutting-my-ungrateful-relatives-out-of-my-will call from her once a month.
I settled into a comfy chair with a cup of coffee, happily preparing to goad her into redlining her will. I know she’ll never go through with it. But I enjoy watching her mentally reposition her meager assets like armies in a game of Risk. Each move is designed to create an emotional bulwark against the minor slights committed upon her by her nieces and nephews.
My friend and her husband are not Rockefellers. What they are is childless. If you manage to make it into your middle-age with a decent paying job, good health insurance, and no kids, you may as well be a Rockefeller. While your friends with kids are having their savings desiccated by their children’s college tuitions, you’re buying a boat.
My friend’s nieces and nephews loved spending time with her when they were younger. Why wouldn’t they? A few weekends a year, they would be plucked from a grim life of household chores and enforced soccer schedules, and transported to a kid-heaven of all-day ice cream and amusement parks.
But now that the kids are older, they no longer need their aunt and uncle to take them to Disney World. Instead, they are entertaining themselves with the messy adventures of young adulthood. My friends are hurt by their inattention. They were expecting some emotional payoff after all those years of drowning the kids in candy and screen time.
And that’s why they’re leaving all their money to their cats!
I used to be one of these childless folk. It was great! I had a boat! I would jet off to Europe for a weekend just to see an obscure performance artist. I wouldn’t hesitate to upgrade to a business-class air ticket. “Treat yourself! Don’t cheat yourself!” was my mantra.
Before I had stepkids, I’d take my nieces on extravagant trips and shower them with gifts, leaving the thankless task of tending to their everyday needs to their parents. I was treated as a conquering hero each time I breezed into their lives.
This past Christmas, my nieces requested an expensive gift to share. For the first time, I said no. My spouse’s son had just started college. The younger son will need to go in a few years. Even as I type this, my throat is constricting at the thought of navigating this harrowing financial roadmap.
When I bounded into my stepkids’ lives, I employed the same Santa Claus strategy that had worked so well on my nieces. But the vampiric demands of raising kids soon took its toll. I started fretting over utility bills and launched a monthly lecture series called “Cutting Back.” No one wanted to attend my lectures. I was no longer the hero. That made me cranky because I love to be the hero.
The role of free-spending, fun-loving aunt suited me perfectly. Shrinking that bloated figure into the rigid armor of financial gatekeeper who scolds kids for forgetting to turn off lights has been a struggle.
I no longer have the luxury of using financial power plays to benefit or punish the people I love. I miss it, but there are payoffs. My nieces still adore me, even without the endless stream of gifts. And my stepkids are making an effort to turn off lights when they leave a room, which I have decided to take as a gesture that they care about me.
They’re all staying in the will. Maybe. Unless I get a cat.