Sunday, October 3, 2010

Child support and my favorite movie

I love those moments when two aspects of life come together! Last week my husband and I paid the monthly child support; and this weekend I watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unrelated?

Denethor: Steward of Gondor and a second-tier character I hadn't related to in the past.  Ding ding!

I guess every couple finds their own way to handle finance. In our home, my husband handles money by aligning expenses with his larger goals. In a more methodical philosophy, I prioritize things that we're required to pay, regardless of whether they align with my emotional priorities.

To illustrate: my husband is a chef and owns a tree business. In my mind, a parking ticket with a threatening late charge would take priority over a Cook’s Illustrated or ISA Arboriculture subscription. To him, the benefits of learning more about his occupation are worth the city’s late fee.

These things come and go, but child support is a fact of life. For the most part, I’m lucky that our rates and arrangements are fair. They provide for the kids, leave enough for us to live on, and require that the other parent contribute financially. Just three points cause distress for me as a stepmother:
  1. Do the kids benefit from the support that we pay? Mommy can do whatever she wants with the money—drink, shop, gamble, enjoy $150 haircuts or cosmetic dental procedures.
  2. “The system” is right that my stepkids’ mothers need to have larger homes...and so do we. Some standard adjustments (based upon how much time we spend with the kids) allow for us to provide food, clothing, transportation, etc. when the kids stay with us. But there is no provision for the rather major requirement that our home accommodate five people.
  3. In a home like ours where my husband’s income is not fixed—it’s based on business profits—there will unavoidably be months when that fixed child support amount is no small burden. If the kids lived here full-time, then during tough months we could choose inexpensive items and make other sacrifices to reduce expenses, but with child support, we pay the same amount no matter what.
There’s not much we can do about the first, and fortunately, I can think logically through moral decisions. Financially supporting my stepkids is our obligation and our joy.  The sentence ends there.  It's our obligation regardless of whether or not the other parent also does the right thing.

That we also have to have a bigger home at less cost is also fairly easy to deal with emotionally, although it will always be more difficult to find the right home. I just have to accept the kids as part of my family (a good thing!), and it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. My parents are very generous with me, and it's a joy to pass that along.  Sure, it’s a nice fantasy to think of moving to a cozy condo at a swanky address (my husband and I enjoy small spaces and downtown St. Paul). But the kids are a blessing and realistically we have to keep this home, which is farther from our ideal neighborhood and accommodates them.

Two down. The last is the tough one for me. It’s hard to watch what sometimes is a huge portion of our income divert into the hands of someone who may or may not spend it on the kids.

This is where my weekend break-through comes in.  I didn’t realize it—I’d sit through homilies and innocently nod my head—but I was looking at the money we earn as mine and my husband’s. The truth is, all of it belongs to God.  It’s His money and I’m the steward of it, like Denethor was the steward of Gondor.  My talents, my job, my husband’s business…all are of God, and my job is to pass the proceeds along to wherever they will do good for our home or another.  My husband and I were just a stop on the way.  If some of it helps to take care of another woman (not the kids), then it’s up to God to ensure that it works some good in that other woman’s life and by extension improves the kids’ lives.  That kind of thing is a cinch for God.