Were you in a single-income doctor's family in the US during the 1990s? Help me reconstruct what lifestyle and education my siblings and I might have enjoyed if my mother hadn't been a pathologically miserly narcissist. Many, many details inside.
I've known for some years that my estranged mother is a severe narcissist under deep cover, but it wasn't until I read this post on the blue
, and specifically this comment by a Mefite with a high-earning single mother
about their lifestyle growing up, that I realized that anything other than strict financial necessity might have been at work in the environment of grudging, Spartan, sanctimonious frugality in which my siblings and I were raised.
While my older brother and sister and I were growing up, and particularly after my parents divorced in 1988 or so, my mother was extremely frugal -- pouring generic soap and shampoo into brand-name bottles and eking them out with water to make them go further; wearing two pairs of one-legged pantyhose rather than throwing away a pair with a run; driving the cheapest and most fuel-efficient cars on the market; vacationing only in campsites and youth hostels; obsessively monitoring the household's energy consumption; subscribing to endless personal finance magazines and newsletters like The Tightwad Gazette. As a family, we had almost none of the trappings of affluence: no fancy house, no fancy car, no satellite dish, no swimming pool, no boat, no summer home, no private lessons, no heaps of toys, no swanky clothes, no big-screen or cable TV, no stereo system. The only signs my mother wasn't, say, a Mennonite on a paralegal's salary was that we had a live-in housekeeper/nanny who functioned as her stay-at-home wife, and that she occasionally went on Caribbean cruises with me and/or the housekeeper for company.
None of these economies would have felt like deprivation if they had been undertaken for our sake or in an emotionally generous atmosphere, but my mother was also very good at claiming the moral high ground as sole breadwinner and making us children feel like selfish, greedy, materialistic, lazy, sponging, expensive and bothersome drains on her hard-earned finances. Even basics like new clothes or warm winter coats had to be groveled for as special favors -- throughout my teens and twenties I dressed almost exclusively in thrift-store clothing and shoes, and cut my own hair with sewing shears -- and we were shamed out of asking for things I realize in retrospect were fairly innocent and normal expectations in middle-class American kids: Barbie's Dream House, cars to drive in our teens, financial contributions to our weddings.
The most upsetting aspect of my mother's stinginess was that it extended to a staunch unwillingness to spend money on our education. I was "the family genius" with effortless straight As, blisteringly high test scores and a passion for learning; my brother had emotional and behavioral difficulties if not a learning disability; my sister was an average student. All three of us floundered, bored out of our minds or struggling without help, through mediocre public schools, and were then brainwashed and guilted into choosing colleges solely on the basis of their cheapness. I would have given a limb to go to an Ivy League, but my mother steered me firmly away from aspirations like these, depicting them as total pipe dreams, and I wound up applying to only one school, a SUNY. (When I found out in my late 20s about things like need-blind admissions programs, I cried and cried.) We were also expected to work throughout college in order to lighten the financial burden on her.
I grew up believing money was tight and feeling cripplingly guilty for always needing more of it. It wasn't until my mother took early retirement and started buying featherbeds and Persian rugs and taking her friends on cruises regularly that I began to realize what all those years of scrimping and saving might really have been for.
After reading the MeFi FPP, I did a little research on how much US anesthesiologists make. They make a lot.
Then I looked at the salaries offered in job ads for specialists at the hospital where my mother worked. The anesthesiologist ads were salary on application, but an otolaryngologist position was advertised with a baseline salary of $440,000.
That's the point at which I started to feel sick. How could a fully employed anesthesiologist, even one with three kids to raise and $100k in ex-husband debts to pay off, really have been as hard-pressed to make ends meet as my mother made out? What could she really have afforded if she'd had our best interests at heart? How badly did we get scammed? What might my life and opportunities have been like if she hadn't been a narcissist?
TL;DR: Were you a doctor, or the child of a doctor, in a single-income household during the 1990s? What was your family's lifestyle and education like?