Ten Money Questions for Rebecca Walker

With Mother’s Day approaching, it made perfect sense to interview Rebecca Walker, the author of the new memoir, Baby Love in this week's Ten Money Questions. Rebecca is also the offspring of another famous mother, Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Rebecca provides us with poignant views on family and finances, fused with a healthy respect for the almighty dollar. Enjoy!

1. In Baby Love you write, “I remember my mother making endless calculations on brown paper bags and blank pages in her journal when I was a child, and my father sitting at the dining-room table writing checks out every month, his brow furrowed and intense.” How do these memories influence your habits and feelings about money as an adult?
Like my parents, I definitely brood about having enough money, and constantly run figures in my head. Those early memories gave me a sense that money should be worried about and fretted over. Also that the responsibility for providing for my family is on my shoulders, and I need to be disciplined about the way I go about it.

2. If you could buy one thing right now what would it be? How would your partner, a Buddhist teacher answer the same question?
I would buy a five bedroom, beautifully designed house on twenty-five acres overlooking the ocean. The house would be environmentally perfect and entirely off the grid. My partner would buy a global media campaign that would support and cultivate peace as much as the current media supports and cultivates war.

3. Prior to having a baby, you wrestled with how motherhood might restrict your finances and curb professional opportunities. How has a “dependent” altered your life?
I’m much more aware of the need to save money now in order to have options in the future. I still buy beautiful objects and pursue a certain aesthetic, but I put money in the IRA and the 529 first, and go without buying the non-essentials: contemporary art, Alexander lessons, health club membership, all-organic food, etc. These days I can shop at Safeway and actually feel grateful that I can buy food at all rather than thinking I’m going to die of pesticides.

The baby hasn’t curbed my professional activities so far, perhaps because I’ve just written a book about him. I did have baby drain for about a year though, and have no idea what I missed.

4. Do you think women are still conditioned by their mothers and society that marrying a man is a financial plan?
Even though I meet women who think this way, I certainly never have. I was raised to be financially independent, to make my own money, and to use my ability to earn and provide to show love for the people in my life.

I’m not so sure this was the best message. One of my friends, an incredible, powerhouse of a woman, told me that even though she loves her husband to death, she wishes she married for money and not for love. I was shocked, but there was definitely a part of me that started thinking about the unthinkable.

I decided there’s got to be a happy medium somewhere. We should partner for love and financial solvency?

5. You grew up surrounded by the rich and famous (e.g. your godmother is Gloria Steinem). Money buys access, comfort and some might say happiness. Did you see money doing anything good?
The people in my life with a lot of money have always used it to support people and causes they believe in. From taking in political refugees and funding political campaigns to taking care of family members and creating environments of great beauty, I have see money do quite a bit of good.

I have also seen money cause quite a few problems. Wealthy people are often isolated, either because they fear exploitation, or subscribe to a false sense of autonomy. They sometimes mistakenly believe that providing for themselves financially precludes the need to work on their intimate relationships with others. There is no urgency about their emotional health because they believe their wealth is proof that they have it, even when those close to them tell them otherwise.

6. Same-sex parents have to make a mindful and concerted effort to have children. Often this requires spending thousands of dollars to get pregnant, adopt, or pay a surrogate. Are gays and lesbians better parents because of the financial investment required to get the kid?
I can’t say they are better parents because of their financial investment. I can say that they are extremely determined to have a baby, and that bodes well for their parental stamina once the baby arrives. They are obviously also able to sacrifice material comforts on behalf of another human being, a trait that can’t be underestimated.

7. You write, lecture and lead workshops, which means you are self-employed. Do you think of yourself as a small business owner? Is there truth to the saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow?”
I think of myself as a small business owner when my accountant tells me I have to pay unemployment insurance and send 1099s to the people I’ve employed over the course of any given year.

The rest of the time I just act like a small business owner: thinking about how to reach more people, figuring out how to schedule my life so that I can maximize my time away from home, pondering new ways to develop my talents in order to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others, keeping my eye on the quality of my work, and the tenor of my professional relationships.

I definitely believe in doing what you love, though sometimes it looks different than you think. For instance, I actually hate the actual act of writing. I do love connecting with people at a deep, emotional level though, and writing is my way of doing that. Once you find the core aspect of what makes you happy, the medium or “delivery system” can vary greatly.

8. There is mention of some “retail therapy” in your book. When women shop, do you think they are spending to satisfy some bigger void?
Sometimes. But adornment is one of the oldest rituals known to humanity. We’ve worn amulets and beaded head-dresses, elaborate gold and silver cuffs and flowing muslin scarves for millennia. The urge to make art of our bodies, to communicate through our garments and wearable objects is a beautiful, wholesome thing that is often exploited in the contemporary marketplace.

Sometimes it is hard to tell when following this urge is healthy and when it is not. Audre Lorde said, “Poetry is not a luxury”. For many of us, beautiful objects are not luxuries either, but things that remind us of the often obscured beauty of life.

9. You have been linked romantically to both men and women. Do people assume roles in relationships based more on earnings or gender?
Genius question. I would have to say earnings.

10. What is the most important lesson you hope to teach your son, Tenzin about money?
That while money is an important force to be respected, it can also be obstructive to genuine happiness if one becomes too identified with it. Keep an eye on the big picture, not just the bottom line.

More about Rebecca Walker
Rebecca Walker is a best-selling author, an acclaimed speaker and teacher, and an award-winning visionary and activist in the fields of intergenerational feminism, multi-cultural identity, enlightened masculinity, and transformational human awareness. When she was just twenty-five, Time Magazine named her one of the fifty most influential future leaders of America – an award which has since been followed by many others.

In 1995 Rebecca published To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, an anthology that remains in print after more than ten years. In 2002, Rebecca’s memoir, Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self, became an international bestseller. People Magazine called Black, White, and Jewish, “A heartbreaking tale of self-creation,”

In December of 2004 Rebecca gave birth to a son, Tenzin, whose arrival is the subject of a 2007 memoir, Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood after a Lifetime of Ambivalence. She lives with Tenzin and his father in Hawaii. Visit her website at RebeccaWalker.com.

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Nina Smith blogs about money at Queercents where she cross-posted this interview for the LGBT community. You will find other queer interviews there in the Ten Money Questions archive.

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