Being low income means you can’t always afford to buy your kid everything they want, everything you’d like to give them, or sometimes even everything they need. It means depending on the kindness of others, sitting in Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) offices, and experiencing judgement from those who just don’t know. After all, not knowing what it's like doesn't keep people from making comments. In fact, you wouldn’t believe some of the awful things people say to low-income moms, but you need to know. Everyone should know. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), an estimated 43 percent of children live in low-income families. For those children, and their parents, these hurtful comments are commonplace, and that needs to stop, like, yesterday.
For the first year and a half or so of my son’s life, we struggled. Not as much as I’ve seen some folks struggle, to be sure, and I've always tried to keep that in mind when dealing with my own financial difficulties. For example, I knew a couple who would let their daughter wear diapers until they were so full she’d have an accident, not out of neglect, but because they just couldn’t always afford them. I was lucky to get by on government aid programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC, and I was lucky to have parents who allowed me to live rent-free in their home for a period of time. In other words, I was lucky to have safety nets in place.
But my financial hardship wasn't due to being reckless. My partner and I lost a child to prematurity, which resulted in a number of financial issues, including losing our apartment. Then I was fired from my job when I got pregnant with my son, because my employers refused to accommodate my high-risk pregnancy. I was basically at the mercy of a string of bad luck that hit me and my partner in a short amount of time. Honestly, though, how I became a low-income mom shouldn't matter. Instead, people should stop judging low income parents and practically requiring them to "explain themselves" in order to get an ounce of understanding. No one should feel less than because of the amount of money sitting in their bank account, and no one should have to hear the following things when they're doing everything they can to provide for their children:
“How Have You Not Started A College Fund Yet?”
Nope. I mean, I don't know what college prices will look like by the time my son is older (they're not exactly cheap as it is). Honestly, though, my partner and I were more focused on putting food on the table than we were concerned with paying some future, probably horrendous college price tag.
“We’re Going To [Insert Expensive, Exotic Place Here] For The Spring Break. How About You?”
Look, I get it. You’re excited. I take vacations now, too (well, sometimes), and I get excited. But I don’t bring it up around friends I know are struggling to make rent. Have some tact.
“Do You Have Something To Wear For [Insert Fancy Occassion Here]?”
It’s equally annoying when people simply assume you’re too poor for things. Let me worry about it.
“Why Aren’t You Having A Big Party For Your Child?”
Honestly, I can’t stand kid’s birthdays at big indoor play places. I find them to be annoying, personally, but I get that not all parents feel the same. I’ve thrown my kid parties at the park most years because it’s not too expensive (and usually his grandparents like to chip in), and because what do kids love more than the park, really?
“You Really Need To Get Your Kid Into [Insert Members-Only Kids Space Here]”
Oh, are you paying for us? I understand that these My Gym, Gymboree, Gymbananafofana places can be fun for kids (even if they aren’t for me). I do. But back then, I had to scrape up pennies for toothpaste. GTFO with that stuff.
“I Could Just Give You All Of Kid's Old Clothes, You Know”
There’s a way to give hand-me-downs, and a way not to. Some people simply assumed I couldn’t afford anything for me kid, which wasn't entirely true and only made me feel like garbage. I did my best to save and buy some cute, affordable baby clothes. So it felt a bit condescending to have someone assume I was "too poor" all the time. It was even worse to watch these people seem to make themselves feel better about my financial situation by giving me things I didn't ask for, that were usually unusable, to "help me out."
“You’re Not Feeding Your Baby Organic?”
Not all the time, nope. Do I wish I could? Heck yeah. I’d love if we could all eat seasonal, farm-to-table, organic yumminess, but it’s expensive. So sometimes my kid settled for the regular Gerber jars. Whatevs.
“Well That Looks Fancy. I Thought You Said You Were Trying To Save?”
People will judge you if you say you’re broke but have an iPhone or a new pair of shoes or a necklace you didn't buy from the dollar store. Ugh.
Listen, one: you have no idea how I acquired any of those things. Perhaps they were gifts, or my parents helped me out, or a friend gave me their phone when they got an upgrade. Most importantly, it's none of your business.
“Maybe If You Worked A Little Harder Your Family Wouldn’t Be Struggling So Much”
This was the absolute worst. Victim blaming at its finest. Screw people that say things like this. Every last one of them.