10/22/2013 4:45 PM ET|
Raising kids and strapped for cash
I do the best I can for my kids. In the end, our hand-to-mouth existence will, I hope, make for great stories and a resilient spirit. And that’s an inheritance in itself.
There is no shame in being broke, theoretically. But that hasn't stopped me from feeling horrible shame at how broke my family is.
Then I feel guilty for feeling that shame. After all, if I feel angry at myself for not earning more, I must also be angry at my husband for not earning more. Yet, in reality, we are both in the same boat: eminently employable adults with great resumes who find ourselves, along with a flood of similar people, unable to secure a steady income in this post-2008 economy.
I've worked as a journalist and a marketing copywriter, and have watched the number of available jobs shrink as the applicant pool grows. Both my husband and I—a videogame producer and a writer—have expanded our definitions of "jobs we'll take" until we're so overeager it's surely painful to witness.
In the meantime, until I find something steadier, I've been freelance writing and working at my children's daycare co-op. My husband takes freelance assignments, works part-time for a car service and began his own produce delivery company that's still establishing itself.
I have reached out repeatedly to friends at places like Google and Pixar, asking for information about jobs I see listed, only to have them say things like, "Why would you want that? It's a mid-level job you're overqualified for."
Thanks for that, I guess. I still need the gig.
How do you tell your kids you're broke?
The hardest part is watching my kids. At ages 2 and 4, they're still so young they can't tell the difference between shopping at Goodwill and shopping at Target or Nordstrom. But they do notice that all their school friends go to the same dance class on Monday afternoons. When the other girls stroll down the street in their tutus, I feel awful.
"That's why Mommy's going back to school this summer," I told them, thinking I was handling this all extremely well and finding a teachable moment amid the tears.
I explained that ballet lessons cost money, and I needed to make more money, and the best way to do that was to switch my job. To do that, I said, I needed to go back to school. (I'm going to become a special ed teacher.) This was a sore point between me and the girls: They like having me around and the idea of my going back to school upset them mightily. I was trying to draw a line between the "what" and the "why." You want what your friends have? Your mom has to start wearing pants that zip.
A few days later, a friend and fellow school parent said she'd run into my daughter on the playground. When my friend asked, "How are you?" my daughter reportedly stuck her hand on her hip and said, "Well, I'm not taking ballet class because my mom ran out of money, but she's going to go to school and I will not see her all day, and that's not fair. Also, one time, my sister went to school but I didn't because I had a fever, and that was not fair, too."
Now my friends know I tell my kids we're broke. And now all the moms will know, as they walk their daughters down the hill, why I'm not joining them. Not having money is as unfair as getting sick when someone else is well. It feels awful, but all you can do is get better.
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My kids aren't the only problem
I find myself losing friends because I am tired of explaining things, or sick of hearing complaints. Years ago, I read an essay by Anne Lamott in which she described breaking up with a friend because she couldn't bear hearing the friend boast about her (well-deserved, but annoying) good fortune. I didn't get it.
Now that I've heard my friends whine about having to spend money on, say, a large dental co-pay (when they have! dental! insurance!) or claiming they're so broke right before getting on a plane to fly back east for the holidays (and then to Hawaii), I get that sometimes you just can't hang around certain people until you feel a little less angry at your own circumstances. It's not kind, it's not rational and it's not fair, but that's the sitch, and I honor it so I don't start kicking out people's tail lights.
I also find myself grateful for the friends who know how bad it is and just help, by having us over to their much-larger homes, by letting us contribute in the ways that we can, by knowing where we are and just being quietly supportive.
For everyone out there like me …
My friend Heather of Terrible Mother wrote a heartbreaking piece for Salon about the time she took her kids to a soup kitchen. People read essays like that (and like this one) and say, "Why did you have kids if you were only going to fall on hard times?" (Oh, comment section of the internet, you are truly the weirdest place on earth.) I read it and am grateful I'm not the only struggling mom trying to balance my checkbook on a razor's edge.
I continue to do the best I can for my kids. For now, that means finding less expensive classes through parks and rec, and feeling extremely grateful I live in San Francisco, which provides so many low-cost options for us. It means taking advantage of the library, free days at the museum and negotiating the public school system, which is not nearly as painful as I had been led to believe.
It means sharing my struggle with other parents and hearing, through word-of-mouth, about other ways to get by. It means trading childcare when my husband and I both need to work. It means studying Johnny Funcheap as if it were the Talmud. It means learning to love camping. (That last one is a challenge.)
Then there's the real worry that I am not saving for college, because everything goes into our day-to-day existence. Whenever I tear myself away from the intoxicating scent of my 2-year-old's hair, I tell myself she needs more than my hugs. (Note: There's no danger of my not hugging her an insane amount. Just a little bit less, while I go to school.)
In the end, our kinda-crazy, hand-to-mouth existence will, I hope, make for great stories and a resilient spirit. And that's an inheritance in itself.
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OK, not to sound snarky... But the author is not broke. Not being able to afford ballet classes or shopping at Nordstoms does not make one broke. She can afford to live in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in America. She can afford to put food on her table. She can afford to send her children to a daycare co-op. Shs is not broke. She is simply no longer upper middle class. Broke is worrying how you're going to keep the lights on when your electric bill is 3 months past due. Broke is having to put your I-phone up for sale on EBAY because you can't afford the data plan any longer. Broke is when you not only buy your clothes at good will, but sell the ones your children grew out of at a consignment shop to do it. Broke is when you're at the library searching for food pantries on line while your children read and play so they aren't cold because you can't afford to turn the heat on. Broke people cannot afford to go back to school full time to change careers because they are too busy taking ANY job that will hire them. There is no such thing as a "list of jobs we're willing to take" when you are truly broke. Broke people are willing to take any job.
Quit whining about what you don't have and look at all you do. Stop trying to "keep up" with the bourgousie.
No shame in doing the right thing and saying no, we have to pay down some of these bills and not charge more unnecessary items or luxuries.
We raised our blended family of 5 on clearance, home cooked meals, and only went out on special occasions. We were not rich, but not completely broke either. All the kids have moved out except the last one of 12 yrs.
I could not imagine having all 5 now at home. Wages have decreased, insurance has quadrupled, and food cost the same now to feed the three of us as it did for 7 of us 5 years ago.
Only one out of the 5 married adult children have a child of their own now and they are having a hard time because our son got laid off from his 50k a year job and had to take a 12k a year job. He looked for a year for a job in his field. We can't help any of them, we're just trying to survive now with the last one.
So some of these comments about wait until you have the money. Most of us have had the money, everyone is one paycheck, one down size, one sickness away from financial embarrassment. I wish all that have had, the best of luck, and the ones that still have, the best of luck also. You never know when that one thing will break you.
No matter how much money you have, or don't have, children need to want for something.....else they remain on your couch at 30.
Nobody is guaranteed anything in life. Ever. Period.
Wealth, health, good looks, smarts, food, clean water, clothes, ballet lessons, etc. None of this stuff is owed to you or your kid. The bulk of the planet's inhabitants (like 5 billion people) aren't as wrapped up in feeling bad about affording ballet lessons for their kids as you are. They have real things to worry about. If some other kid has the means to take ballet lessons, great. But you aren't entitled to anything.
Your job as a parent isn't to spend more money on your already useless (can't find a worthy to you job) education so 5 years down the road (maybe) you can buy her a cool bike or some bitchin' shoes. All the kid really needs is you, food, water and shelter.
Sac up, get a job and live contentedly within your means.
Your job as a parent is to worry, but not about ballet lessons.
What ever happened to working hard and having something to show for it? This is not that time. Great! I have a roof over my head! Yea! My Pos car only breaks down once a year! Awsome! I can only afford to do something with the kids when i get a tax return. Whoopie! I got fifty bucks after I paid all the bills. Terrific! The home insurance company wants me to put a new roof on my house even though the house is worth $50 grand and we owe $125 grand...... crap.....they dropped me! Ugh!!
Sure other countries or people have it worse but come on! What the heck?
Hi, I make good money and I am part of the middle lower class.
if i ever had it to do over, instead of being an engineer i'd get into hotel-motel management.
it's a field where most people have NO degrees, so people with a degree (likely just ANY degree) or a brain can excel.
turn your journalism skills into another field. pick one where planning is required (you do outlines before writing i hope). read up on program management. apply it to another industry. strive for upper management positions in these other fields.
i paid for college working in kitchens and always felt had i never gotten the degree i would have been at least manager of a restaurant, or district manager of several clustered restaurants.
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