I see a lot of blog posts about parenting out there, and many of them are a lot of fun to read, laugh with, and relate to. Still, these are often written about subjects to which I am woefully unrelatable, such as picking the perfect nanny, or how to get your kid into an ivy-league college starting in preschool. Now, I’m not saying these things aren’t relevant; I’m sure for many parents they are, or else they wouldn’t be written about. And I would never be one to judge any parent (unless they harm their children — that deserves a lot more than judgement, as far as I’m concerned). However, I am pretty sure I am not the only mommy out there who’s parenting world is a bit different than the perceived norm of soccer practices and brand-name baby carriages.
As I have written about before, I am not what one would call… well-off. Actually I’m not even middle class. Of course, when one says this, one is usually expected to follow up with reasons why being poor is a terrible thing, how they want to win the Lottery one day, how the world is awful and judgmental, etc.
I’m not going to do that.
As I said before, I’m not the only parent raising their children in what America calls poverty, and we have all heard quite enough about how horrible it all is. Heck, we’re quite aware of it in our own lives thank-you-very-much. But what I haven’t heard much of is the good things. The happy things. The wonderful day-to-dayness of parenting poor (as opposed to poorLY — that’s a very different thing). So, for myself and my fellow penniless parents out there, here is my list of the top five BEST things about raising un-monied children:
5) Our Kids Have to Learn to be Thankful
I’m not saying that those parents who are better off can’t teach their children to be meek and thankful, but I am saying that poor kids don’t really have a choice in the matter. My own children have learned from day one that they won’t get everything they want in life, not because I don’t want to give them all their desires, but because I can’t. Seeing that Mom would like to give them what they want, but still can’t do it, not only shows my children that the world won’t just give them whatever they desire, but it makes them far more thankful for what they can have. Though any parent can teach their child thankfulness, poor parents have the automatic default of showing their kids — in real time — why hard work is important.
Which brings me to…
4) Our Kids Get Daily Lessons in Reality
This is similar to #5, but not exactly the same. See, I am divorced from my children’s father as well as poor. This isn’t something I’m particularly proud of, but life is the way it is. However, it gives me a myriad of lessons to teach my children in order to improve their futures:
“Why are you and dad divorced?” “Because we got married too young — don’t do that.”
“Why are we so poor?” “Because Mommy didn’t do anything to get ready for having kids before she had you. Go to college. Get a career, not just a job. Be ready for your kids.”
My children get these lessons on almost a daily basis. My high school junior is planning college with a view towards a career, not just a degree, and my sophomore has said that she WILL get a PhD… because Mom now has a Master’s and she can do better. I’m proud of my children, what they have accomplished and will accomplish. I am also a natural spoiler. If I had money, my children would most likely be learning some very different lessons… and not the best ones.
3) Family Time is AWESOME
I’m sure going to the spa, or Disneyland, or beach house, or whatever is a lot of fun for some families. I’m even sure my family would enjoy such a thing. However, we have some pretty awesome family times ourselves.
For example, there are times when we do have some extra cash, so we have things like a T.V. and video game system for family-time livingroom sleepovers with popcorn, game tournaments, and family movies. There are also some great free, or close to free, family outings that we do on a regular basis. Here in Spokane there is a HUGE free fountain in the central park downtown where kids can run through and splash and have a blast. We go there often when it’s warm, packing a picnic lunch from our own home stores of budgeted groceries. This costs about $3 — for parking. We also go camping, which is a WONDERFUL time to not only give our kids some great memories, but spend real time with each-other without the distractions of T.V., laptops, or even cell phones. This usually costs a bit more for gas and some extra campy-style food, but we have some free campsites we like to go to, so that the total cost for an entire weekend of family fun is only around $40 max. Usually less. Wintertime offers parks for sledding with home-brought hot cocoa, or family game night with mommy-made kid’durves (usually tiny peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and chips).
Of course, this isn’t meant to say that our family times are any better than anyone else’s, but it is to say that yeah we have it. And yes, it can be AWESOME. Still…
2) It Takes Work
So, you might be saying “how the heck is this a GOOD thing?” Let me explain.
I am not going to sit here and say I know what it’s like to raise kids with money. That would be asinine, and a lie. That said, I DO know myself, and I know that if I had money to spare, I’d probably take as many shortcuts as possible to make my parenting life easier. However, I don’t have money to spare, and so I have to take extra time to spend quality moments with my children. Between job-hunting, bill paying, and the everyday stress of not knowing details about the future state of either, my kids could easily get lost in the shuffle. I have to make a concerted effort to remember to give my twelve-year-old the scraps of cloth and holey clothes I find in the laundry so she can practice her sewing skills. I have to work hard at planning creative birthday parties around a non-existent budget, to sign my kids up for the free programs at school so they can go to cross country practices and sing in choir, to plan a special fun meal with nothing more than a loaf of bread and some frozen hamburger, to stop and hug my kids, even when my mind is racing with anxiety over how the electric bill is going to get paid…
My kids aren’t stupid. They span in age from 6 to 16. They see things. They hear things. They know Mom and Dad (my new husband) are stressing out. But they also see past that. They see the love. They see the dedication. They understand that no matter what, they are the very most important thing to us. And they know this because it takes so much work to keep their lives as happy, carefree and normal as possible, even while our own feels like it’s falling apart.
1) Our Kids are Compassionate
Again, let me qualify this with the fact that I am not saying wealthier kids can’t be compassionate. What I am saying is my children have empathy for those in need, because they have been in-need themselves many times. We have been to the food bank where my kids have given other kids the donuts they just got, because maybe those kids don’t have a big sister who will bake for them later. My now sixteen-year-old daughter, when she was only eight and very shy, stood up for a friend who was being bullied because she herself was bullied so often for wearing the “wrong” clothes. My nine-year-old son shares everything he gets with his six-year-old sister, because he knows that maybe neither of them will get it again any time soon. I have been complimented in public, not for how well my children behave, but for how well they treat each-other. The words from one particular old lady will forever echo in my mind as one of the greatest moments of my life: “It’s so wonderful to see your children together. It’s obvious that they love each-other very much.”
Am I bragging? Maybe a little. 😉 But I have a sneaking suspicion that if my children hadn’t had it so rough growing up, they wouldn’t be so soft now. Sure, my influence and lessons have made an impact, but again, I am a natural coddler. If we had money, my kids would quite possibly not understand what it’s like to be in need, to be downtrodden, to be on the outside looking in. And without that understanding it’s very difficult to sympathize — let alone empathize — with others in the same position.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I want to remain poor for the rest of my life. Like the vast majority of people, I want the best life I can have for myself, my husband, and my children. This is why I have worked so hard to earn my Master’s (which I just received last month, hence the lack of job at the moment). Still, I’m a little tired of seeing only the bad side of being poor. Poor parents aren’t bad parents, and we aren’t always miserable, either.
In fact, sometimes being a poor parent is pretty danged great.