There are a lot of blog posts about parenting out there.
Their subjects range from the obligatory "How to be a Perfect Parent in 5 Million Easy Steps", to the new-and-improved "How to Stop Trying so Hard to be a Perfect Parent in 10 Million Easy Steps". Then there's always the follow-up, "Being-a-Perfect Parent-Is-Awful-for-Your-Kids-Why-Would-You-Do-Such-a-Thing-to-Them-Anyway-Just-Make-Them-Pretty-Things-From-Pinterest-Already!"
Yes, I know, you've seen them all, too.
Some of these posts are for, and/or about, poor parents like me. While many of these posts are relatable, they also present mixed feelings. On one hand, it's nice to know I'm not alone in the hardships I've faced being a poor parent. On the other hand, being reminded of those hardships isn't exactly a pep talk for anyone who struggles to get by.
Misery loves company, sure, but are we always miserable? Must we always be?
No, we're not. And no, we shouldn't be. I, for one, am certainly not. So what is there to celebrate about raising kids poor? What should we be happy and thankful for? Well...
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 grateful, 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 do 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
I'm 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 a beach house, or whatever else middle class and rich families do together is a lot of fun. My own family would certainly enjoy such things, I'll freely admit. Still, that certainly doesn't mean our own family time is anything to sneeze at.
For example there are times when we do have some extra cash, so we have things like a TV and video game system (yes, poor people have those things too). They're a great investment for free family-time living room 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 -- and it's one of my children's happiest summertime memories.
We also go camping, which is a wonderful time to not only give our kids some great memories but also spend real time with each-other without the distractions of everyday life. 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 too. Still...
2. It Takes Work
So you might be saying, "Yes, we know that, but I thought this was about good things!" 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. But I don't have money to spare, and so I have to take extra time to spend quality moments with my children.
Between my job, bill-paying, and the everyday stress of not knowing 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 12-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 span in age from 6 to 16, and they aren't stupid. They see things. They hear things. They know Mom and Stepdad 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. 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: 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. They show that empathy on a daily basis, like at the food bank where they 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 16-year-old daughter, when she was only 8 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 9-year-old son shares everything he gets with his 6-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 eachother. These words from one particular older 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 know that if my children hadn't had it so rough growing up they wouldn't be nearly this sympathetic. Sure my influence and lessons have made an impact, but again, I am a natural coddler. If we had money my kids would be spoiled. I know that. And in that case they would quite possibly not understand what it's like to be in need, to be downtrodden, to be on the outside looking in. Without that understanding it's very difficult to sympathize 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 for myself, my husband and my children. This is why I have worked so hard to earn my Master's degree. 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 dang great.
This post first appeared on http://jessica-rising.com.