Thursday, August 16, 2012

Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge...

I try not to be overly sensitive about things, but there's something that is really gets to me the more I think about it.

"I wish I could afford an iPhone, like the lady in front of me paying for her groceries with food stamps." "If you can afford X, you don't need food stamps." I see & hear these things on a daily basis and, when I point out how broadly judgemental it is, I generally hear things like "oh, I didn't mean you..." or "you're the exception, but MOST people getting government help..."

The truth is, I have been that person in the line with an iPhone, paying with food stamps. However, it's not because I spend all my money on frivolous things while "people who actually work for a living" pay to feed me and my children. In reality, I'm required by a court order to keep a phone active so that my older three children ("The Bigs) can talk to their father. At the time I got the iPhone, the company was having an amazing offer that made the phone cost almost nothing, with a contract. So, I got the contract and my boyfriend (the father of my youngest, "J") paid for the phone.

When some people see my family, I realize that they start doing what I call "the baby-daddy count". I know this because some of them actually ask. Truth is, there are three biological fathers involved in creating my four children...and two biological mothers. You see, The Bigs are from my first marriage. My daughter was adopted and it is obvious from looking at her that she is a different race from myself and my other children.

We haven't always been on food stamps. When I was married, we were middle-class. I did my best to manage the money as wisely as possible so that I could stay at home with the kids. When we divorced, my ex-husband agreed to pay child support  and, because it set at an amount lower than what he would be required to pay if figured from his income, also agreed to pay alimony until I pass the Bar Exam. This plan went along pretty well, until he stopped paying. I did my best to juggle and to find a job. The reality is, though, that I can't pay bills from no income and I have been unable to find a job that can/will work around law school AND very little work history (because I was a SAHM). So, I filed for food stamps. When I did, Child Support Enforcement took over the support issue and managed to collect a few partial payments, but not much to amount to anything. J's father works hard to support us all but, so far, it's been a struggle. Hopefully that will change soon.

So, you see, that girl that you are judging because she is on food stamps, has a manicure (my friend used to do mine for free to practice, as she was going through school), has kids that appears to be from different fathers, nice clothes (I have tons of nice clothes that I bought when I could still afford it & I take care of them), etc. might just be me. I'm NOT the exception. Yes, I know there are some people that are content to just get by on government assistance. However, the vast majority that I know are struggling to navigate the hurdles that it takes to get to the point where we don't need assistance anymore. Not everyone is as fortunate as I have been. I have someone that is willing to stay away from home and work very hard so that I can get through school. Without that, I would have to quit school and take a low paying job to attempt to support my children. However, the only thing that would do is ensure that we'd never be able to get out of the poverty/assistance circle.

So, next time you want to make a judgement or a condecending remark, think twice. Most likely, you don't know the whole story. When you DO know a particular person that is taking advantage...all that means is THAT person is doing that, not that it can be generalized to others.

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