Love Outweighs the Loss: Money’s Impact on Mothering Confidence.

After a holiday hiatus, our Class and Money Matters Series continues with single mother Kimberly S. Thomas, who writes beautifully of the ways in which financial hardship can make us question our parenting.
littlegirlcoloring

I knew I may not be able to give my daughter everything I wanted to, but I never imagined I would have to take things from her.

The first to go were her swimming lessons. Determined that she would not be not part of the alarming statistic of the 70% of African-American children who cannot swim, I signed her up for classes at the local YMCA. Next to go were her math enrichment classes. Curbing her dislike for math before it took hold and developed into a full blown phobia was a priority for me. She fell in love with the class and didn’t mind forgoing her Saturday morning cartoons to attend. I remind myself daily that these are First World problems and things could be worse – like not having shelter, food or clean drinking water. Unfortunately, that rationale doesn’t always work with the elementary school set.

The last and most crushing (to her) to go was Netflix. Cable is a luxury we can’t afford and, at $7.99 per month, Netflix suited our needs with its unlimited supply of children’s shows. Currently, she is making do with her old DVD’s and six to (depending on the weather) eight channels.

*  *  *

Before I fell down the rabbit hole of single motherhood, I had a plan: I was going to attend graduate school at New York University, immerse myself in books, research history and eventually live in Brooklyn. In the midst of planning, I received a phone call that my father had died. Still reeling from his recent passing, I continued a relationship with someone I had planned on breaking up with. Five months later, I became pregnant with my daughter.

My family had disapproved of my daughter’s father on sight – at my father’s funeral. My grandmother (in that no nonsense way that elderly black women can have) didn’t hold back her opinions. She warned me he wasn’t “going to amount to anything.”

That I would graduate from college was a foregone conclusion in my family. The importance of education was something instilled in my siblings and I from an early age. My grandmother saw my relationship as a dangerous step down from my climb to upward mobility. My solidly working class parents, had at times, worked two jobs to ensure we had what we needed and a few extras.

I had a difficult pregnancy.  “Now whose fault is that?” my grandmother asked, upon hearing that I had been hospitalized. “You made your bed, now lie in it.”

Having to ask my mother for financial assistance was confirmation of my grandmother’s prediction. Afraid that I would lose my baby, every morning, I marked an “X” on the calendar that she was still with me until we were well into our second trimester. I promised the growing life inside of me that, if she stayed, I would give her the world.

*  *  *

For the first couple of years, we qualified for Medicaid and food stamps. Her father is a jazz musician, and I was working at a non-profit for a few dollars above minimum wage. Once I landed a better paying job, things were supposed to be easier. The loss of benefits and my desire to plan for the future led to tension and resentment between the musician and I. We tried to make it work, but after two years of emotional, mental and, finally, physical abuse, I took my daughter and left.

For months after our departure, I had to train my daughter not to refer to me as “bitch” when she was having a toddler tantrum.

Despite having a college degree and, by many standards, a good job with benefits, the years since have been difficult.  On paper – I should have a $500 surplus every month to save for a down payment on a home, college savings and retirement. The reality is much starker as we continuously straddle the line between lower middle class and an utter freefall into poverty.

Each time things fall apart, I feel like a failure having to explain to her why certain things she had grown used to were no longer there. It’s become the norm to make excuses for why she couldn’t have the birthday party at Magic Mountain and the present she wanted, the outings with her friends …

We’ve received sporadic child support. I’ve had many absences from work due to not having spur-of-the-moment child care when one of my daughter’s frequent health issues flares. These have meant a substantial loss of income after my sick and vacation time is depleted.  I have not asked my family members for assistance in four years.

We have a wonderful support system in friends and my daughter’s godmother but at times it has not been enough. Rent is due every month along with every other bill that comes with adulthood and motherhood. Her paternal grandmother helps us when she can and that has been a blessing, although the emotional turmoil that comes with it has not.

Recently, on one particularly bad day when my car died on the side of the highway, I wondered if my daughter would be better off with another mother. Someone who could give her more financially.

At times, it is easy to imagine my life before her, but I can no longer imagine a world without her. She is everywhere. Her toys, her books, her permanent marks on the table where she has tried “to make science” and her folders where she keeps her stories and drawings. I opened one of her folders and there we were – page after page of us. Stories of our adventures together and numerous pictures of us holding hands with colorful hearts everywhere.

Before she goes to sleep, we have a tradition of saying: I love you forever and ever and always. I love you love you love you like a rock star. She then repeats it back to me and changes the last part to: I love you like a mommy rock star.

I may not be able to give her everything, but my daughter will always have a never ending supply of unconditional love.

Kimberly S. Thomas is the mother of one mischievous and adorable 7-year-old daughter. She lives in Columbus, OH and can be found on Twitter (rarely) at @TwoExesN.

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “Love Outweighs the Loss: Money’s Impact on Mothering Confidence.

  1. I understand that you chose to continue your pregnancy and become a single mother. I doubt that you had the right support and information to chose anything else.

    A single mother cannot give their child the world. but really, we dont teach women how to make informed decisions about child raising and to understand that it will not all ‘just work out’. It doesnt just all work out. It takes hard choices and hardship. The child itself is a big part of the PRO of having children or being a single mother. But blowing off the CONS of child raising is not really fair to said child.

    People I have said this to have said ‘you are wishing my child dead.’ nope. but that live child comes with incredible handicaps for both the mother and the child herself.

    I dont wish children dead. but I dont think every pregnancy should be continued, for the sake of the pregnant woman’s future and the childs future,. and no honest, intuitive mother says that Love over Loss is a single sum game. sometimes it does not outweight the cost. But the grandmother is right. when you chose to have a child, you chose to suffer the consequences to that child.

    1. FOUNDER/EDITOR’S NOTE: I weighed this comment for a while before posting it. We’re a relatively new blog and still in the process of developing a firm commenting policy. So far, we’ve had very few comments that were outright character attacks or engaged in tossing around personal insults. This is the first comment I’ve chosen to post that skirts fairly close to that edge.

      While I don’t find these statements particularly mean-spirited (which is why the comment has gotten through our moderation system), I do think it makes several assumptions about the writer and criticisms of her choices that cannot possibly be valid, given what little she’s shared in this essay. We don’t know how informed her choice to have a child was or how large her system of support. You’ve also dismissed the fact that she began parenting with a committed co-parent.

      It *is* fairly insulting to insinuate that her decision to continue her pregnancy was an unwise one. Every parent faces hardship, financial or otherwise, and much of that hardship was unknown to them when they chose to have their children. Single mothers are assumed to be “suffering consequences” whenever they speak of personal challenges — and part of why this blog exists is to push back against that idea. Addressing this sort of response to a mother’s honest and heartfelt essay about the ways she navigates financial difficulty provides us an opportunity to do so.

    2. Aunti Lara,

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to my essay. I am not sure that you took the time to read it thoughtfully. My decision to have my daughter was well informed and I had several choices. I chose to give her life and I don’t regret that decision. Although I state in the essay that I had planned to break up with the father of my child before my Dad passed -that was based on my plans to attend graduate school. To be very clear, the father of my child was very supportive in the beginning and even asked that I marry him. We shared equal financial responsibility for the first two and half years of her life. It was not until the pregnancy progressed that I began to see the abusive and controlling side of his personality.

      Despite your judgement, what many people fail to realize is that pregnancy is often a trigger for dormant abusive tendencies. I knew my Ex for years and never had he said an unkind word to me or exhibted any signs of violence. Women become single mothers for many reasons and not all of them are because they were ill-informed. Death and divorce create single mothers too.

      The financial hardships I currently face are because of a lack of child support, not because I threw fate to the wind and hoped it would “all work out.” Although things are hard right now, I have faith that they will work out because I am determined to make it so through hard work.

      Kimberly S. Thomas

  2. Dear Kimberly,
    Don’t worry, it will be okay. You sound like a smart, nice, hard-working person who is struggling financially.However, you are able to provide the necessities for survival. You are educated and thoughtful. It is okay for children to do without; in some ways it may even be better for their character and development. I am the single mother of a 20 year old son. We have been poor for all of his life. I went back to college when he was three and got my degree. The job I have does not pay very much, but we have enough to get by. We have lived comfortably in the same tiny apartment his whole life. He does not feel deprived because we don’t have (and I will most likely never have) a large, beautiful home like so many of his friends do. We only got cable and the internet 5 years ago (and we get the most basic of services. Having a computer and the internet has benefited both of us). When my child was young he was only allowed to watch public television programs and videos that I bought or borrowed from the library. From an early age he understood that we couldn’t always have things because we could not afford them. This experience has given him a balanced and practical viewpoint about money and materialism and an understanding of what is really needed and important to have a meaningful life. My son is intelligent and has always been a good student. He taught himself to read at 3 and always did well with math. He is currently enrolled at the community college and will graduate in December with his associate’s degree. He will then attend a four year college and pursue a degree in journalism. My son is happy and well-adjusted and is well liked by others. He is a good person and the kind of son anyone would be proud to call their own. I am sure your daughter will do just as well. She’s well on her way. Children do not need excessive amounts of “things”: they need committed and caring adults who set limits and structure their time to be productive and happy. Don’t feel guilty or sad about what you can’t do – it’s just a waste of time and not helpful. Be happy and proud about all that you have been able to do. Your daughter is here, she loves you and you love her. That alone is reason to celebrate the life you share. Enjoy.
    Maria Toffolo

    1. Maria, thank you so much for sharing a portion of your life experience with us. What encouraging and thoughtful insights! We here at Beyond Baby Mamas wish you and your son continued success.

      – Stacia

    2. Maria, thank for your kind words. You are an inspiration to all of the single mothers reading this.

  3. Lack of money is a terrifying thing for a parent, but lack of things doesn’t phase kids. I’m always amazed by how the happiest moment in every day has nothing to do with toys or TV – for my boys it’s usually just finding a bit of space to run around in. (I know they protest when a thing disappears, but they are very quickly replaced by new interests.)

    I loved this comment: “I can no longer imagine a world without her” My marriage has been tough, and nearly ended a couple of times. One of the things that keeps me committed is that I literally cannot imagine life without the children there every day. That’s not hyperbole: I’ve tried, and I can’t do it. It’s funny how they take over your brain like that.

    Good luck and thank you for writing.

  4. Everyone makes choices where there are consequences. Even the most correct and awesome choices sometimes take little bites out of you. Also, having a child has been known throughout history to sometimes bring out the strangest reactions in people who previously weren’t monsters. It’s not just you.

    As for STEM material for your daughter, maybe you can reach out to libraries or individual professors at say MIT or Harvard, for example, for any extra copies of videos or books they might have. I know that the NSF (National Science Foundation) requires researchers to allocate a portion of their grant monies for outreach, and your daughter is very much in their target audience. There are also science organizations that have an outreach branch that might also have extra copies of materials.

    http://www.project2061.org/research/family.htm or
    http://www.aaas.org/news/press_room/kids/

    Check around at the links above – you might be able to view individual names of scientists to shoot them an email (their emails are easily searchable online), saying that you’re running a local community after-school swap of math and science books and videos for kids aged x – x and would they have anything to offer? Most of them will go out of their ways to point you to someone or to send you something, because they love their subject matter so much that they want to spread the word.

    I’ve myself worked directly on outreach project for kids at Professorblue.com, so I know a little about the subject. Email me directly and I’ll send you a pdf file of the illustrated book “Professor Blue Top Secret Lab Journal”. I don’t have a hard copy to send you, unfortunately.

  5. Phil and Sheilerama,

    Thank you for your words of encouragement!

    Our children do take over our lives in many ways. For all parents, there is the before and after.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s