Editor’s Note: In media and popular culture, the myth of the “welfare queen” is still present. Obviously, this stereotype does not reflect the reality of people who need government assistance. Today’s guest post is from a single mother on welfare and how she constantly feels judged by society for getting a “free ride” when it’s anything but.
When I was twenty-one years old, I ran away from my abusive family and into the arms of someone even worse. We had a tumultuous and abusive marriage, and one day, two years ago, my husband just didn’t come home. He literally just did not come home, and for all intents and purposes, he vanished. He quit his job and moved in with a girlfriend that I didn’t even know he had, and that was that. I was left with a three-year-old daughter, a seven-month-old son, no job, no money, and no family to help me. Not only did he not come home, but before he left, he took everything of value from the house and cleaned out our joint bank account. I was completely screwed.
For reasons that were beyond my control, I never finished college, and when he left, I was a stay-at-home mom. Like I said, I was completely screwed. How was I going to support myself and the kids? If I worked a minimum wage job, which was the only thing I was qualified to do, I wouldn’t even break even on daycare costs, let alone pay my bills. I watched as the food ran out, the bills piled up, and the house fell into foreclosure.
Two years later, I am back on my feet in the most basic of ways. I clean houses for a meager living, and while it pays some bills, it doesn’t pay them all. To even be able to break even on daycare costs, I am forced to rely on a state daycare subsidiary.
We rely heavily on food stamps, but because of some severe dietary restrictions that result in our food costing more than what it might for the average person, I am never able to stretch them far enough.
I kept my private insurance for as long as I could, but a few months ago, I lost the financial battle and was forced to go on Medicaid.
Being in this situation makes me feel like a loser. As a mother, it’s my job to support the two children that I brought into this world, and I can’t, and so for that reason, I feel awful. What’s worse is that I am constantly reminded by social media outlets that I should feel awful. Every day, I hear, read, or see something, or someone, complaining about how people like me, people on welfare, are just lazy. There are Facebook memes calling people like me “society’s trash,” news headlines screaming about the “welfare scammers,” and radio show hosts that go on and on about how I’m probably sitting at home and watching TV while others are working to provide me with a salary. It makes me feel about one inch tall, like I should just climb into a trashcan, where society can throw me and all of the other useless people away.
I’m reminded of how society views me every time I swipe my food stamp card in the check-out line, and the cashier looks me up and down, her judging eyes boring into my soul. People are so hardened by stories of the scammers that they forget that some people truly are just in a bad spot. I’m reminded of this when I show up to the ER with a sick child, I hand them my Medicaid card, and the nurse quickly looks us over, assessing me and the kids. What is she looking for exactly? Should we “look” homeless? Should we not bathe before we come in?
Every day when I wake up, I feel like it’s me against the world. When my alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m., I have to get the kids up, take my five-year-old to daycare and my two-year-old to therapy (he has special needs). After therapy, I drop him off at daycare and then head to work where I scrub houses for the next eight hours. After that, it’s back to daycare, home for dinner, baths, homework, and bedtime. When the kids are down, I do everything that needs to be done to run a household and a life, finally crawling into bed around midnight. The alarm goes off a few hours later and I’m back at it again, but according to society, I’m not doing enough, because I’m still poor.
I don’t know what else to do. If someone has an answer, please, I’d love to hear it, because I don’t know where to go from here. I’m working on a long term career plan with a not-for-profit that I’m founding, but right now, I’m stuck, and I can’t find my way out.
I’m tired of fighting for my dignity. I’m tired of feeling like I’m not doing enough. I’m tired of being made to feel less than just because I’m poor.
No one knows what goes on in my household. They don’t hear me tell my kids that there is not enough food for a second helping of dinner. They don’t know that I didn’t eat dinner at all so that my kids could have their first serving. They don’t know that our clothes came out of a trash bag someone left on our front porch. They don’t know that we are a broken family, that I’m a thrown-away wife, who is doing the very best that she can.
To them, I’m nothing more than a statistic, a liability.
They don’t know that I’m the mom who has to say “no” all the time. That I’m the mom who watched her five-year-old come bounding out of kindergarten possessing the exuberance that only a five-year-old can, while she exclaimed, “Mommy! Lindsay and Callie are going to see the movie Frozen, can we go too?” They don’t know that I saw the plight in her eyes, glimmering with a small ray of hope, and knowing that deep down, she already knew the answer. It never gets any easier. I still see her heart break every time she hears it. They don’t hear me say “I’m sorry baby, but we just can’t.” They don’t hear me say it yesterday, they don’t hear me say it today, and they won’t hear me say it tomorrow. They don’t know that she has never been to the movies, never been bowling, never been ice skating, doesn’t get to partake in gymnastics or dance, they don’t know that. They don’t know that we didn’t write letters to Santa, because Santa wasn’t coming. They weren’t there. They didn’t see my children’s faces when I sold all of their toys online to make the mortgage payment. They didn’t help me try and shove my daughter’s feet into too-small shoes, desperately trying to make them last a few weeks longer. They don’t see any of that, and yet, they judge me.
I’m not ok with this anymore. I know that society doesn’t feel that I should have any rights because I am living off of the tax money that has been taken from them, but I’m not OK with being judged anymore. I know that they all think that since they are feeding me, I should just keep my mouth shut, but I just can’t do it anymore.
Do people think I don’t want to trade places with them? I would love to be them, I used to be them! If someone offered me a job today that paid all my bills and forced me to “donate” my tax dollars to people like me, I would take it in a heartbeat, because right now, I’m working myself to the bone and still not able to eat three meals a day. Stop judging me! I’m doing the very best that I can. If it makes anyone feel any better, I know that it’s not enough. I don’t need to be reminded every time I turn on the radio, or check my facebook and see people ranting and raving about us “lazy welfare folk.”
When you’re a little girl, you envision meeting your prince, and if you are anything like me, you envision having babies, a home, a happy family, and a happy life. What you don’t expect is your prince running off, abandoning you with two small children, always being one dollar away from not having a home, going to bed most nights hungry, and having all of society view you as nothing more than a burden.
I’m worth more than that. I am strong, I am determined, and I am trying. I will claw my way out of this hole. I don’t know how, and I don’t know when, but it until it happens, I won’t give up. In the meantime, I just need society to lay off of me for a little while. Stop kicking me when I’m down, it’s not helping. I have dreams. I want to be a writer. I want to be a mother that can give her children the things they deserve. I want my not-for-profit to really be able to help people. I want everything that everyone else has, and living off of other people’s tax dollars for the rest of my life is not a part of that plan.
I am not a statistic. I am a hard worker, a fighter, a survivor, a mother, and above all, I am a person.
Stop judging me.
Author’s Note: Eden Strong is a single mother recovering from an abusive past. More of her crazy story can be read on her blog at http://itisnotmyshametobear.blogspot.com/