The Kids Are OK…For Now

I am a fairly frugal person, due more to our straightened circumstances than normal proclivity I’ll admit.  I pinch pennies and cut corners.  I forego personal purchases that most moms would consider normal expenditures.  I defer maintenance on the car and house (um, trailer).  And I stash aside whatever I can save for emergencies and for the benefit of the most important people in my life – my kids. 

My biggest concern is that our situation is going to negatively affect my children for years to come.  Studies on the effect of poverty on children are filled with alarming findings, such as these from the American Psychological Association:

  • Poverty is linked with negative conditions such as substandard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition and food insecurity, inadequate child care, lack of access to health care, unsafe neighborhoods, and under-resourced schools which adversely impact our nation’s children.
  • Poverty has a particularly adverse effect on the academic outcomes of children, especially during early childhood.
  • Chronic stress associated with living in poverty has been shown to adversely affect children’s concentration and memory which may impact their ability to learn.
  • School drop out rates are significantly higher for teens residing in poorer communities. In 2007, the dropout rate of students living in low-income families was about 10 times greater than the rate of their peers from high-income families (8.8% vs. 0.9%).
  • Children living in poverty are at greater risk of behavioral and emotional problems.
  • Some behavioral problems may include impulsiveness, difficulty getting along with peers, aggression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and conduct disorder.
  • Some emotional problems may include feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
  • Poverty and economic hardship is particularly difficult for parents who may experience chronic stress, depression, marital distress and exhibit harsher parenting behaviors. These are all linked to poor social and emotional outcomes for children.
  • Children and teens living in poorer communities are at increased risk for a wide range of physical health problems:
    • Poor nutrition which is manifested in the following ways:
      • Inadequate food which can lead to food insecurity/hunger
      • Lack of access to healthy foods and areas for play or sports which can lead to childhood overweight or obesity
    • Chronic conditions such as asthma, anemia, and pneumonia
    • Risky behaviors such as smoking or engaging in early sexual activity

That’s a daunting list – and the items I copied are by no means the full inventory!  I reassure myself that a lot of these findings are based on studies of families who live in long-term, chronic poverty, possibly even poverty that has lasted for generations.  These are families with parents who are not well educated, may be in and out of work, and who may have to contend with domestic violence or drug and alcohol abuse. 

My children are well fed.  They came to me with food insecurities – I think they were always at least a little hungry in the orphanage – that took time and patience to resolve.  I won’t let them go hungry again. 

And my children are doing well in school.  I am particularly proud of my oldest daughter who has made honor roll for the past 3 quarters at her middle school, and came home with straight As on her last report card!  My middle daughter has endured even more changes and disruptions in her life, going to stay with friends for a prolonged visit and then returning home in the middle of the school year, but she has also continued to do well in school.  And my youngest daughter is excelling at math and has improved her reading skills over the past year and appears to be on track for a successful transition to 3rd grade. 

I do what I can to support my kids’ extracurricular interests – which lately involves driving my 8th grader to endless rehearsals and performances in a nearby community theater’s production of The King & I.  She loves theater and this is her first venture into a stage larger than a school production. She’s doing a great job and I’m proud of her. It hasn’t been cheap though; this ‘free’ activity has been costly in terms of fuel expense as each trip (driving her to rehearsal, returning home, driving back 4 hours later to pick her up from rehearsal and returning home is a 42 mile circuit) takes over 2 gallons of gas!  My middle daughter is a budding naturalist and thanks to a partial scholarship and a dip into my savings I was able to let her go to sea with her class on what was to be a 4-day educational excursion on a “Tall Ship.” They had to return early due to high seas but it was a thrilling experience for her.  And I splurged recently and bought my engineering-minded son a small $10 Lego kit so he could indulge his urge to create and build. 

 So our situation is different.  Being poor is still something of a novelty to us not the norm and my children have a parent with a love of learning, a graduate degree and strong work ethic. They are fed and loved and enrolled in school. Their interests and enthusiasms are supported to the extent they can be.  There’s no substance abuse or violence in our home.  I hope these things provide a cushion against some of the long-term effects of poverty.

 But is our situation different enough?  Poverty is like a flood that washes away the trappings of your normal life and when you become accustomed to that loss and try to rebuild you discover the waters have seeped in deeper than you imagined, causing corrosion and mold, and eating away at your foundation.  We have gotten over not being able to afford to go out to dinner or refresh our wardrobes or take a vacation.  My kids know we won’t be ordering school portraits or going to see the latest movie.  This is the superficial disruption that I’m certain my kids will easily recover from once I have a steady income again.  But there are other, deeper, issues that might not be so easily resolved.  I know that living in such tight quarters, crowding both inside and out, create constant stress and increase conflict.  I fear that my children’s relationships with one another are being formed in ways that they will carry forward into adulthood.  Will they flee from each other, fed up with enforced contact and seeking distance, when they are old enough to leave the nest? Will the supportive, close adult friendships I want them to have with each other be possible?

 What other ways will this period of poverty shape their lives?  My son has had pneumonia twice since we moved into the trailer, and is just now recovering from a bout of bronchitis.  This might be more related to the heart condition he was born with and the effects of going for so long without treatment but I wonder if our living conditions and lack of good constant medical attention might also play a role. 

 And what of opportunities that will go unrealized?  Opportunities that would be considered necessary if we had the appropriate income – like the summer reading program that I know would benefit my son, if only I could afford the $334 fee.  What if enrolling him in that program made the difference between his continuing struggle with reading and really enjoying sitting down with a book?  And what of the opportunities that aren’t necessary, but oh so much fun and potentially life changing for a child – like vacations, or riding lessons, or summer camp?  Am I closing off their world a little bit by not being able to afford these things? 

 Unfortunately it’s very difficult to ‘get ahead’ in our situation.  My hard won savings have dwindled considerably this past month due mostly to emergency car repairs costing over $1500.  My job prospects continue to be only prospects – the interview (2 hours over coffee at Starbucks) that seemed so promising hasn’t yielded fruit; and of the two recruiters who phoned me in the past week, one cut the conversation short after learning that I was currently unemployed and the other chatted at length but ultimately decided I lacked the necessary experience for the particular position they had open. 

 When I became a parent I promised myself I would do all that I could to help each of my children reach her or his potential.  I had big dreams for all of them.  I still do – it’s just going to be harder to get there.

This entry was posted in children in need, frugal living, poverty, recession, RV Living, unemployment and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to The Kids Are OK…For Now

  1. Pingback: Link Love #2 | JD Debt-Free

  2. Maria says:

    Sorry to be commenting so late, but I’m just catching up on my blog reading and did not see this interesting post until this morning. I must say that I have the general impression that you are giving your children lots of what they need most–love and attention! Yes, it would be nice to be able to pay for lessons, school portraits and lots of other stuff. But you can’t right now and your children seem to be doing well in spite of this! Your children will look back one day and be so pleased and proud that you did EVERYTHING you possibly could for them during this tough point in your lives. They will also be resourceful, kind, and flexible–why? Because you have modeled this behavior for them. Keep looking for work and refuse to get down on yourself for any reason! I have friends who are searching for work here in the Boston area and, after years of looking, they still have nothing. I send my best thoughts and wishes to you and your children all the way out in California and pray that you will get a job soon!

  3. Pam McCormick says:

    I have to say maybe repeating myself but your writing is so well done! And the research you do…well you are excellent.As I was reading I thought how similiar we all really are- an invisiable bond.I work 2 jobs and have worked 3 at one time.I am married with a husband who works full time and then handles everything else since I am not home.We have 1 child and when she was young we had the same balancing act that you wrote about.Wanted to provide summer camp-could not afford it so found some free activities plus a cheap art camp.Each year different choices but always the same balancing act.Now she is grown up married 6 years and her and her husband have the coping skills to weather the economic challenges.We(the 4 of us) still don’t go away for vacation we do things like paint the house.No out to the movies unless it is a gift.We save for practical gifts like tires at Christmas.Every purchase has to be considered,researched and chosen carefully! Each pay check could be our last so it has to last.See alot more alike than different.I think it’s more about love and bonding than poverty but that is just my opinion.

  4. Darlene says:

    LOL On Kelly Gip’s response. This IS the Boxcar KIDS blog, is it not? If you don’t want to hear about kids, go visit OldFolksBlog instead!

    That being said, I really think that the long-term effects of poverty ARE multifactorial. And remember – statistices do not apply to individuals. While the average kid in a poor home may behave in a certain way, that doesn’t mean your kids will.

  5. christine says:

    You’re doing all your best and you are really doing a great job , I think your kids know that .
    I wish you better days

  6. Kally Gip says:

    Tired of hearing about your kids. Too bad your life is over.

    • rta says:

      GOOD HEAVENS, Why on Earth do you feel compelled to be so nasty? I always enjoy hearing how well the kids are doing!

      • Maryl says:

        I’m with you, rta. Constructive criticism is one thing, but after all, it is Boxcar’s blog and she can post anything she pleases.

    • Becky R says:

      Why is her life over? Poverty is not a death sentence! I think we need to be telling our stories. It helps us, and also paints a real picture of American society today.
      Also didn’t your mother teach you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”
      I pray you and your family never have to be in such a situation as boxcar!

    • Sheila says:

      (Kally Gip) You are not welcome here. Unfortunately you have never been close to this type of life crisis. A good mother usually includes her children. They are part of her life. Don’t spread your vicious remarks on this site. I much prefer to hear about children than your cruel attitude.

    • Kate says:

      I am calling ‘troll’ on Kally Gip or was her name Carmen? Bet she goes over to GetRichSlowly and complains that J.D. always talks about finance. Did she think your blog was about trains?

  7. Becky R says:

    I worry about the same things. Just this week we had hardly any food. I mean like we had a can of beans. I have a child with sensory issues who will starve before eating a can of beans. God provided, my son got a birthday check, he chose to buy groceries. I was crying in the food store that my son was using his birthday money on food though.

    Also I would love my kids to do music lessons, but we can’t afford.

    My oldest needs shorts, but we can’t afford.

    I try to keep our finances from the kids and say things like we chose to spend our money on other things, but sometimes I am in tears when the car breaks down or the dog eats the last of the bread.

    Plus I am working about 75 hours per week watching kids, cleaning houses, and more just to try and keep up. These jobs allow for me to not have to pay childcare myself. I am tired.

    People ask me what camps my kids are going to this summer, I can’t afford to send them to any camps.

    We have season passes to Great Adventure and sometimes I don’t have gas to even get there.

    I worry about the future. Especially with all the stress I am under.

    I try to think it doesn’t matter if the kids are loved, but I know sometimes my kids feel the burden of us having so little. Sometimes not even having enough. And sometimes I yell, it is wrong, but I do.

    You and your family are in my prayers.

    • boxcarkids says:

      Becky- are there food banks where you live? Please don’t get down to a can of beans! I’m sorry all the work you are doing isn’t paying well. It’s so hard to live hand to mouth all the time! And don’t worry about yelling- we all do it from time to time!

      • Becky R says:

        Without me asking my ex sister in law brought food over. God is so good.

        I may go to a local food bank on Thur. But we have enough for a while now.

        I am fortionate in that all the work I do (childcare, cleaning, etc.) I can do with my kids, so I don’t have to pay childcare costs. They are both special needs so childcare is an issue.

        And I am grateful that I have work at all.

        For some reason my child support has stopped so work is good right now.

        For the summer I should be able to pay all bills and buy food, so that is a huge blessing. But that means childcare Mon.-Sat. 7:00am-10:00pm (one of my parents works 2-10.) I will still have Sundays off though, praise God!!!

  8. Sharon says:

    I second (or third, fourth, etc) the comments about the job you are doing with your children. Frankly, I always find these lists of potential liabilities of being raised in poverty a bit suspect – if you look closely many of these “symptoms” (ADHD, early sexual activity, impulsiveness, etc) are prevalent in affluent suburbs as well – those families are just better able to paper over the issue with dollars … Your children are well loved, and they know it. That is a priceless commodity, and will carry them through many difficult moments now and in years to come! Hang in there …

  9. SAB says:

    You’re doing a great job with the kids, I find it amazing. I think the strong relationship you had with the kids before your job loss came really shines through in how the kids continue to do so well now.

  10. Maria de Miami says:

    I think your situation is different and in a way better than in many deep poverty/bad neighborhood lives. You provide support for your kids, you can help them in school and are interested in what they do and they are aware that it is through no fault of your own that you live in a trailer. You set a positive example and that alone will help your kids a lot. I think you have to be doing something right to have your kids doing so well in school and they have to be awesome kids as well :).

  11. Merinda says:

    You’re doing what you can and the kids see that. That’s worth a lot too.

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