I was never the girl with the name-brand clothes or trendy shoes. I didn’t have a single pair of Z. Cavaricci jeans or Doc Martens. My shoes came from Payless and 90% of my clothes were hand-me-downs or second-hand store finds. My family didn’t have money for designer clothes that I would undoubtedly outgrow in a matter of months. I didn’t have the latest gadgets or the expensive markers in my art box. I used the same backpack year after year, and wore all my clothes until I completely outgrew them. New toys came at Christmas and on my birthday, and they weren’t expensive or extravagant.
I find it hard to say my family was poor, because even though we didn’t have much money, we always had the things we needed. I always had a warm place to sleep and something for dinner, but none of the trendy stuff that made me “cool” in the eyes of the kids at school. But, I suppose most people would say we were poor. The kids at school certainly did.
It was hard at times, because kids can be cruel. It’s weird how a pair of trendy shoes can make you worthy of friendship. I was the girl who wanted to fit in so badly, and at times, I tried so hard that I pushed the other kids away. I never had the right shoes, clothes, or personality to fit in. I was, and still am, a bit of an oddball. Only now, I dig it. I embrace my uniqueness, and I know my value isn’t measured by material things. This perspective took time to cultivate though. It certainly wasn’t there in third grade, and I had no confidence or self-esteem as a result.
I never want my kids to feel the way I felt when I was younger.
As a mother, it’s clear my own childhood experiences have shaped the way I provide for my kids. I know a big part of who I am—a good part—is because I didn’t have everything I wanted when I was younger. But, I also know that I didn’t come by this insight without struggle. Grade school was rough. I want my kids’ experience to be different.
Finding the balance is hard for me. I’m the mom who goes overboard, because I want them to have all the things I didn’t. If a trendy t-shirt will spare them the bullshit I went through, I will buy it twice. I don’t want them to be picked-on because of the clothes they wear. Life is hard enough without worrying about how your t-shirt will be received by your classmates.
We are fortunate to be able to provide these things for our kids, and I’m glad for that, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing them a disservice by giving them so much. I want them to have the toys and clothes they want, not because I want to spoil them, but because I know that those things matter in elementary school. I know firsthand what being picked on does to your self-esteem and self-worth, and if I can spare them that hardship with a trendy t-shirt, I will.
I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking I’m raising entitled brats. But I’m not — quite the opposite, in fact. I admit I often give them more than I probably should, but I’ve watched them offer their favorite toys to kids who are less fortunate. I work hard to teach them what truly matters, so they treat others with respect and celebrate their differences. We donate to our local homeless shelter, and they see children living in true poverty. They know not everyone is as fortunate as we are.
My kids are kind and accepting of others. They make me proud everyday, and I’m in constant awe of their compassion and empathy for their peers. I hope the day someone points out their differences, or the differences of one of their classmates, they stand-up to that shit. I hope they have the courage to advocate for themselves and for all those “poor” kids like me.
I don’t want my kids to be picked on for something I can prevent, even if it will build character. You shouldn’t have to endure ridicule to develop character. You shouldn’t have to worry about being shamed because of material things, but this is a sad reality of the world we live in.
My hope is that despite giving them a trendy t-shirt or a popular toy, I’m also teaching them empathy, compassion, and kindness. Because it’s not the trendy shirt or toy that really matters — even if it does make 3rd grade a little easier.