I know that I have a lot to be grateful for. I have two healthy sons and a good husband. We have plenty of food, clean water, a home that’s heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. My kids can’t get every single toy they want, but they have plenty of toys. Plenty. If I compare our family to the many families who are living in poverty in America — or across the world — it is clear that we are living richly and have zero to complain about.
And yet, ever since we became parents, money has been a worry. A huge one, actually. Between child care costs and commuting, it never made sense for me to go back to work, and living off one income has been really difficult for us. For the first seven years of parenting, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment because that was all we could afford. At one point, my husband lost his job, and we relied on food stamps and Medicaid.
We are now in a much better position than we were in those early years. My husband got a better job, and I found work I could do at home, around my husband’s schedule. We moved into a larger home, and we no longer have to rely on savings or help from family to pay our bills.
But we still live paycheck to paycheck. We still need to consider every single purchase we make and aren’t able to save any money. So as thankful as I am for what we have, and how far we’ve come, I’m tired of it all.
I’m tired of my stomach flipping inside when my son mentions he’d like to take a computer class after school. Or when my other son wants to enroll in swim lessons, take an art class, or buy a new bicycle. I’m tired of wondering where on earth we’ll come up with the cash for our children to pursue their interests.
I’m tired of never, ever going on vacations that don’t involve someone flying us out to see them or crashing at someone’s house for free.
I’m tired of wondering how on earth we’ll be able to send our kids to college.
I’m tired of renting, and the almost certain feeling I have that we’ll never be able to afford to buy a house.
I’m tired of having to pretend I’m not worried about it all.
I’m tired of my kids overhearing our worries, of knowing that money is a constant struggle for us.
I’m tired of comparing myself to families who seem to have it all, who can spend on things I wouldn’t dream of.
And I’m pissed. Pissed as hell. Pissed that child care is so prohibitively expensive in our country. Pissed that American wages haven’t kept up with inflation, so that so many parents are forced to work an ungodly numbers of hours and still can’t make ends meet. And I’m pissed about the stigma that is given to lower income families — the incorrect assumption that they don’t try hard enough or work hard enough.
The thing is, I know I’m not the only one. I know there are many of us struggling to make ends meet. And I know each family’s financial situation is more complicated than one might assume, that some of the families who seem to “have it all” are actually in debt, get financial help from elsewhere, or have other worries that are bigger than finances.
Why aren’t we talking about this more? Why aren’t we shouting from the rooftops: This is fucking hard! I can’t afford shit either. I’m worried about how I’ll pay for my kid’s next birthday party, how I’ll send him off to college.
We’re all worried, to some extent, aren’t we? So many of us are fed up — angry about how hard it is for families to get by in this country. So many of us are working our asses off and still feel like we’re getting nowhere.
Again, I know how very lucky I am. I don’t forget that for one second. But I think it’s worth saying how incredibly hard it can be that the financial concerns that go along with parenthood can really loom large, and for many are one of the prime stressors of raising kids. Financial stress can wreck marriages and lead to anxiety and depression, and all of it can impact kids, big time.
So to all of you out there who struggle like I do: It is hard. It sucks. You have every right to vent and complain. But most of all, you aren’t alone. There are many of us in that place too, living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to get by.
We will all be OK, I think…I hope. The important thing to remember is that what our kids need most of all is love, which is free. But I can’t help but wish things were easier, that there was less worry and strife, and that money didn’t have to weigh so heavily on the hearts of so many families in our country.
I’m tired of it all. I’m tired for you. I’m tired for me. And I’m tired for our kids. I only hope the economy will get a little better by the time this generation of kids grows up — that, for them, it won’t be so impossible for good, hardworking families to make it through.