The Shame of Government Assistance

It was a miserable, cold, winter day when decided I could wait no longer to get some groceries. It was a Saturday and I dreaded the fact that the store was going to be busy.  It was my first time going out with my EBT card (Electronic Benefits Transfer) or also known as food stamps.  I was also on WIC (Women, Infants, Children) at the time as I was 6 months pregnant and had a one-and-a-half-year-old.

Getting the groceries was easy enough.  I had my milk, eggs, cheese, and other mainly healthy selections.  I selected a line that seemed to be moving the fastest, although all the lines were very busy.  As I waited several people filed in behind me.  I didn’t pay too much attention to them as my toddler daughter was getting a little antsy.  She had been sitting for some time in the cart and she had had about enough.

Finally, it was my turn to put my things on the conveyer belt.  All which had to be sorted with each appropriate WIC check.  One check was for eggs and milk, another for cheese and so it went.  At this point, I began to hear some sighs behind me and I could feel my face getting red.  I then placed the items that were to be paid with my “food stamps” behind the WIC items.  I tried to address the cashier quietly, “how do I use this?”  Of course, she replied not so quietly, “Your food stamp card gets swiped here”.  At this point, the woman behind me started whispering and chuckling behind me.  Maybe she wasn’t even talking about me, but I could feel her eyes on me.  At this point, I was close to tears.  I was embarrassed.  I was ashamed.

Finally, the ordeal was over and I managed to get out of the store without shedding a tear, but once I was in the car – I let them fall.

Government assistance was there when I needed it.  I found myself suddenly a single mom, pregnant with my second child, and I barely worked part-time, I was mostly a full-time mom.  I couldn’t make the house payment – let alone buy food all on my own.

It was a hand-up.  It lifted me so that I didn’t have to worry about that one aspect in my life.  After I had my daughter, I worked hard – REALLY hard – and was promoted, several times.  The hand-up was not a hand-out.  It gave me the boost I needed to help me get on my feet and become successful.  I have also lived in government housing – it gave me and my children a safe home with reasonable rent.  All of which I am thankful for.

I write about this because I remember these days all too well and how it felt.  As a matter of fact, I had to get back on assistance for a little while when I changed jobs just 4 years ago.  The loss of income affected me financially much greater than I had anticipated and I found myself putting my groceries on credit cards so I could pay my bills.  It only lasted a few months, and again – it was there when I needed a hand-up.

I believe that single moms need to do what it takes – whatever it takes – to provide the best environment for their children, this includes nutritious food on the table and a decent roof over their heads.  It would also include the health of their child.  I also believe that it should be for a season – we need to improve not just our environment – but ourselves as well.

When I was first divorced, I only had a high school education plus a 2 year associates from a Bible school and though I had lots of management experience, I knew that I would have a very difficult time paying for daycare – especially for two very young children.  So, I worked at the local YMCA in the daycare.  I didn’t make as much as I would have as a manager, but my children got to go to work with me each day and it was free to have them there.  I also benefited because I got to see my children several times throughout the day, we weren’t separated and I didn’t miss any milestones.

Today, I am no longer in need of “food stamps” however, my kids still qualify for a government insurance plan.  Government assistance should be a hand-up, not a hand-out.  It should be there to lift- up those who are struggling and vulnerable in our society.  I am thankful for the fact that I get to live in a country where as a single mom – I can thrive.  Where I have opportunity and a chance at being successful, and where my children can succeed as well.

Sometimes, we all need a hand-up and although those people in line behind me didn’t know what a mess I had just come from, we shouldn’t let shame overtake us.  WE need to remind ourselves that we are just trying to take care of our kids and doing what we need to do.

I think that sometimes cashiers and the people who look down on government assistance forget that the person standing before them has a story and that they are a person – not a statistic.

Going through this experience myself, I can tell you one thing – I have a lot more compassion for the woman in line who is paying with her WIC checks.  May we all be more compassionate to one another.

Colossians 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

 

How I Survive Father’s Day as a Single Mom.

I hate to admit this and hate even more to say it, but Father’s Day sucks when you are a mom to children who are fatherless.

My children are fatherless because their father has made some very poor choices.  He has a pattern of abusing the women in his life and is serving a 10 year sentence for his crimes.  He hasn’t played a role in our children’s lives and Father’s Day is a little hard for my girls.

I have determined every year to make the best of Father’s Day and after 10 years, I have come up with a few ways to successfully survive Father’s Day, for me and my children.

Celebrate the dads and father figures in your lives! 

My dad has played a big role in my girls’ lives.  For the past 4 years he has taken them to school almost every morning because of my work schedule.  I have been VERY blessed because I have been able to drop my kids off at my parent’s house so I could be to work early.  They eat breakfast with my parents and then go to school.  This normal, everyday, very routine activity has given my girls’ a glimpse at a two parent household.  My dad gets ready for work, eats, and takes my kids to school.  Nothing fancy.  Just a normal everyday interaction.  My girls also go to my parent’s house after-school for a little over an hour each day.  On Wednesdays, my dad is off and they get to spend a little more time with him on those days, but again usually doing very routine, normal things like go to Costco.  This interaction with my dad has moved him beyond just being their grandpa, he has become a father figure to them.

My kids celebrate my dad on Father’s Day.  We focus on who they do have in their lives and now that they are a little older – they get it.  Yesterday my oldest daughter wrote “thank you for being a father figure to me” in my dad’s card.  She is 12, I have never talked to her about my dad being “a father figure” to her.  But she gets it.  My 11 year old thanked him for “taking us to school and putting up with us”.  She get’s it.  He plays a bigger role than just that of “grandpa”.

Acknowledge that you have to roles to play. 

Everyone’s single motherhood looks different.  Some separated parents still work as a team, or try to at least.  Some kids spend some time with dad and some time with mom – so they have an active father in their lives.  Some dad’s have passed away.  Some dad’s – for whatever reason – haven’t been involved in their children’s lives.

For me, I have had to play the role of mother and father.  I am in mother mode about 95%.  I am a comforter, a peacemaker, a caretaker, a cheerleader, and overall a big softy. My “father” side has to be strong and steadfast, a provider, protector, bread winner, disciplinarian, firmer – not how I typically want to act or respond, but my children need it.  I know that there will be tons of people who disagree with me, but my nature is nurture.  I think that most moms are that way and dads typically aren’t.  But nurture is only a portion of what my kids need, they need so much more.

There is a joke between me and my mother that I am the mom to my girls and she is the dad.  I pull her in when I need back up, she is tougher and more experienced than I am. When we REALLY need back-up, we pull my dad in.  We all need back-up when it comes to raising kids, some families have the dad available, and others don’t.  I would encourage you to find someone you can pull in when you need back up.  But the fact remains, for some moms – we have to roles to fill.  We can try, but we can’t ever truly fulfill the dad sized shoes that are missing in our kids life.

I reflect on this every Father’s Day.  I acknowledge the difficulty in the task of being both mom and dad – and sometimes I even do something special for myself.  I also pray for my children’s dad.  I pray for his salvation, his protection, and that he would be restored.  It can be challenging to pray for someone who has hurt you, but with practice – it gets easier.

Do something special with your kids.

Be sensitive to the fact that Father’s Day can be difficult for your children.  Do something fun with them.  Go to a movie, get fast food and eat at a park, have an adventure!  I know a single mom who takes a weekend trip with her daughter every Father’s Day weekend. They don’t do anything super fancy, they just get in the car and go somewhere new. Make Father’s Day weekend special in your own way.  Celebrate the dads and father figures in your life, reflect on the roles you play, pray, and enjoy your kids.

 

 

 

 

Broken Dreams

Last night – I had a dream.

In my dream, we were preparing to renew our wedding vows.  I had put on my wedding dress – which still fit (so I know for sure I was dreaming) and we were waiting for our guests to arrive.  He looked so handsome in his tux and we were both beaming, excited to renew our vows and renew our commitment to each other.  We knew the past few years had been hard, but we were looking forward to beginning anew – a stronger commitment to each other and to the Lord.  I felt loved, wanted, treasured, safe, and beautiful.  And then…

I woke up.

When I awoke, my eyes were wet and I realized that I had been crying in my sleep.  My heart was filled with grief for what I don’t have, what I never had, and mostly likely will never experience.

I am determined not to remarry, I believe that this isn’t in my future.  It isn’t because I’m extra tough or a strong feminist type.  It isn’t because I’m not attracted to the opposite sex.  And it certainly isn’t because I want to be alone.  I believe that the Lord has told me that I will remain single and the truth is, I don’t want to go through that kind of pain, fear, disappointment and heartache.  Ever. Never. Again!

I choose what I believe is best for my kids.  I choose what I believe is best for me.  Most importantly, I choose what I believe the Lord has for me – singleness.  It isn’t what I would have chosen for myself.  It isn’t what I had hoped my life would look like – but it is what I have.

I had made a vow to the Lord several months ago that I wasn’t going to grieve or lament after that which I didn’t have, including a husband and father for my girls.  If my dream has shown me anything – it is that deep down within the very depths of my soul, I still grieve.  On the outside, I look like I have it all together.  For the most part…I do because it is the Lord who holds it together for me.  But, deep down inside – I am sad for my children an myself because we are broken.

My children’s father is in prison.  My desire to be a wife didn’t work out, having to work full-time outside of the home wasn’t what I had wanted for my children.  Going to parent-teacher conferences, my children’s concerts and activities by myself wasn’t what I had planned on. Life for me isn’t cookie cutter perfect.

Even though I have broken dreams, I have an amazing life.  I have hope, peace, and real joy.  My greatest desire is to help other single moms realize that it is possible to have these things – even with broken dreams and imperfect lives.

I know I won’t become a viral sensation, but if I can help encourage a mom who is struggling as a single mother – then THAT will be enough.  I want my broken life and broken family to used for good and for God’s glory.  I am a thriving single mom.  Not because I am perfect, but because I allow Jesus to perfect me – to work in my life and to make my brokenness whole.  That is why I thrive.  That is why I love exactly where I am.

Hebrews 10:14 – For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming the “More Likely’s” in Our Life

 

 Proverbs 2:7  –  He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless.

Every since I became a single mom, I have had one nagging fear  – “as a single mom, I am going to ruin my children”.  We’ve heard the comments and statistics shared on television, Christian radio, “well” meaning friends, heck – even from the pulpit.  Kids are who are raised by a single parent are “more likely”.  Here are some examples I have heard over the years –

Kids who are raised by a single parent are more likely –

  • To live in poverty
  • To have behavioral problems
  • To drop out of school
  • To become pregnant as a teenager
  • To never go to college
  • To become addicted to alcohol and drugs
  • To become divorced

If this wasn’t bad enough, my kids also have a father who has been incarcerated for almost all of their childhood, so lets add to the list that my kids will be more likely –

  • to live on welfare
  • to engage in criminal activity themselves
  • to have an unstable home
  • to be placed in foster care
  • to have mental health issues

And this is just barely touching the surface.  After reading these “statistics” or hearing these comments, it’s easy to see why a single parent could be fearful.  The fact is – our mistakes impact our children.  My kids have had to live with a lot emotions that I never had to experience as a child – like shame, embarrassment, and fear.  They are ashamed to have a father who is in prison and are reminded of it any time they are asked about their dad.  They live in fear – what will it be like when he gets out?  They also struggle with feelings of abandonment – why doesn’t he call us anymore?

Having to see your children go through these emotions is heart-wrenching.  I hate it.  I hate that THIS is their reality.   I hate the shame and stigma that surrounds them – and me.

When people get to know us, their preconceived ideas of “single mom” homes usually goes away.  But the fact remains – it is there.  I currently work for a Christian non-profit and I almost didn’t get the job because I am divorced.  I had to explain to them during my interview WHY I was divorced.  That was embarrassing.  I don’t typically like to share with strangers that I was in an abusive relationship. In the Christian circle –  I feel that I am constantly having to “justify” my divorce, which on one hand it understandable – especially if you are working for a ministry.

Even though we have this cloud of “stuff” hanging over us, I am determined to not let it define us.

I was blessed with an amazing experience last week.  My girls just completed the 5th and 6th grade and due to some changes in our school district, BOTH will be attending Jr. High next year.  Their elementary school was holding an awards ceremony and a “sending off to Jr. High” party.  My girls begged me to go and I was able to find someone to cover for me at work.  My oldest daughter, Abby, called me at work the day before to make sure I really was able to come because she had just been notified that she was receiving some very special awards.

During the ceremony, my children were presented with many awards and I was beaming.  I am so proud of my children because these awards showed me two things – they are hard workers and they are kind.  As a mother, I couldn’t ask for more than that. It really isn’t about the awards themselves – but what my kids had to do to receive them. They both work hard at school.  They are both leaders in their classrooms.  They are both kind to other children.

I was in awe of the Lord’s goodness that day as I remembered all the “more likely’s” that my children face.  The Lord showed me that we are ALL “more likely” to fail in this life, but with hope, perseverance, hard work and kindness towards others – we can overcome the “more likely’s” when our eyes are fixed on Jesus.

My encouragement to you would be simply this.  Don’t focus on the “more likely’s”, but focus on Christ and His ability to overcome.  Through him, we can do ALL things – including overcoming the cloud of “stuff” that surrounds us and weighs us down.