Yesterday I had a really good discussion with a 19 year old who gets social assistance. She is 19 years old if you simply count the years she’s been alive, but in some ways she is 14 and in others she is in her mid-twenties. Like so many other people in this world at this age, she’s just trying to find her way.
She said her parents have been on and off welfare for years and as their child, she’s also been in and out of the system. Now at 19, she’s just found a place to live outside of the immediate family, and is making the transition to adulthood. Her biggest fear is that she’ll grow up to become like one of her parents; dealing with anxiety and depression.
This one parent does nothing day after day and talks about big plans and dreams but doesn’t actually do anything to make them come true. She is angry that now as an adult she’s found out about the help that’s available in terms of training and workshops to build self-esteem and help get employment; help her parents never actually took advantage of and still don’t.
The issue she has now is that she hates being on or in the system. That nags at her and is a source of embarrassment and shame. She wants off and out. Complicating things for her is missing 1 credit to graduate from high school, being enrolled and liking it but, then having the school shut down at the moment because teachers are on strike. It’s out of her control to complete her grade 12. With a scant work history and underdeveloped skills (she is only 19 year’s old), it’s hard to be attractive to an employer.
If like this young lady you see yourself, take heart. The very fact that she resents a life on social assistance or welfare and wants so badly to remove herself from it is a positive driving force. That can provide the motivation to really want financial independence badly enough to make it happen. While awaiting the resumption of school, she’s making excellent use of her time by taking a career exploration course too; a course that also helps identify strengths, interests, challenges and learning styles.
There’s a lot to like in her and others like her. She talks of being socially awkward because her parents didn’t let her out much as a growing child. The streets were busy and for safety reasons she wasn’t allowed to go out and play with other kids. That lack of interaction contributed to being somewhat on the outside of the ‘in’ groups. As stated, one parent dealing with their own demons didn’t help much to provide a positive atmosphere in the home. No blame thrown at the parent here, just not fair to the child who otherwise might have grown up more connected, nurtured and encouraged.
So now at 19 here she is on social assistance, fearful of repeating the cycle, becoming the very thing she wants most to avoid. It’s hard at 19 to see a bigger picture. School will eventually resume, she’ll get that grade 12 diploma, she’ll update and upgrade her resume, get her first real paying job, and be on her way to financial independence.
But what of right now? That rosy picture of the future is, well, the future after all. Right now the key is to do what she can, not fret overly about the things beyond her control, not try to solve all her issues at once. She states there are no drug, alcohol or criminal issues (yeah!). She takes good care of her personal hygiene and appearance. She’s got a nice smile, decent teeth, dresses herself appropriately. So she’s got some things going for her and is working on things she sees she needs to in a proactive way.
A major barrier young people like this lady have who grow up with family histories of being on welfare, is often not having parents who can pass on life skills and the knowledge of how to improve. To be completely honest, some families actually flip-flop between wanting more for their children and wanting them to be just like them. One young adult told me their parents would always say, “So you think you’re better than us? Well you’re not and you never will be. Welfare was good enough for your grandparents and your parents and it’s good enough for you too so get used to it.”
So what’s normal for some middle class families; high school, post-secondary education and employment is not necessarily, ‘normal’ for everyone. Welfare may be, ‘normal’ for some families. It’s when someone, as in the case of this young lady, wants to improve their quality of life and income that with that desire for change struggles surface. The good thing to understand and believe is that the struggle is worth it; because when you feel like you just want to quit, you can remind yourself why you started in the first place;. a hunger for something better.
I see something in her; something she may not see herself with her limited skills and experience. And sometimes – just sometimes – if you can’t see something worthy in yourself you should just trust when someone else sees it first. It will reveal itself to you and that’s when you might wonder how they could see what you did not. So good for her, good for you.