Poverty And Parenthood


Many of the people I assist looking for employment have children and of those who do, almost all tell me how much those children mean to them. Most of the time they say, “My kids are everything” or “My kids are number one.”

What’s at the heart of why they are telling me this when we are discussing employment has everything to do with their prioritizing skills. What they are inferring is that factors such as work location, hours, pay and benefits will often outweigh other factors like job satisfaction, chances for advancement, even what the job actually involves in some cases. They are also saying, “Just like you, I’ve got my priorities in the right order”, because make no mistake, it’s important for them to align themselves with those they respect and who they see as able to help them. They know we are different in so many ways, but here we can be equals.

They genuinely want their children to have a successful life; which really means a better life with better opportunities that they themselves have had in the past and continue to have moving forward. That’s a pretty understandable hope. Whether it’s getting out of poverty, then moving beyond the ranks of the working poor or having better quality personal relationships, they generally want their kids to be better off in life.

Now even if you’ve never been in poverty yourself, you can I trust empathize with the parent(s) who have very little if anything in the way of surplus income; especially for those in receipt of government social assistance. By the time a person covers their rent and buys food there isn’t much left over. So you might assume the obvious thing to do would be put your child in care and get a job so they have more money to improve their children’s lives. That as it turns out isn’t how they always see it. Your forgiven and perhaps guilty of looking at this from a middle class perspective and assuming because that would be your plan if you were in that situation that it’s therefore logical that it should be their plan too.

Take some of their common realities into consideration. Not true for all of course, but there are some observable behaviours which can be explained completely by circumstances in which many find themselves. For starters, poverty is often generational. Those in receipt of social assistance may have been raised in families where poverty was the norm; their parents lacked financial literacy, discipline was harsh, parenting skills in short supply, education was undervalued and ambition was viewed as showing up your elders.

Now this isn’t the reality for everyone on social assistance but there are many who if reading this would say I was accurately describing their own histories. Now in the present day, this person who is a product of their upbringing lacks the benefits that come with good supportive parenting, encouragement in school. There’s no, “you can be anything you want to be” or, “follow your dreams” mantra giving them every hope of success in life.

So what happens? The reality for many is that despite their best intentions, those early years of growth and personal development have stunted their chances. Food might not have been the healthiest or available as often. There were limited opportunities to visit museums, art galleries, experience fine dining and theatrical productions. Socializing and vocabularies were limited and as a result they saw themselves as different. Some friends weren’t  allowed to visit where they lived, their clothes were hand-me-downs and never on the cusp of cool. In short, for reasons beyond their personal control, they were impoverished in ways that went far beyond money alone.

Okay so now as an adult, they have the best of intentions. Like you and I no matter where we are in life, they only know what they’ve experienced to date and hence despite their very best of intentions, may repeat many bad decisions; well, decisions you and I might look at objectively and consider bad decisions. No wonder than we might scoff and say, “Well if they’d only have some common sense” or “Well if they’d only do what I’d do”. But how can they make good decisions without the benefit of the tools and awareness that’s required to base those good decisions on?

So it comes as no surprise for example when they do find themselves with some additional funds that they quickly spend the money on their children seeking some measure of immediate gratification. Maybe it’s off to a fast-food restaurant which brings them and their children immediate if short-term happiness; a chance to do something beyond the norm and special.

You and I might have hoped they’d save that money and by clothes for job interviews, a bus pass to get around and job search, or maybe just save it for the child’s future education. That’s middle class thinking again.

Children are their number one priorities and their hearts are in the right place. Their intentions are understandable and should be applauded. What’s lacking for many is information, supportive learning, respectful role models, helping hands and non-judgemental interventions which meet them wherever they are in terms of their capacity to learn and their willingness to do so.

In many respects we are all not so different. Maybe something to think about today.

 

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