When Do I Tell My Child We’re Poor?

As many know, chronic illness often brings about chronic poverty.  My husband and I have been dealing with this since 2008, when I got laid off from work and found myself too sick to look for another position.

We qualified for WIC right away, when Tyler was two-and-a-half years old.  As he became older he would ask, “Mommy, why are we here?” “For coupons, baby.”

Yes, my darling, you get weighed and blood taken from you for coupons.

Now that we are in Massachusetts, we see a Social Worker every couple of weeks.  “Mommy, who is that lady?”  “She helps us, honey”, I tell him, as Tyler is given a free Angry Birds backpack.

Occasionally I need to take Tyler with me to the Food Bank. “Mommy, what is this place?”  “It’s like a supermarket, honey, we get food here.”  “Why are we waiting in line to get food here?”  “That’s just the way it is”, I say, as we sit with some who suffer from disabilities ranging from near Catatonia to angry people who often randomly yell out things.  I feel badly that Tyler must sit in this environment, knowing that he could get scared.  Usually I bring books for him and read to him, or he looks at them on his own when I am meeting with someone.

There are other children at the Food Bank, most older than Tyler and I look around and wonder, “Do they know why they are here?  They must know by now.  How do they feel about it?  Are they saddened by it or do they accept it as a way of life?”

My mother grew up poor and she was repeatedly told by my grandmother, “You can’t have this because we are poor.”  She said she was traumatized by it and it still hurts to this day.

Tyler has known about the concept of being poor for a while now from the Spider-Man franchise.  Peter Parker and his Aunt May have trouble paying the bills.  In one of the movies, Peter lives in a slum-like apartment because he can’t afford anything better, and Aunt May loses her house.  The other day Tyler said,”Do you know why Peter always wears the same clothes?”  “I don’t know, why do you think he does?”  “Because he is poor.”  Then I explain to him that most people in cartoons wear only one outfit.

He has picked up the word “expensive” from me.  “Is this too expensive to buy, Mommy?”  Today we were at a garage sale and he said, “Mommy I found something beautiful for you, but I think it might be too expensive.”  Turned out to be cheesy party decorations but his heart was in the right place.

Usually I just say things like, “Mommy didn’t know we were going to be here so she didn’t bring enough money” or “We’ll buy this later, more towards Halloween”, and hope he’ll just forget about it, and lately, “I don’t know if Santa can get this for you because he has a budget.”

Maybe you think some of these things build good character.  Yes, Tyler doesn’t have to get everything he wants every time we are out or everything he wants for Christmas.

It’s just that…it hurts not being able to delight my child when I buy him a toy for no reason or just because he’s been a good boy, or just because I want too. It’s just that…I used to live a different lifestyle and knowing that the reason I don’t now is because of my chronic illnesses and is out of my control, is very hard to bear.

If you are in my situation, what did you tell your child or children about being poor and when did you tell them?  Or do they just figure it out on their own?

One of the things I learned from what has happened to me this year is that it doesn’t really matter to Tyler what he has, just as long as we can all be a family again.

One day he said to me, “Mommy, did you know that I love you and Daddy more than I love all of my toys?”

Thanks for reminding me honey, because I had indeed lost sight of that.



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About mamasick

Emily Cullen is a pen-name. I suffer from chronic illnesses and diseases which include Bipolar Disorder, Asthma, Diabetes and Fibromyalgia. I had battled Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis but there is no longer evidence of me having these diseases and my Rheumatologist has declared them to be "burnt out" of my system. I am separated from my husband, “Grant”. Our son, “Tyler” was born in September of 2006 and suffers from tics and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and is delayed in fine and gross motor skills. In my blog I seek to let sick moms know that they are not the only ones going through this, and to educate people about what can happens when one becomes catastrophically ill. I also strive to break down stereotypes of what a “Welfare Mom” is like. Anything that I have gone through due to being sick, is written on the pages of Mama Sick.
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