I fear I am raising spoiled-rotten, middle-class brats. I fear I am raising the very kind of children I would have hated as a child. Why? Because they are comfortable and cozy and have everything they need in their day-to-day lives.
They do not go hungry. They do not wear shoes with holes or ones they have outgrown. They have comfortable beds with good mattresses. They have their own books and toys. The electricity has never been shut off. They don’t eat fast food for dinner. (Just last night I made them chicken tikka masala, basmati rice, saag paneer, and stir fried vegetables.) They have the proper equipment for all their sports and activities. They have not had to endure the public school with no recess, music or art. There is a fine, moderately priced private school nearby. They are carted around in a comfortable minivan with seat warmers. They attend art classes, karate, swimming, piano and dance lessons. They get two weeks of day camp every summer. They are read to each day. There is time for all the attention and love they can handle. This is possible because I work very few hours and my spouse supports us. I am lucky to be able to choose to do what I think is best for our family.
I have not always been so lucky.
In my early twenties, I was a single parent to a beautiful, autistic boy. I left an unsafe relationship with the father and tried to support us by working full-time. I couldn’t get a high paying job, as I did not have a college degree or significant work experience. I struggled to make ends meet. One utility would always be shut off. Sometimes I could not afford a phone. To make phone calls, I had to ride my bike with my son in a bike seat to the nearest payphone. The childcare I could afford was terrible. I went to work each day worrying what could happen to my son. My landlord was a creep who constantly reminded that female tenants “might” be able to live there rent-free. When I turned to welfare for help with my head hung in shame, I was told that I made too much money and would need to quit my job to qualify.
The monthly check was $1 less than my monthly rent. The food stamps were $87 a month. There were no mommy-and-me classes for my first born. There was no summer camp. There was no organic food. There was not a dollar to spare. There was overwhelming and constant worry. There were food banks and church assistance. There was using student loans to live on. There were incompatible roommates, whose rent helped keep us out of the projects or shelters. There was the public shaming, when I used food stamps and other customers saw fit to comment on what I bought with “their” tax dollars. There was chronic degradation buried so deep it is still there, even more than a decade after I cashed that last check.
Would I want that for my two younger children now? Of course not. I would not want them doing their homework in the dark, to be cold, to have holes in their shoes, or to be deprived of nutrition — but sometimes their entitlement bothers me. Having grown up in a working class family with ten kids, I did have holes in my shoes. I slept on a mattress that had coils poking through the top. I wore ill-fitting hand-me-downs. I did not have the equipment I needed to participate in my sport. I knew what it was to be uncomfortable. I knew what it was, if even slightly, to suffer from not having some of the things I needed. My younger children only know the sting of not getting some of what they want.
I worry about the comfort they have. I wonder what it does to their capacity to love and care for their fellow humans and the earth on which they reside. I am sure there are many things they would want that I can’t or won’t provide. I do not buy them video games or the latest gadgets. They do not watch TV on a regular basis. I am sure they will have twangs of envy or desire, but they will not feel cold or hungry or denied. I want them to be able to reach their full artistic, intellectual and human potential. But I wonder if they can be actively compassionate beings if they have not hungered or suffered. Or will they be engrained in unthinking consumerism? How to foster healthy growth and development without spoiling them rotten or turning them into consuming zombies is this middle class mom’s question.
Linda Carney-Goodrich is a writer, teacher, and solo performance artist. She is a former editor of Survival News and former coordinator of the Welfare Organizing Media Project. She holds a BS in Human Services from Springfield College of Human Services and masters in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education.