11 October 2008

A sad thought that actually cheered me up

I read an article posted on a parenting 'zine called Hip Mama today. The title of the article was My Mind on My Money and My Money on My Mind and it was written by a fellow North Carolinian, Roberta Moore. In it she is pretty honest about her family's financial situation and how sad it makes her. This is the paragraph that stuck with me:

So this is the big dark open secret middle America is facing. As I’ve talked to people about it, what keeps coming up is the guilt and shame aspect of not being able to make it in America these days. Specifically perhaps for the middle class, there is a very real sense of self-blame when our income doesn't meet what we pay out, when we rack up debt, and the next month have even less to cover the bills because we owe more in debt, and the quicksand just keeps pulling us in deeper the more we struggle. We're ashamed to be in our 30s, 40s, 50s and not to be able to make ends meet, to have to buy food and essentials on a credit card. We feel a heavy burden of guilt -- how did we get ourselves into this mess? -- while also feeling isolated, because it seems like folks around us are all managing better.

Moore captured the essence of what I am feeling in this one paragraph. ABM and I are not college graduates like Moore and her husband, but I still get where she is coming from. The paycheck-to-paycheck experience is not only a reality for waitresses and cashiers. Yet, I feel bad saying anything because the parents of my kids' friends don't seem to have any trouble paying school fees or buying new clothes. To be in our 40s without any sort of investments to fund our retirement is scary, but we can't put any money away when the price of basics like food and gas keep going up. Still, we can complain too loudly because we know people right here in our own county who are living in worse conditions. How ungrateful would we look if we were complaining when there are people having to stand in line at food banks?

The part that cheered me up, though, is a reminder that I'm not alone. I knew this before, but every nudge helps. If a person with a good education and a good job who isn't splurging on extras still can't make ends meet, then it makes me feel less like a misfit. I'm not taking this as permission to stop trying to make our lives better. It is just a comfort to know that I have comrades in the struggle.
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