I was waiting in the checkout line of the grocery store last week when the mom in front of me, with two littles in her cart chaotically bantering back and forth, had to hear the four words no one ever wants to hear, especially in front of a line of strangers: “Your card was declined.”
Flustered, she began fumbling through her wallet, trying to find another card that might work. I engaged with my son in an effort to pretend I wasn’t aware of the situation and ease her embarrassment. The cashier tried a second card. “I’m sorry, ma’am, this one isn’t going through either.” An elderly lady behind me muttered, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” as she shifted back and forth impatiently.
But my response was different.
My heart ached for this momma, not trying to get a pedicure or a massage, but trying to feed her family and having to endure the vulnerability of being judged by the strangers around her.
I wanted so badly to pick up the $150 tab for her but the truth was, I couldn’t. Because, like many other families, our budget is too tight. Just as I was about to offer to at least pick up her basics—the milk, the bread, the formula, the diapers—the third card she tried went through. I saw a wave of relief wash over her face as she put her wallet away. I had a sweet smile and a look of “I’ve been there, too” ready for her should our eyes meet, but instead, she put her head down and quickly charged out of the store.
Had I had an opportunity to talk to this momma, here’s what I would’ve said: “You’re not alone.”
Many families today—way more than one would think based on appearances—are living paycheck to paycheck. I would tell her I know the hot feeling in your cheeks and pang in your gut when your card is publicly declined or the shame you feel not being able to send your toddler to the school you want to because the tuition would break even with your paycheck, making it pointless to work.
I know what it’s like to finally pay off credit cards and get some money in savings, only to have it wiped out because the AC went out, and now you have to start back at square one.
I know these struggles because that’s how we lived for many, many years.
And, to the older woman behind me in line muttering “you’ve got to be kidding me” I would tell her not to be so quick to judge. At the risk of sounding disrespectful to an older generation, times have changed and it’s more expensive than ever for families today just to stay afloat. It’s not that we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, we’re just trying to keep up with life in a world that’s moving faster than ever.
I can imagine those of a previous generation responding with, “Well, we managed our money better,” and in some cases, I think that’s true . . . but it’s also harder than ever to do that. Today, seemingly everything is automatically debited from your account and it’s a damn part-time job just to comb through it all, trying to investigate charges you don’t recognize and free trials never canceled. It’s a time when the average monthly car payment is $500 but you need two vehicles because both parents have to work. And, because you both have to work, you must swing a daycare bill that rivals your mortgage. We’re a generation that was told an advanced degree would pay off but any pay increase we get is wiped out by our hefty student loan payments.
Believe me, when you say “things were simpler then” we wish things were simpler, too.
Look, there’s no doubt that there are situations where families strapped for cash are making $5 lattes and the newest smartphone happen before the necessities; poor money management has always been around.
But there are also a whole lot of families out there doing it right and still coming up short.
All I’m saying is, I’m not judging anyone’s situation or making assumptions when I don’t know the facts because I’ve been there, too.
So, to the moms working hard to stay afloat—working (sometimes multiple jobs) when you want to be home with your babies, staying home because your line of work doesn’t pay enough for you to afford daycare, keeping a job you don’t love so you can provide insurance for your family—know that, despite what it might look like from the shiny vacation pics posted on social media or the fancy cars in the school carline, you’re far from alone.
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