Am I Creating Class Warfare in My Own Community?
We are doing pretty well.
It's hard to even write that down. The guilt wells up inside me like the steam inside Old Faithful, and I want to cap it quickly and turn away. In our circle of friends, there are those who have been really affected by unemployment, decreased benefits, and exorbitant health care costs (especially if they have kids with special needs).
At the school Eve attends, there are fully 30% of the kids who are on some sort of scholarship or financial aid, and that diversity is a big part of the reason we love that school. Every day I read blogs written by people who are railing against the inequities in our society that create incredible hardships for hardworking individuals and make it nearly impossible for them to get ahead.
Bubba and I are ahead.
But that doesn't make us the enemy. I have a hard time not getting defensive about our relative financial security and trying to explain it away. The fact is, we both came from very meager beginnings and made it to college with a great deal of financial aid. We emerged with mountains of school loan debt and both took temporary jobs while we waited for our dream jobs to materialize. We were lucky in many ways, finding ourselves in the right place at the right time, and Bubba got a job with unheard-of benefits. He also drew on his lessons about money management and was very conservative, maneuvering our finances deftly throughout the years. We purchased our first house before real estate prices skyrocketed and sold before the bubble burst.
We have worked very hard over the years and have volunteered in our community and donated both time and money to causes we believe in. And I still have guilt.
I have guilt when I talk to friends about our new home purchase, because I know some of them are struggling to make house payments.
I have guilt when I tell my little sister we're headed to Hawaii for a vacation this summer with the girls, because I know she's scraping money together for a long weekend in Vegas -- her first vacation since she got married over a year ago.
I know that my closest friends are excited to see photos of the new house we'll move into this summer.
I know that my family members don't begrudge us the tropical vacation as a family.
I know that my friends who have kids with special needs don't resent me because my kids are growing and thriving.
The notion that it might not be okay to share things about my life with friends and family seems silly, but there are times when I worry that some of the details might be misconstrued. We are fairly open with our girls about the cost of things -- gasoline, new shoes, even mortgage payments. We talk often about the difference between "want" and "need" and how to decide when it is important to buy something.
They understand that some of the things we value -- fresh, organic whole foods, for example -- also might be valued by others but are, more often than not, financially out-of-reach. They realize that we have family members who cannot afford many of the luxuries we have and that we help them out when we can. But at the end of the day, I don't want the message to my girls to be one of guilt and shame.
I don't want them to feel as though we ought not to indulge ourselves in a trip to Hawaii if we can afford it. We all work very hard throughout the year and enjoy spending time together as a family. I don't want them to think that they have to hide the nice things we do for ourselves out of a sense of propriety or deference to others.
Their father is not Bernie Madoff or some former executive at Enron. His business has created nearly 30 jobs in the past three years, and his employees are compensated well and given a great benefit package. We are committed to being a part of our community and doing what we can to make a difference for the families who are struggling and working hard to make their lives better. Hiding our own successes feels to me like an admission of guilt and, the fact is, we are guilty of nothing more than a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.
So, we are doing pretty well.
And that does not make us the enemy.