I Confess: I'm Prejudiced (And Ashamed of It)

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I was at the grocery store one day and got in line behind a woman I recognized as the mom of a girl in my son’s kindergarten class. She had a pile of produce in front of her, and the cashier was holding a few Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) checks, which I realized are food stamps. The cashier told me to go to another check stand, because “this is gonna take awhile.”

Later, I remembered that the woman and her husband had just had their third child. They had a girl, a boy, and just had another girl. I suddenly realized that I judged them for choosing to have another child when they already needed food stamps to feed their family. I thought, “We don’t give people money to buy a Mercedes they can’t afford, why do pay for them to have more children they can’t afford?”

Image Credit: qmnonic, via Flickr

I’ve always thought of public assistance as something that’s temporary, that helps people when they lose their job or have some unexpected medical expense. I didn’t think people would use it as part of their “family planning.”

Personally, I think if my husband and I couldn’t afford to have children, we would choose not to. But in reality, I’ve never had to make that choice. My husband makes enough that I don’t even need to work outside the home.

It bothers me that I’m prejudiced against people who take public assistance. To me, prejudice is based on ignorance. I feel like there’s some information and definitely personal experience that I’m missing about what it’s like to live in this country and not have enough.

Intellectually, I understand that there are people who have low-paying jobs or no job at all, that many people don’t have enough medical coverage, even if they are employed, but most of the husbands I know work in high-tech, and most of the moms stay at home.

On the one hand, of course it’s none of my business how other people plan for their families. On the other hand, my husband and I pay taxes that fund public assistance programs.

I’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area all of my life, and I’ve always considered myself pretty liberal, but in this case, I feel like I’m being really harsh, cold, and elitist, and I don’t want to be that way.

I do support the government providing public works, medical insurance for low-income families, public schools, etc. but I wonder, once a family has two kids already, is it really good to keep paying for more children? Why do I feel like two kids are okay, but not more than that? I don’t know exactly, but I can see how families want their first child to have a sibling, and I’ve heard of “replacement fertility,” where adults have just enough babies to replace themselves.

A few of my friends have three children. Many of them have two children of the same sex and try again to see if they can have a child of the opposite sex. It seems unfair to deny this to low-income families, but it still seems a bit odd to me.

I know that there are many problems with the enormous gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in this country. I don’t like that gap. I think every person should be able to make a living wage, have adequate medical coverage, live in a safe neighborhood, and have a comfortable home. I guess the fact that we haven’t made any of that a reality is why we need public assistance in the first place.

"Nexus / Miguel Ugalde / stock.xchng"
"Nexus / Miguel Ugalde / stock.xchng"

I still feel sheltered and naïve about how families live on or below the poverty line. I feel guilty that I’ve never had to deal with that as a parent.

What light can you shed on receiving public assistance, whether you’ve personally taken it or know someone who has?

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