On Mother’s Day it’s important to recognise all mothers – and to consider the way we talk about those mothers who bear the brunt of stigma around poverty and income inequality, writes KidsCan’s Julie Chapman.
It’s Mother’s Day, when our glossy magazines are overflowing with flawless images of Kiwi celebrities paying tribute to their mums, and the latest gifts with which to surprise your own.
However,I’d like to tell a different story. For a moment I’d like to acknowledge the mums in our communities all over New Zealand who won’t grace the pages of any magazine, but whose tales are just as inspirational.
I have never met a mother in 13 years at KidsCan who doesn’t want the best for her children. I believe it’s time to shift our thinking, and acknowledge that child poverty isn’t about bad parenting.
Kids are living in hardship because most parents don’t have enough money – not because they’re misspending it. In my experience, the vast majority of parents are doing the best they can with the little they have.
The fact that KidsCan now offers programmes in 718 schools across every region in the country demonstrates that mothers and fathers on low incomes need some help. We are pleased to say that the overwhelming feedback we receive is of gratitude.
Like Auckland mother Chelsea Jones, who is raising two little girls on her own. Once she’s paid $400 rent each week, there’s less than $100 left over for food.
She’s as resourceful as possible – growing her own veges, baking, and buying the cheapest cuts of meat to stretch over soups and stews. At dinner time her girls eat first – and if they want more, Chelsea will go without and simply have bread for her main meal. She dreams of buying nice cheese.
In winter, Chelsea heats the house only when the kids are awake. At night, she tries to keep warm in her fleecy onesie with a jacket on top and a hot water bottle in her lap, as she studies for her Bachelor of Education.
When the girls are at school, she works as a teacher’s aide on minimum wage, and she’s mastered finding a bargain at her local op shops when her girls have outgrown their clothes.
Imagine, then, what it’s like to be stereotyped as a solo mother on a benefit who is not doing enough for her kids.
Chelsea is subjected to the sort of choice comments we often receive at KidsCan:
“Some parents need shaking. Can’t buy shoes but can buy drink.”
“I bet more than 50% of these children’s parents have beers, smokes or drugs”.
“If parents can’t get their priorities right maybe they should give their [children] to couples that long to be parents and would actually put the children’s needs above everyone else.”
The 2017 Child Poverty Monitor shows of the hundreds of thousands of children living in poverty, 44% live in households where at least one adult is in full time employment. There just isn’t enough money coming in to cope with rising rents and the high cost of living.
Thankfully, the keyboard warriors who seem to take aim at beneficiaries on a regular basis are well outnumbered by a growing number of caring Kiwis and businesses who support us in giving a hand up to New Zealand children. We also need to lift their parents up too, rather than pointing the finger and bringing them down.
Many mothers I talk to find it very hard to ask for help. It’s why we work together with our partner schools to discreetly get new shoes and socks to kids whose own footwear has seen better days.
We provide children with food and hot meals in winter at school, because we know they might not get one at home; 93,000 hot meals will get eaten this term.
We provide baked beans, bread and snacks so children who haven’t had breakfast at home can be provided the bare necessities so they can concentrate in class.
Chelsea’s children received warm KidsCan raincoats, which she says is one less thing to worry about this winter. Today, she’s not expecting any presents – she just wants to hang out with her girls, because with them, she says every day feels like Mother’s Day.
So, to Chelsea and all the other mums out there who are giving it their best shot and doing everything to make ends meet – we see you.
Julie Chapman is the CEO and Founder of the KidsCan Charitable Trust
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