Luck of the Draw

I wrote this in response to this amazingly, powerful article called Ketchup Sandwiches and Other Things Stupid Poor People Eat by Anastasia Basil. Make sure when you read this article, you click on the YouTube of the two people going at it in the grocery store as a man attempts to buy food for his children (who are present) using food stamps. 

I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth.

I remember when I was a kid sitting at the dinner table and refusing to eat my peas (I hated peas—still do).

My dad said, “Lauren, there are starving kids in Ethiopia.”

“Let me go get an envelope,” I said.

If there were starving kids in Ethiopia they could have my peas as far as I was concerned.

Little Lauren

Little Lauren didn’t love peas, but loved big white bonnets and fancy dresses!

My parents made it a point to tell us we were lucky. We were lucky to be born in the United States and to have enough food on our table. Things they didn’t tell us that were also true: we were lucky to be born white and well-off, especially living in the South. My parents always said they weren’t rich, but we had plenty. I didn’t know what it was like to go without. We had name-brand foods, and when we wanted Guess jeans and swatches to fit into our new private school scene, my mom could go out and buy them for us. Privilege.

We were lucky, because we didn’t have to go all the way to Ethiopia to be hungry or poor. One could simply look in West Montgomery to see the generational poor that lived there. Children born of poor parents, being raised poor. Children who were made to feel bad, and still are, for depending on food stamps. Children whose parents worked two jobs just to put food on the table. Children whose parents were addicts. Children whose parents wanted to give them the world, just like my parents did, but couldn’t afford to do so. All of those things, I was lucky enough to be born without.

Some people don’t believe in luck. They believe in predestination. I’m guessing they think God thought they were special and made them the child of someone rich, while the people born into poverty were destined because of some sin? I’m not sure how that works exactly, because I’m Episcopal and don’t believe in predestination. Was I predestined to be the daughter of a doctor? What makes me more special than the child born to a family who can barely scrap it together?

I’ve never understood people who look down on the poor. People who say, “Oh, they should get a job.” I want to ask them, “Have you ever been in their shoes?” Do you know what it’s like to have to choose whether to buy your child new shoes or to eat tonight? Do you know what it’s like to have to tell your kids, “Hey, I’m sorry but we don’t have enough food to have dinner tonight? We don’t have enough money to buy your Type 1 Diabetes medicine. I can’t send you on that field trip, because it costs $20, and I don’t have that.” I don’t know what that’s like, because I was born lucky.

My kids have had much the same experience as I did growing up. I don’t have as much as my parents, but we are well-off. Teach compassion. Have your children volunteer in a food bank. Show them that poor people are people too, with hopes and dreams just like them. Understand that being born poor does not make someone less of a human. It makes them a victim of their circumstance. In this country, being born poor really does dictate whether or not you’ll end up being poor. Talk about the American Dream—it barely exists. Talk about the luck of the draw influencing outcome in life. I basically hit the jackpot. My kids did too. We won the lottery of birth.

So next time you think poor people are scamming the system, maybe you should take a step back and look at where those thoughts are coming from. Because chances are, your bias as someone born lucky is affecting your compassion for those who weren’t born as lucky as you.

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Parenting and Expectations

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Kids. Guilt. Expectations. They go together like three peas in a pod. I probably read every article I come across about parenting. Some serve to judge. Some serve not to judge. Some ask people not to judge while they are then judging other people. Judgment is just human nature. Taking all the information in, processing it, and then finding what works for me as a parent is what I normally attempt to do. It isn’t a fine science.

A few years ago, I found I felt angry a lot. I took it out on my husband and my kids. I yelled and I snapped. I snipped at people. And it only made me feel worse. It took me a while, but I found a way to control that anger, especially when I realized it made my kids act like me. They took on all my anxiety and anger, and they began to express it. They expressed it in their play and in the way they interacted with other people. And that was not something I wanted, because I knew it was one of my major flaws. It prohibited me from appropriately relating to other people. It caused a cease of communication, when all I really wanted was to communicate.

I still have a temper. Sometimes I get so mad I could hit something. Instead, I write. Or do yoga. Or I go for a walk. Or I take a hot bath. I try to push a pause button until I feel better.

I thought taking the anger away was enough. I wanted my children to avoid feeling like they had to please me and their father above themselves. You see, for a long time I felt that way. My parents had HUGE expectations of me, and everything I had striven for in my early adulthood I did for them instead of for myself. I couldn’t figure out why it was so important for me to make them happy. And that feeling made me unhappy. Trying to please others above yourself always makes one feel unhappy, because you never know if you’re succeeding at it and because you’ve placed your happiness in the hands of another person who you have no control over. I felt like I had to be a superhero to avoid my dad’s criticism or to mold myself into their idea of success. And I don’t want that for my children. I love my parents, and I don’t blame them at all. They’re good parents, and they’re there for me, and everyone should be as lucky as I am to have been born of such wonderful, loving people. I know my parents are proud of me. I know it’s my own life to live, and I know that they didn’t mean to heap their expectations on to me. Parents should expect a lot from their children, but children should also expect more from themselves. They should be taught that success is driven by achieving their expectations of themselves, not by reacting to others expectations of them.

I read this great article yesterday (from April 2014) titled What to Say Instead of Praising. Praising brings conditionality into a relationship. In fact, saying “Good job,” implies that you expect them to be good. Instead of “Good job,” say “You did it!” and match your child’s excitement. This is one of the hints from the article. This also allows your child to realize the value of what they did, without feeling like they have to do a good job to please you. Instead, they learn that working hard reaps benefits for themselves. It in fact, leads them to succeed without having the burden of having to please their parents.

I think I say, “Good job,” more than any other phrase to my kids. And this morning, I changed that. I sent Hailey to the car while I went to the bathroom. I said, “Hey, if you try to buckle up while I’m in the bathroom it’ll be a big help to me.” She beamed at me.

When I came back from the bathroom, she was in the car completely buckled with a huge grin on her face, “Look Mom!” And I had to bite my tongue. My first instinct was to say, “Good job!” but I didn’t. Instead I said, “Look. You did it!” and I grinned back at her and gave her a love pat.

Like consciously stopping my anger, this is something I’ll have to work on as well. But I think like the article stated it will increase my children’s self-esteem. It will show them they have the power within to succeed in the ways they want to succeed. Instead of trying to understand and live up to my expectations as adults, they’ll live up to their own expectations and create happiness from within. At least this is what I hope for them.

Follow Lauren Greene:

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PS: The Devil Within is only available for the next three weeks. Don’t forget to get your copy while you still can at Amazon.