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May 26, 2009

Children of the Recession - I Can Do Better

Heidi Watching the “Children of the Recession” series on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric this past week has troubled me everyday. Each part of the series I saw tugged at my heart and left me realizing just how vulnerable the economy has left many of us, and opened my eyes to how much children are affected by their parents’ lives. Though it has also left me ashamed that I’m not doing more for others in need - knowing it could be us with one twist of fate - and regretting that my efforts thus far to provide a better life for my son were essentially spoiling him compared to the plight of the children featured in this series. I can do better.

The children in the series were on my mind as I cleaned out the fridge before grocery shopping: tossing out produce that had gone bad and leftovers we hadn’t eaten.  I have read around the web that the average family wastes between 11% and 25% of the food they purchase, and I have to admit that we fell into this range. I know we could do better than that. My family could throw away less food - we can produce “less-than-average” food waste! Couldn’t I plan a menu in advance to prevent food waste, but still allow for experimentation with new recipes and satisfying cravings that crop up? Not only would we better utilize the food we have, but we could save money simultaneously! The money we could save on food could be donated to help another family in need.

The children in the vignettes were on my mind as I pushed my son around the grocery store actually totaling our cartful on my iPhone, and contemplating the whole while just how much I could save and still buy double of some of the items to fill a bag of groceries for a family in need. I’m talking staples like a box of diapers, wipes, sunscreen, bath soap, Cheerios, mac-n-cheese, rice, ketchup, bread, soup, etc. Could we afford and commit to picking up an extra bag or two of groceries once or twice a month regularly? I think so – but we won’t know until we try.

The children in the series were on my mind again as I was registering my son for summer camp and came across a fundraising plea from the YWCA of Bergen County in Ridgewood seeking donations to cover the cost of a week of summer camp for children whose families could not afford summer camp activities for their children. I paused for a moment – I had always considered summer camp a “want” and not a “need” as far as summers go, but my son’s only in preschool. If I worked out of the home and he were older, I would totally need something to occupy my son to keep him safe, and away from dangerous activities if left on his own. The YWCA’s summer camp programs allow working parents peace of mind with the knowledge that their children are safe, mindfully engaged and nurtured - on top of giving a fun, unique out-of-home experience for the kids. Perhaps us parents with kids outside of the target age range just forget or don’t realize the negatives to denying a child participation in summer camp activities strictly because of cost.

As I filled out the paperwork and registration deposits for my son’s summer activities I was struck by how fortunate he is – and he doesn’t even know how it is to go without enough to appreciate it! How did he come into these opportunities and treats that we provide him? I surely didn’t grow up getting Auntie Anne's pretzel sticks and a carousel ride everytime I went to the mall with my parents. I didn’t get the Teddy Grahams Cars cookies, Spongebob-shaped Cheez-Its, or Diego Yoplait Kids yogurt, etc. every time I asked when I went to the grocery store with my mom. Why was I indulging my own son? Oh yeah, so he wouldn’t make a scene, or I needed him to behave while I ran errands that must be boring to him. Or because I didn't have those things growing up and I want my son to, or my husband works 14 hour days and I’m trying to make it up be both parents to him during the week – none of these excuses justify raising a child whom expects things to be given to him and doesn’t realize that people can’t always whip out a card or run to an ATM to buy whatever he wants. I can do a better job of teaching my son that treats are not daily occurrences and are something to be earned and appreciated. I can teach him the value of a dollar by having him earn items he wants over time, not by instantly gratifying his every whim. I can teach him to help others by having him help me pick out items to donate and bringing him with me to drop the items off. Oh yes, I can do better.

This is an original post written for New Jersey Moms Blog by Heidi of c2cmom.

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