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I Don't Need Your Stinkin' Charity!

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When a mom is too proud to accept charity, is she punishing her kid? What can you do to help her accept it?

Woman refusing

Guest Blogger Gina tells her story:

When I was little, my mom couldn't afford to put me in the Girl Scouts. Lucky for me (or so I thought) this super nice woman, Mrs. Nordling, came to the door with a uniform for me so that I could join my classmates. When my mom saw it, she shut the door in the woman's face and said, "I don't accept charity." I remember it clearly because I was so excited to get the uniform and then, just as quickly as it came, it was snatched away.

Thinking about it now, I figure Mrs. Nordling's daughter came home and said, "Mom, Gina can't join Girl Scouts because her mom can't afford it." Mrs. Nordling was just trying to help and her intentions were in the right place, but her gesture turned into a terrible moment for me in my childhood, and obviously embarrassed my mother. I personally think my mom should have accepted it. Her pride ended up punishing me -- and I often think that if she had just let me have it, I probably wouldn't even remember the event.

Knowing what it's like to be a kid who cannot have what their classmates have, I would like to be a Mrs. Nordling, but I'd like to do it the right way. How does a parent handle it when their kid's friend can't do things because they have no money? We asked momlogic contributor and educator Jill Spivack for advice -- and here's what she told me:

  • Reach Out. I think it would have been best for the mother of the child to have called your mother when you weren't around and reached out (gently) to say "I know that my daughter mentioned that Gina would like to join the Scouts but that money is a little bit tight for you guys right now. So I'd be more than happy to cover the cost of xyz....."  It would have been a nice way to reach out without having the children involved in the process -- and would have been a kind gesture on the other mom's part. Of course, there's always the possibility that money was a very sensitive issue for your mom, but I think, if the delivery was nice on the part of the other mother, the worst that could have happened is that your mom could have gratefully declined the offer.  
  • Explain the situation to your child. I would recommend that parents explain to their children that some families are able to spend money on some things while for others it may be a bit tougher, and to encourage empathy on the part of their child toward the child that may not be able to participate (not bragging about certain activities in front of them, etc.)
  • Find low cost alternatives. I'd encourage the children to play together doing activities that may not cost much (or any) money. Inviting the child to play at home doing activities that are available without any cost may enable the kids to continue to enjoy each others' company without putting anyone in a difficult position.
What would you do? Or how would you react if you were Gina's mom?

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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
birdsfly September 25, 2008, 10:02 AM

My husband couldn’t be in sports in school. In fact he couldn’t buy lunch at school because his mother was too pround to put him on the financial aid lunch program. After we met he got half of my lunch every day and my mom let me have just a little extra in the lunch budget. It still bothers him that his mom put her pride before his needs.

Anonymous September 25, 2008, 12:07 PM

I don’t think alot of people have that problem anymore. When my DD was in K5 (back in 1994-95) over half the class received free or a reduced lunch. A certain portion also received the free breakfast. Some people trully need it and others (who have no pride) get it just because they can.

ACG November 1, 2008, 1:17 PM

Refusing charity when you need it is tantamount to saying that you are better than those you give charity to when you are in a better place.

If you are willing to give when you have, you should not be embarrassed to accept when you need.

Theresa February 25, 2009, 3:34 PM

I am not surprised. My mother was exactly the same way. And I have caught myself blushing a deep red hue when my hub’s parents have offered to help with baby costs. But then again, with such a stigma on receiving charity from ANY source these days (see: Octomom, etc) How can we expect people to accept charuty?

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