perjantai 26. huhtikuuta 2013

Days 215-216: Childhood poverty, introduction


I played on the sandbox a lot.

I've been studying for my university entrance exams (education sciences), and one of the articles included in the material is about how children perceive, experience and justify economic inequality and how it affects their everyday lives. The article concludes that here in Finland very little, if any, research has been done on this subject, and globally even though the subject has been studied it has been mainly from an adult point of view – for example, by asking children how they perceive economic inequality in terms of professional and educational differences, when the children in fact have no direct contact with this aspect of life; children do not think in terms of professional hierarchy, and if they do, it is through what they have learned by looking at their parents and not by living it themselves.

The subject is very interesting, and it got me thinking about my childhood experiences of financial inequality, scarcity and near-poverty. My family was never as poor as i.e. these families in this documentary, and it may be that in Finland such extreme poverty is not (yet) that common or that it is hidden, which may in turn explain the fact that there aren't much studies of child poverty in Finland. My point is, even though we as a family didn't lose our house (we had to sell off land, though) and never had to starve, as compared to other kids I experienced myself as poor and defined our family as poor.

The financial crisis of the 1990's hit our family pretty hard. We ended up in a lot of debt with two low-paid working adults and four children from age 1 to 13. I was around 3-4 years old at the time and have no recollection of “the better days” when we apparently had a pretty high living standard, so as far as I remember we have always been struggling to survive. We always bought the cheapest food and my mother cooked everything from the start; there was barely money for the most necessary clothes and shoes; we could not afford to buy CD's and so we mostly got illegal copies. I remember there being an argument about my sister wanting/needing a new winter coat and us not being able to afford it. I remember some occasions where my father had got an assignment done and come home proud and relieved with plenty of money. I remember looking at the most expensive and fancy toys at the toy store and my mother always telling me we can't afford them. I remember my mother picking violin as my instrument because I could borrow it from the music school and wouldn't have to spend money to buy my own. I remember the time I got my first legal CD and I remember thinking “wow, this is expensive”. I remember my mother's anxiety as the worried look on her face which surfaced every time I asked to buy new clothes. I remember piles of bills and reminders and the tone with which bills were discussed in our household. I remember my parents being resistant to pay the bills because they never had the money to cover all of them. I remember the disappointments with the debt and how it never seemed to get paid off. I remember asking my mother how much money she makes and her refusing to tell me – I was starting to understand money and income and wanted to know what our situation was – I wanted to participate but got refused. I'm starting to piece together how these experiences have affected my relationship to money, survival, consuming, working and getting paid.

As compared to the poverty of the lowest social class of the westernized world* my situation was bearable, at least for me if not for my parents**. This shows that the experience of poverty for me was partly subjective, as I was never deprived of food or shelter (actual physical needs) but felt “left out” without all the fun things the world was offering but which were “restricted” and “out of my reach”. My poverty was not extreme poverty from which one can die, but a cultural and societal poverty of being denied the possibility to explore the world. I was alive but in terms of society my movements were restricted.

The material I'm studying explained that a child may feel ashamed and guilty for not having the same material things that others do, and that this causes the child to feel “left out”, missing out on the feeling of “belonging somewhere”. I asked myself: if the other children who had all the material stuff were to not judge the poor(er) child for not having materia? What if these other children were to accept the child as he/she is, with no regard to possessions? What if this child still insisted on feeling “left out” even if his/her environment did not “make him/her” feel like it? Then it would mean that the cause of feeling “left out” wouldn't be in group pressure but in the concept of ownership: if there is something that is out of one's reach, “restricted”, one is going to long for it if one has decided it to be “valuable”. So when there is a world with unreasonable boundaries there is always going to something “restricted”, and when the people living within it create desires and emotional bonds to materia there are going to be “valuable” items.

So how does this apply to me, my experience of poverty, my definition of myself as poor? First off, I can see that growing up believing that some things were “out of my reach” has passivate me: I have had little to no regard for how the society functions and how one is able to influence it. I simply believed it to be impossible or at least very difficult and troublesome, and so I became a limp and drowsy child (and an adult) with little interest to do anything at all but things that brought me instant pleasure. I learned helplessness and powerlessness from being “tied down”. I have also felt like an “outsider” because of my lack of material resources and become extremely separated from others, first through grief and jealousy and then through spite.

So, points I'm going to elaborate on:
  • Childhood experience of poverty and restriction causing passiveness
  • “Not belonging” because of poverty (identifying myself as poor and separating myself from others)
  • Relationship to money, survival and working
  • Relationship to ownership (blood ties)
  • Social relations with friends and foes affected by poverty
  • Poverty as an attitude learned from parents (spite towards society)

Cool. I'm going to continue from here.

* I'm not going to compare myself to the lowest social classes of the developing countries – people living in extreme poverty – because that comparison here would not serve any purpose.

** I'm not sure why parents choose to not involve their children in their financial struggles even though this directly influences the entire family. Some even sacrifice their own needs to provide the child with the social resources (toys, clothes, traveling, pocket money etc.) that ensure acceptance from other children so that the child could “make it” in this world – with no consideration to the fact that the child learns to live within a facade and believes that what you own defines your value. An interesting topic in itself, this one.

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