Unemployed and single parents: fallen through the grid

Unemployed and single parent
Fallen through the grid

© Qilin’s prance Filmmaker / Shutterstock

First the divorce, then the resignation: Christine Finke was suddenly an unemployed single parent of three children – and one ice cream suddenly became a luxury good.

“There was another poster that drew attention to the hype that was soon to come to town. Damn. Whenever we passed these posters, I tried to turn my youngest daughter’s gaze in the other direction. Because even if she couldn’t read yet, she knew what the colorful posters with the rides on them meant. And like every child of kindergarten age, she loved everything about the spectacle – from the cotton candy to the carousels to the devilish vending machines where children sink a lot of money trying to steal cuddly toys with metal claw arms. Spending less than ten euros was virtually impossible at the hustle and bustle, even on Wednesday, the day of the reduced fares. And those ten euros were simply not left with us. Ten euros: That was the time to go to a children’s birthday party and bring an appropriate present or cheap meals for two days or 15 liters of milk, which of course are cheap.

How do I behave towards the children?

A few years ago I would never have dreamed that I would do the math. But after separating from my husband I not only had to spend thousands of euros on lawyers and court costs, but to make matters worse, I also lost my job as an editor at a children’s book publisher a little later due to operational reasons. I experienced how hopeless it was to regain a professional footing as a single parent with three relatively young children. That was not only a bitter realization, but also a financial disaster for us. So I took my kids across the street, hoping they wouldn’t notice the hype posters.

It broke my heart anyway that I couldn’t buy them ice cream in the outdoor pool, and instead of fries and mayo from the kiosk, we always ate sandwiches that we made ourselves on the lawn, because even the entrance fee for my family of four was an expense that had to be carefully considered had to be – despite the discount thanks to the city’s “social pass”, which we were entitled to as a poor family. The swimming pool as a social place, as a meeting point and time out, was important to us. Almost all of them are the same in swimming trunks, and especially with smaller children it doesn’t matter whether they have a brand name or a cheap model.

Being poor wasn’t bad for my children as long as they didn’t attract attention and knew that mom is already sorting everything out somehow. And I did. I filled out applications for grants, took care of housing benefits and, above all, made no secret of the fact that we were more than short of money. That was very liberating in many ways because it didn’t take energy to keep up appearances.

Small rays of light from strangers

In addition, small miracles kept happening: the kindergarten came up to me and asked if my children wanted to take part in a Christmas gift campaign, they had noticed that we were financially poor. Friends sent vouchers for a visit to the café, a family day ticket in the thermal baths or the ice cream parlor. The joy we have never forgotten when we were able to order pizza from a good Italian for 35 euros because someone with a big heart thought of us is still unforgettable. The fact that people want to do good was one of the few beautiful experiences that I take with me out of poverty.

I am relieved to hear that my son says today that he had a lovely childhood and didn’t notice that it wasn’t true, that I didn’t feel like having ice cream when we went to the ice cream parlor. There I only bought one ball for each of the children because there wasn’t more. I probably managed it quite well – even if it meant practically no heating for two winters and never going to the hairdresser myself, because it was more important that the children had shoes.

Nevertheless, the fact that I ended up having to set up my own business, along with the financial uncertainty, was very stressful. On top of that, government grants are limited in time, so you have to keep proving that you are in need. A basic child benefit would have taken a lot of pressure off. And even if it is not a child’s right to be able to go to the hustle and bustle, it would be desirable for participation to be taken into account when politicians finally get to grips with it. Man does not live on bread alone, sometimes it has to be cotton candy too. “

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BRIGITT 13/2021