Monday, December 15, 2008

Keeping Up With the Jones'es

I swore I would never go here, into financial territory, but its pretty much 90% or so of what's been on my mind lately, and sometimes writing things out helps me put them to bed, so here goes.

I live in the land of "haves and have-nots." I really wish money and status and all that didn't matter, but unfortunately, around here, it matters a lot. I have done really well over the past few years running in circles of those more affluent than us and blending in as well as possible, and when I don't blend, not caring that I don't. But lately, with the hit we're taking from the economy, the gap between "have" and "have-not" is definitely widening, and its getting to me.

The preschool Joy goes to is comprised mainly of those with considerably larger incomes than ours. Being a Christian preschool, the people there are kind enough not to rub your nose in it, but nevertheless, I know we aren't as well-off as most of the other families. I hear it, I see it, I feel it. And lately, I have felt so much pressure - completely self-inflicted though, and I know that - to keep up.

Not only are the other moms at the preschool not feeling the economic pinch the way we are, but they also have cleaner houses, they cook as well as (or better than) I do, and they have all sorts of extra time in their days. So while I may not have the biggest wallet, I would at least like to feel like, in comparison to these women, I excell at something....anything. I guess I will say that they all loved my Baby BLT stuffed tomatoes, but I can't skate by on bacony goodness forever.

Last week, I nearly had a meltdown. On Friday, Joy had her Christmas recital for the parents. Its no secret that for a preschool Christmas recital, if you have a little girl, you dress them up all cute. So Jeremy and I dipped into our over-stretched funds and I went to OshKosh and bought her a cute little outfit. She wore it to sing for the church on Sunday and looked adorable. Wednesday she talked me into wearing it to preschool, against my better judgement. She got paint on the sleeve, and some dirt or something because she has taken to chewing on her clothes. (It drives me NUTS!!) So Friday, amidst shopping, prepping hot cider, and baking 3 dozen cookies, I had to wash the shirt and tights. Put it this way.... I have NO idea why, but they went in white, and came out dingy eggshell colored! Joy was upset, but I was the one crying. Here it was, an hour before she had to be on stage, and her outift now looked like it had sat at the bottom of a pond for a few days. She had one other denim overall dress, no other tights, and only one other long-sleeved, semi-dressy shirt, and it wasn't festive in the least. I had visions flashing through my head of these other parents taking pity on me and my child because she had to wear something non-festive. All I wanted was, for one hour, for my daughter to look adorable and festive, and of course, some random force of nature had to go and sabotage that! I was devastated! I washed it again, this time with bleach, but it didn't help. By that point, Jeremy had come home and taken over (thank goodness I married someone like him!!), and I left it up to him to decide what to dress her in. He dried the dingy shirt and tights, and she wore it, much to my horror. Nobody said anything, but still. It bothered me. A LOT.

I was talking later that evening with my friend, Carrie (who is the only one I will talk to about this stuff because she's in the same boat), and she said she feels it too. Both of us constantly feel like we have to put in all this extra energy to try and uphold this image that we're on the same "level" as those we run with. We coined it "keeping up with the Jones'es syndrome"; that frivolous, pseudo-important "need" to keep up and maintain the image that we can and do the same as those around us.

To an extent, I guess a lot of it is just human nature. I mean, who wants to stick out like a sore thumb? Or admit that they may, in some way, just not measure up? I think if it were just reflecting on me, it wouldn't be a big deal. I'd get over it. But the reason it eats at me is because it reflects on my entire family, especially my children. Jeremy and I work hard to afford them things that most people in our economic bracket can't, so I guess I should expect it to begin with. But if we're going to put our kids into circles like this, its our job, I think, to make sure they can survive in it. Because its tough. I'm a grown up, and I can barely keep up!

On the flip-side of that coin though, is what people don't see -- the sacrifices we make. I was in the store the other day, and a former co-worker of mine asked where I was working now. I told him the kids were my full-time job. He then looked at me amazed and said, "Wow, then your husband must have a pretty well-paying job if you can afford to stay home!" I didn't know what to say to that, so I walked off without responding. Here's the long and the short of it: we do okay. Jeremy makes a decent wage. We aren't "rollin' in the dough," but we manage. We have made many sacrifices for me to be a stay-at-home mom, but none are things we regret. Furthermore, with 2 kids who still aren't in school full-time yet, its actually more cost-effective for me to stay home with the kids, than to get a menial, low-paying job and pay out the wazoo for daycare for 2 kids. Plus, we want me to be the one to raise them, not someone at a daycare center. (I used to work in daycare - I've seen both sides, so I am not saying this lightly.) My point is, for every good thing we have or we give our kids, Jeremy has had to work his heiny off, and we have had to make serious sacrifices in one way or another.

Keeping up is hard. And its stupid. And its futile. But I still do it. I still feel it. And I still have a total love-hate relationship with it. And, hopefully soon, I'll get over it!


Anonymous said...

I think that even "the jones" have "jones" to try and keep up with. Do you know what I mean? I dont work but I did recently start doing daycare at home. The money I bring in is extra money but it goes to paying down our credit card or it goes to fun things, whatever we need it for. I dont try to impress anyone but I dress my children differently than I do myself because they have to go to school with "the jones" kids and they will feel the pressure of them. So my kids wear namebrand clothing BUT I dont pay full price for them! I wait and buy their summer clothes when they go on sale in the spring. Most jeans now have adjustable waists so I buy those one size up so they can tighten them if they need to and let them out over the coure of the year. We do make good money and the economy has effected us in some ways but I see it effecting lower income people MORE. I see my neighbor next door who made under $20,000 for their family of five and yet they still buy all the new dvd's that come out. They make stupid choices, as far as Im concerned. Im not sure who "the jones" are around my neighborhood, but I have a wierd feeling that my family might be one of them because I find this family next door trying to compete with what they see us buy and so from what might be considered "the jones" perspective, I dont understand them and why they feel the need to do that! We bought a pool last year - they bought one. We bought a nice pump and filter for our pool - they bought the same one. We bought a new minivan - they traded in their minivan for a newer car. I see it and I dont understand why they do it. I dont question them and I dont rub anything in their faces - ever! I give them clothes that I grow out of for their daughters and I have even given them furniture that we replace with something else. I dont do it in a mean or godly way; I put it out by the road and whoever wants it can have it. They take it most of the time, which is fine with me. I wasnt always "the jones" (if I even am now, but in the city, my husbands job is the highest paying job around so you have the prison guards and the prisoners families here) so I know what its like to feel like I had to keep up with the jones. I was a single mom once and I had friends who had husbands who helped them out and I got no handouts. It was tough but I made it through it but I remember wanting to buy my son overalls from Old Navy and I couldnt because it broke the bank doing that. I remember not having tv because it just wasnt a neccesity for me where other friends of mine had it. It sucked but thats how it was. So I guess what Im saying is "Dont try to keep up with the Jones". It sounds like you are doing everything right and you are raising your kids to be who they are even if thats not the Jones. They'll be the Jones in time. We all are somehow.

Joyful_Momma said...

I understand how you feel. We have seven kids and live on one income. It is rough sometimes. We eat lots of beans. We buy most of our clothes from the Consignment store down the road. Or they are given to the kids. The only reason we had turkey for Thanksgiving was because someone gave it to us. Ditto for the Christmas ham. We only keep the internet because dh needs it for work. It is irksome when I tell people how many kids we have and that I don't work and that we homeschool and they come back with, "Your husband must make lots of money!" Uh...No. Far from it.
We just make do and go without a lot of the things that many people think are necessities.