When I was little, we were often in a roller coaster with only highs and lows, financially and otherwise. We went from being dirt poor, to having a nice home, brand name clothes, and back down again to being evicted with few options.
My mother was good at shielding me from the knowledge that we struggled: I did not realize that she would trade her car title for cash, or pawn jewelry, or that she would sometimes turn to a food pantry to stock our shelves at home.
Her efforts were hard won, and those that were supposed to help would in turn be the ones to uncover her girl. One in particular, was especially ungracious. In my naivete, I thought that we went to this special house to get special foods, something of the gourmet variety. I did not know it was a food pantry. I requested the blackberry jam that we had received before, my feet not even touching the ground as I sat in the chair. My mom smiled, proud and wistful, like she often did when I spoke. And the lady told me: Beggars can’t be choosers.
And shame washed over me.
I was not begging. I thought I was being respectful in responding when she asked what we needed, that I was allowed to speak, and that I was giving her establishment a compliment.
When my mom made me little sandwiches out of saltines and cream cheese, I knew I had the most imaginative and wonderful mom in the world, to make something so special for me.
This shame that I rarely felt as a child who was often poor, was amplified when I reached adulthood and had children of my own.
My house is always, always, filled with food. Always. And when I run out of an item, I feel poor. I feel shame, and as though I have let my children and husband down.
The first time I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of graham crackers because I ran out of bread, I was so ashamed. I was so worried that my girl would be mocked. I was so worried that she would look back at her school days and think of how poor we were, that her mother had to use crackers to make sandwiches.
Even now, I want to give reasons for why I ran out of bread, and did not have any that morning for her lunch. That I really am a good mother, but I did not realize I ran out of bread, or maybe I forgot. And that I’ve learned if I buy two loaves in one trip, that one loaf inevitable goes bad. That sometimes, I run out of milk and do not want to go to the store for one item. Or that time is so stretched, and we can make do one more day.
It is that fear of shame, being shamed, and having my children shamed, for a lack that is not the result of any action they have made.
It is the fear of scarcity. That there is not, or will not be, enough. That there will be shame in not having enough, and that asking for what I need will be met with a woman looking at me down her nose, calling me a beggar, and shaming me for finding enjoyment in a type of food.
No child should be shamed for being hungry. No child should be shamed for having a want, or a need. No child should be shamed for having a voice, and using that voice.
The best way to counteract that shame, is to embrace the need seen in others, and to accept that person. The best way to counteract that shame is to give them room to use their voice, to speak what it is that they want and need.
The best way I know to conquer that shame and fear in me, is to audibly state what it is that I need; and to accept that it is valid to have a need. To accept that my voice is worth using, and hearing, even if the only ones listening are me and God.
I will not shame you for your hunger. I will not shame you for your wants, or needs. And I will not shame you when you use your voice.
I accept you: your need is valid, and your voice is worthy of an audience.
You are welcome at my table.
Reach me at email@example.com or here in the comments. I will listen to you.