There's something about a struggling single mom that provokes the perfect people.
The perfect people -- those who have always made the best choices and the right decisions -- perk up whenever I write about single mothers in difficult circumstances. Recently, I shared the stories of two such women: a mother of four working at Amazon, and a pregnant mom working at Arby's. Their jobs don’t pay enough to cover child care and basic necessities for their families. It shouldn't be controversial to say that a person working a full-time job in America ought to be able to provide food and shelter for their kids, or that young children obviously need someone to watch them while their parents work.
Hearing these mothers' stories made me feel disgusted that some politicians would rather give trillion-dollar tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest people than renew a child tax credit that had lifted millions of kids out of poverty.
I was raised to try to imagine other people’s situations and feel compassion for those in bad circumstances. I assume this is how most people are raised.
But reading about these women's hardships triggered a number of people in an entirely different way.
Phillip, for example, wrote this about the mother working 50 to 60 hours a week at Amazon, a company that makes billions in profits: "I have no sympathy for (her) whatsoever ... In most cases having a child is a choice, not an accident. If (she) had given a moment's thought to the consequences of having a child, she would have realized that she couldn't afford one child, much less four."
He was one of several who responded by attacking the life choices of financially strapped moms: How dare they have a child while poor? Why couldn't they just get a better job? Where was the father?
These people seem ignorant of how a person's life circumstances could be different from their own. A few factors to consider: Not everyone goes to schools that prepare them for college or higher-paying jobs. Partners or spouses sometimes leave their families and shirk their responsibilities. In America, 40% to 50% of marriages end in divorce. Some people get sick or marry the wrong person or experience a streak of bad luck.
What kind of bubble must one live in to never have met someone whose life has taken an unexpected or difficult turn while they have children to support?
Also, I'm surprised this has to be spelled out, but a woman cannot control 100% of the factors that can lead to pregnancy: Birth control can fail. Partners can lie or refuse to use contraception. Women can be coerced or pressured into sex.
Conceiving a child is not a one-person job, although the consequences of having a baby disproportionately affect women.
Interestingly, a number of the emails condemning these single working moms came from men. None of them suggested making contraception free and easily accessible. (Birth control can cost up to $2,000 a year, depending on what your doctor recommends.) None of them criticized the complete ban on abortion in Missouri and other states.
You would think that those who want women to avoid having children when it would create a financial strain on their households would also be advocating for reproductive freedom and universal access to birth control.
And regardless of how you feel about a woman's personal choices, why would anyone be against ensuring all babies and children have their basic needs met? Children can't go out and get a job to support themselves. It's pretty heartless to want to see babies born into poverty suffer.
I was taken aback by the lack of empathy -- the angry rants and the blame -- for working moms who can't make ends meet.
Of course, there are also those who respond to these stories by asking how they can help. Not all of us can do that every time we encounter someone in a bad situation.
But it doesn't cost anything to care.