Recovering slave to the dollar: A single mom tells her story

Photo credit M. Shawn Dowdell Photography

Most people don’t think of single moms when they think about single black females being addicted to retail. Instead, you conjure up images of carefree single girls, shopping for the latest pair of Giuseppe Zanotti heels with Chanel bags and fat transfer receipts. If you think in testosterone technicolor, you may envision a closet filled with Jordans and Yeezys and G-Star jeans coupled with Versace shirts. I don’t fit either of those scenarios. A divorced single mom of two with her own public relations firm, I have never made frivolous purchases for myself that would’ve stopped me from being able to pay my bills.

I am not the girl with the red bottoms at the party with no furniture in the house and no food in the refrigerator. I was also not the one with the designer bag and no money in the bank. I worked hard, didn’t have time to play, and fought to ensure my children had the best of everything. In my eyes, the best of everything meant moving to a county with a good school district, making sure the bills were paid on time, and sacrificing time to make sure they were staying on the right track. Friends and family congratulated me when my daughter graduated and went to college and three years later my son followed suit and was accepted to a prestigious university two years before he was scheduled to graduate. “Congrats girl! You did it,” was the resounding chorus from my self-imposed village. Admittedly, I was proud of my children, thankful that I’d been able to guide them to this new phase in their lives, but completely unaware that I’d been just as irresponsible as the girl in the club looking for her rent money because she spent her check on her handbag.

OK, maybe I wasn’t that irresponsible, but financial irresponsibility unfortunately has no rating. As a mother of two young teens, I wanted my children to have the best of everything. We all know children are cruel, so I worked to make sure my children wouldn’t be made fun of on the playground or the cafeteria. I wanted them to know they were just as important and just as deserving as the kids they went to school with that came from two-parent families.

When my son’s college tuition bill came in after his scholarships, I looked at a bill of $20K and collapsed in tears. How could I come up with that much money? Yes, I paid my bills on time and tried to save, but as a business owner, money goes up and down and quite frankly there wasn’t a surplus of $20K from the up days. While racking my brain for answers I happened to look at my son’s Jordan collection. If there wasn’t $20K there, it was certainly enough to make a huge dent in that tuition bill. Yes that’s where my financial irresponsibility had reared its ugly head. Not only had I purchased Jordan’s, and designer clothes as rewards for good grades and accomplishments; but I’d also bought them things self-consciously hoping to bolster their sense of self. My children were both honor roll students throughout their academic careers so I found myself in the shoe store and at the mall way more than I should have. I had been determined to teach them there was no limit on their abilities, and instead I’d taught them that material items are a gauge for success.

When I realized my mistake, I took my son into his room and pointed out his countless rows of Jordans. “If I had put the money I spent on Jordans in the bank; we would have the money for your tuition. I made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t want you to make the same ones,” I told him.

I managed to raise the money to get my son to college, but my irresponsibility almost cost him a crack at his future. I hope other single mothers reading this will take heed my mistake and change the spending patterns you are exhibiting for your children, and please don’t reward their accomplishments by making them slaves. I don’t know how many Black babies and toddlers I see sporting coordinating Jordans along with Burberry and any other designer brand that dares to create infant wear. I understand our children are our pride and joy and we love to dress them up and show them off, but we should not be teaching them that their self-worth is tied to their ability to wear brand-name labels or have expensive toys. It’s time we shook off the shackles that have enslaved our minds, which are far more limiting than the ones that used to circle our wrists.

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