THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINE$$

I’m a HUGE Judge Mathis fan! He reminds me of so many family members and life-long friends. But, what I think makes his demeanor such an approachable one is the constant reminder that he was once one of the “real” people. Judge Mathis has always been quite vocal about his “checkered” past and his climb from poverty and lawlessness to actually becoming a Judge (of all things). What I think endears him to me even more is his viewpoints on the responsibilities of parents to their children, especially men. Often, Mathis will remind male litigants that the responsibility of parents is to not only care for their children emotionally, but financially as well. So many times when brought before the Judge male defendants have attempted to plead their case by pointing out their scarceness of available funds to provide for their offspring. Mathis’ pat reply is often “I’ve seen women hold down more than one job, go to school and care for their kids. So, if you don’t make enough money, go out and get a second or even a third job if you have to or go back to school and get an education that will allow you greater earning potential.” Recently, when Mathis made the same suggestion to a defendant, the defendant’s response was “I want to spend time with my kids.” Mathis’ humorous yet realistic response was “kids can’t play if they’re hungry.”

My initial response to his comment was one of laughter, but after the laughter stopped I thought about it from the perspective of a single mother. We’ve all heard cliches like “money can’t buy you happiness,” but, on some level, can’t it? How “happy” is a child that has to go to school with an empty stomach and return home to the same? Although (luckily) my children have never been caught in the grips of poverty, as a child I was. I learned early on what it felt like to go to bed still hungry or to feel shame at having to be assisted by other family members. My mother was a strong single parent. But, often times there just wasn’t….enough. When I recall those early days, I must admit, happiness is not the first word that comes to mind. Yes, there were moments of happiness. However, fear, hunger, shame and worry often overshadowed that happiness.

When I first posted this topic to my Facebook page, I was surprised to find how many people subscribed to the concept that time is more important than money. While I don’t disagree with this idea completely, faced with the prospect of a child going to bed hungry, it would seem to me that if it HAD to be a choice between time or money, time would have to temporarily (hopefully) take a back seat. It also made me realize that in this opulent society that we live in, so many of us are so far removed from the reality of poverty in America that it doesn’t occur to us that it doesn’t always come down to a simple choice of time or money. Oftentimes, an extra job or several hours of overtime can make the difference between eating and not eating, homelessness or a place to lay their head(s) for the night. While we spend money protecting dogs, cats, endangered birds and a multitude of countries, each and every day countless children right here, in these United States, go to bed hungry.

When it comes to children and financial security, can it always be as simplistic as “time is more important than money, or do desperate financial circumstances trump the desire to spend “quality” time?