While attending BYU, our daughter Lolly lived in a non-BYU-approved basement apartment several miles from campus. The upstairs was rented to a single mother of four pre-school to elementary-age kids. Mindy, the mother, was friendly and took good care of her kids. In other ways she fit the welfare mom stereotype. She had a succession of boy friends who often stayed overnight. The pizza delivery truck brought dinner several nights a week, and beer bottles filled her garbage can after a boy friend’s visit.
Mindy couldn’t pay her phone bill and for several months borrowed the phone in the basement apartment to make calls. I criticized Mindy for setting a bad example for her kids and wondered why she didn’t pull herself together, get rid of the boy friend, stop spending her money on beer and pizza, and get a job.
Lolly shook her head. “Even if she gave up her boy friend, beer, and pizza, Mindy wouldn’t have your life, Mom.” Lolly was right. Mindy had no car and the nearest grocery store was two miles away. She probably couldn’t get a job that would pay enough to cover baby sitting. The boy friend provided transportation and probably cash for the beer and pizza.
Living my Mormon values of Word of Wisdom and chastity would not improve Mindy’s life. I had an education, a good job, a house, a car, a husband—none of which Mindy had. Mindy was trapped in poverty from which she couldn’t escape without help with childcare, job training, and transportation. Mindy was surviving a difficult situation, not as I would, but in the best—probably the only way—she knew.
I don’t know how to help the Mindys of the world. Churches can offer guidance and emotional support, but few have the resources to help destitute people gain financial independence. Of course, not everyone in need is inclined to organized religion—and God doesn’t seem to help people of one faith over those of another. Government programs which provide job training and assistance work for some but not all. There will always be people willing to shift their responsibilities onto others, but does that mean we shouldn’t provide help for any? I don’t have the answers, but Lolly opened my eyes to the fact that it is arrogant to judge people who lack the advantages I’ve had and who may be doing the best they can within their limited circumstances.