What's the worst thing about money

Sunday is the worst day

If in the middle of the month there is a letter in the satchel with the request to give the child € 7.50 for an English workbook in addition to the textbook, what does that mean for a poor family?

Uta Meier-Graewe: If only it was this € 7.50! But we know that it doesn't stop there. In the same month, a contribution may be collected for a gift for the class teacher or € 2.90 for a trip to the museum. Not to mention money for a present when the children are invited to a birthday party. Each additional expense creates a lot of stress. The well-known phrase “At the end of the money there is still a month left” describes the situation of poor families very well. And when the wallet is empty, there is no longer any healthy cooking.

Child poverty is certainly less spectacular in a rich country like Germany than in countries like Bangladesh. Which, unfortunately, include poor children among us?

Uta Meier-Graewe: Poor children in rich industrial countries suffer more subtly. They not only perceive that their parents have little money, but also experience deficiency situations in several areas of life every day and experience themselves as not being of equal value. They and their parents are troubled by the fact that they obviously live in a prosperous country and are excluded from this welfare. That is why we call this shortage relative poverty. In societies like ours, this has serious consequences for education, health, housing and social participation. We therefore also speak of the multidimensionality of poverty situations. These dimensions overlap, are mutually dependent and make poverty a complex situation in life.

Let's take a closer look at one dimension. If you have little money, you cannot afford a large apartment ...

Uta Meier-Graewe: Indeed, that is an important factor that in itself has complex consequences. Poor families who live in cities often live segregated, i.e. in residential areas where many poor people live, where it is often noisy even at night and the environment is not very stimulating. We know that cramped living space in a poor residential area has an impact on the performance and health of children. If the apartment is on a busy street, or if a child does not have a room of their own or a place to retreat to, their sleep can be significantly impaired, for example.

Then it wakes up tired in the morning ...

Uta Meier-Graewe: ... and often suffers from headaches, is unable to concentrate at school, which has consequences for his performance in class. If the performance falls, the downward spiral continues. In addition, if there is no stimulating living environment, then children are less likely to be outside. They sit in front of the TV more often, eat more fast food and become fat, with further serious consequences for self-esteem. In difficult social circumstances, children are twice to three times more likely to be overweight and obese.

How are the parents?

Uta Meier-Graewe: Financial hardship and limited space, especially when the "end of the tunnel" is not in sight, lead to chronic stress, which is a main cause of numerous diseases. These include headaches and back pain, insomnia, but also cardiovascular problems and mental illnesses up to complex states of exhaustion.

How does this affect everyday life with children?

Uta Meier-Graewe: A big problem is that parents who suffer from deficiency and the associated chronic stress often lose sight of the needs of the children, their desires for tenderness, conversation, games, and common activities. Parents try for a long time not to let their children feel the financial consequences of poverty. But that also has something to do with the fact that people in poverty develop self-doubt and often feel shame. In any case, your self-esteem is usually not very pronounced. That is why they maintain fewer friendships, often shy away from contact with school, rarely go for walks with the children, to the library or to the swimming pool. I remember a girl's sentence: Sunday is the worst day.

... And on Monday at school the question is: "What did you experience over the weekend?" ...

Uta Meier-Graewe: Yes. It is important to realize that parents do not act like this on purpose. People who are not doing well, who are left behind and excluded from participating in the average standard of living, tend to shut themselves up in self-protection and ignore problems, for example with their children or the amount of debt. Parents then simply lack the strength to be sensitive to the needs of their children, to get help and advice in order to find a way out. Or they no longer see any point in the effort. If frustration and a lack of prospects have become widespread in a family, then there is always the risk that the attitude will spread: “It's not worth it”.

How do you yourself experience the families you visit as part of your academic work?

Uta Meier-Graewe:When we conduct interviews with families who are affected or at risk of poverty, my students almost always experience how happy people are that they are interested in them. I remember that once we estimated 45 to 60 minutes per family household for a survey. We never got along with that. Sometimes we only said goodbye after four hours. It is hard to believe how openly families are about their living conditions and how realistically they assess their chances. But it is also depressing to see that the offices often make it difficult for these families to maintain their dignity.

Do you see opportunities to break this cycle of poverty and a lack of prospects?

Uta Meier-Graewe: Interest in and encouragement of the parents from the birth of the first child is important, for example through an empathic and appreciative welcome and support culture. We know from the AWO / ISS longitudinal study that the chances of children are basically already gone at the age of six. The representative survey "Growing up in Germany: Everyday Worlds" (AID: A), carried out by the German Youth Institute in Munich, comes to the conclusion that even with very young children there is a significant correlation between the net household income of the family of origin and their access This tendency continues in the further course of life: boys and girls from poor and poverty-prone families who play sports or play a musical instrument much less often than their peers. Terrifying findings, I mean.

Can schools stabilize poor children?

Uta Meier-Graewe: Yes, you can. It is becoming increasingly clear that schools should not be just a place of learning, especially for poor children. Daycare centers and schools in precarious residential areas need the best educators, the best equipment and of course the best educator / teacher-child ratio. Unfortunately this is not the case in Germany. Rather the opposite is the case. Dr. Andrea Lanfranchi from the Intercantonal University for Curative Education Zurich has worked out very convincingly which criteria must be met so that social spaces, including schools that are located in the vicinity of exhausted families, have something like a "structural second home" and thus a protective factor Here it is always a question of the attitude of the teaching staff, for example the constructive-professional overcoming of the view that the school cannot be the repair shop for problems generated elsewhere.

Interview conducted by Inge Michels.

More articles by Prof. Uta Meier-Graewe in our family handbook


Initial release:
Magazine “Schüler. Knowledge for Teachers ”; Special issue “FamilienLeben”; Friedrich Verlag, 2015

The interview is copied here with the kind permission of Friedrich Verlag.

discontinued on November 16, 2015