“Overwhelmed.” It’s a word you hear a lot in conjunction with parenting these days. There’s even a new book out called Overwhelmed. I know the feeling. My husband works a lot and is out of town some weekends so occasionally I feel swamped trying to take care of a 3-year-old and a 3-month-old by myself … changing diapers, wiping noses, making breakfast, soothing tantrums, doing laundry, reading stories … it’s an endless list.
But every time I feel like that, I try to remind myself that I actually have it easy: I have a husband who loves me, who works his butt off, who is an awesome, hands-on Dad who loves being with his girls. I think of what it must be like for all the single parents out there who raise children day after day after day with no break all by themselves.
HBO has followed one such single parent for their upcoming documentary Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert (airs on Monday, March 17 and is also available online) in which they give a glimpse into the day-to-day challenges faced by one of the 4 million single moms living in poverty in this country.
Katrina is a single mom of three — two in school and one in day care — who lives in Tennessee. The father of her children is no longer involved in their lives day to day because he’s succumbed to some kind of addiction. To make ends meet, Katrina works full-time as a certified nursing assistant at a nursing home as well as some weekends earning less than $10 an hour. Her paycheck every two weeks comes to roughly $730, or $1,460 for the month. After rent, car payment, day care, insurance, phone and other bills, there’s no money left. When her children ask her for a candy bar or a toy, she has to explain she can’t afford it. It’s a world in which random car trouble could spell the difference between keeping or potentially losing her job.
Katrina is not covered by medical insurance (though her children are), at least not when the documentary was filmed. She suffers from both a thyroid condition and a sinus infection. She was also experiencing debilitating panic attacks and woke up with a migraine every morning for three months straight. When she was finally able to make it to a doctor — for which she presumably had to pay out of pocket — she was given an MRI, which (thankfully) ruled out an aneurysm and any tumors but pointed to possible glaucoma. She walked out of the doctor’s office with four prescriptions but had to decide which she could afford to take.
“I need my thyroid medication,” she told NPR’s Tell Me More. And she had to stay on antibiotics to get rid of the sinus infection. “The migraine pills were just going to have to wait. They cost way too much.”
The most troubling aspect about Katrina’s story is that she works full-time. As a nurse, no less! An assistant nurse, but still. She’s not laying around on the couch watching Supermarket Sweep. She works her butt and still can’t make ends meet.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Listening to Katrina’s story makes you wonder how far we’ve really come; we live in a society where a full-time nursing job is not enough to pull a single parent out of poverty. Yet so many decry raising the minimum wage because it’s somehow preferable to keep the millions of single parents locked into a downward spiral. Huh?
Check out HBO’s documentary Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. Airs Monday, March 17 on HBO and online.