Maybe Mum

For all the Maybe Mums out there wondering whether motherhood is for them

Debts & children… hiding from debt collectors

Debts & children… hiding from debt collectors

Do you have financial problems or even debts? Are you unsure if having a child fits into your life because of this? Read the story of the 33-year-old Dutch Annemieke; who’s in debt restructuring. She has only sixty euros a week to spend. Yet, she is happy. Now, she has peace. When debt collectors used to come to the door, she hid behind the couch with her children.

‘Mommy can’t afford that’

“‘Mommy can’t afford that…’ Those five words bring me so much sadness. It feels like I’ve failed as a mother when I have to tell my children that there’s no money to buy popular shoes, for example. Unfortunately, I have to say this often. Since I’ve been in debt restructuring, I only have sixty euros a week to get by.

When the trouble started…

The trouble started more than six years ago when my husband left me. I was left with our son, who was just two. I didn’t receive alimony for the first six months; you have to finalize the divorce first. To make matters worse, I lost my job in childcare due to budget cuts. I stayed positive; as long as I paid my rent, gas, water, and electricity, nothing would be wrong…

Muddle through

I ended up with one hundred and fifty euros a month. Food, clothing, diapers; everything had to come from that. Then you start making choices. One month I didn’t pay the insurance, the next month I skipped the rent. I was just muddling through. Meanwhile, I had other things on my mind; I turned out to be unexpectedly pregnant by my new boyfriend. Unfortunately, he left me shortly after.

‘I locked myself up’

After the first letters from creditors and visits from bailiffs, I locked myself up. The curtains stayed closed all day. My son didn’t find that strange; I did that because the neighbor kept peeking inside. I made up all kinds of excuses. I didn’t know how to turn off the doorbell. When it rang, I said it was the signal to play hide and seek. Together with my children, I crawled behind the couch so the bailiffs wouldn’t see us. We only came out when the footsteps sounded far away again. I immediately checked if there was no order posted against the door. No one was allowed to see that; I was so terribly ashamed. When I spoke to family or friends, I always acted.

Cut off from gas and electricity

I could no longer hide my secret when I was cut off from gas and electricity. That moment three years ago I will never forget. After the message from the Essent technician, everything became vague, and all kinds of terrible thoughts came to mind. It was a stroke of luck that a friend spontaneously visited me at that moment. I blurted out my story to her. Although she was surprised, she immediately took decisive action. She made the first contact with a trustee. He figured everything out and discovered that I had a debt of 18,000 euros.

Debt restructuring

Now I no longer have to worry about my finances; I am voluntarily in debt restructuring, and my trustee takes care of all the payments. On the one hand, I am relieved. Finally, I don’t have to be afraid when the doorbell rings. That has brought peace and allows me to function normally again. But I am also ashamed. Because I still don’t have a job – I’ve lost count of the number of applications – the amount being repaid is very low. I feel like society is bearing the burden of my problems. After three years, the remaining debt is written off.

Sixty euros a week

I receive sixty euros a week, plus child benefits for my children. My son (9) also spends a lot of time with his father, while my daughter’s (5) father wants no contact and therefore pays nothing for her. It’s not much, and it means you have to think about everything. Even a visit to the pool or an ice cream on a summer day is often not possible. That makes me sad; especially when I see the disappointed faces of my children.

‘I feel like a bad mother’

They know we don’t have much, but they still want the same things as their classmates. It’s awful to have to keep telling them there’s no money. Yes, then I feel like a bad mother. I also felt terrible every time I visited the food bank; I was so ashamed. Unfortunately, you can only use this service for a certain period, and my time is up.

Enjoy the little things

It’s not easy, but it’s not hell either. We have a great time with old games, crafting together, and on a nice day, we ride our bikes to the free neighborhood playground. For the kids, it doesn’t have to be expensive; I think parents forget that sometimes. And me? I enjoy the little moments even more because of this situation. A hug from the kids, a spontaneous visit from a friend, or a beautiful walk in nature; isn’t that wonderful too?

‘I still make mistakes’

I have also learned from this situation. I am increasingly aware of how to manage my money. Not that I used to buy things on credit, but I am an impulsive buyer. I still make mistakes. For example, I can spend twenty euros on lunch with friends. At that moment, I think I deserve some relaxation, but when the bill comes, I wonder how I will manage that week. Fortunately, I have another year to build more discipline because I never want to go through such a rough period again.

Saving is impossible now

I look forward to the moment when I have more to spend. Then I can finally cook something other than pasta with minced meat or sausages with potatoes. Saving is impossible now, but from then on, I will set money aside to fix up my house. Hopefully, I will also have a job by then, so I can quickly make it a cozy place for me and my children. Then we can finally enjoy ourselves as a little family.’

Interview by Patricia de Ryck. Names have been changed for privacy reasons. This story was previously published in a magazine. My English is not very good, so I’m translating this with the help of Google Translate and ChatGPT. Photo: foto/vrouw-mevrouw-geld-vraagstuk-5900146/ – pexels-karolina-grabowska-5900146.jpg.