Cari Jean resides in North Dakota, where she works as a freelance writer and blogs at Faith's Mom's Blog.
About the Book
During my weekly trips to the library, I kept looking for Stephanie Land’s best-selling memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. As soon as it was available, I checked it out and started reading. The primary reason for my interest in the book was that I had finished watching MAID on Netflix.
As with most books that hit the screen, there were some major differences. The main difference is that the series put a lot of focus on the heroine’s escape from an abusive relationship with her daughter’s father. Stephanie does discuss this in the book, but it is not the focal point. Instead, the author’s focus is on how she, a single mother, navigates the world of low-paying jobs and government assistance in order to provide for her and her daughter’s basic needs. It is helpful that the father is involved in their daughter’s life and is able to take her on certain weekends. He also provides some child support. Nevertheless, it is a struggle for Stephanie as she can only work when someone is looking after her young child.
Her family is not part of her support system and are unable to help look after her daughter or help financially. This is the conundrum that many single mothers face. Without anyone to look after their child, they need access to daycare. The problem is, they cannot find affordable daycare. Without any kind of childcare, how do they work? In Stephanie’s case, she was able to get assistance to help pay for daycare. Just as she had to get assistance to pay for groceries, healthcare, rent, and college classes. At one time, she counted that she was on 7 different kinds of government assistance.
To help make ends meet, Stephanie worked for minimum wage cleaning houses. Eventually, she was able to find her own clients so that she could make more money. She quickly learned however, that she couldn’t make too much money. If she did, she might lose her daycare assistance or her food stamps. She found herself smack dab in the middle of the vicious government assistance cycle. Instead of helping people out of poverty, the government often traps them in it.
While Stephanie was thankful for the assistance, she also felt ashamed and embarrassed for having to depend on it. She became especially self-conscious while checking out at the grocery store. During one particular shopping trip, someone in line called out, “You’re welcome.” As if he personally was responsible for buying her groceries. Her social life had also taken a serious hit. Since most of her friends were getting married, buying houses, and starting families “the right way,” she stopped calling them altogether.
While all of this seems bad enough, one thing I found the most difficult to read is having to live in a tiny studio apartment with black mold. These living conditions caused major health issues for her young daughter. They had lived in a homeless shelter just after moving out of her ex-boyfriend’s home. But she was determined to never go back there. Stephanie and her daughter ended up living with another guy but moved out after they had broken up. While looking for a new place to stay, she learned that property managers were not too keen on renting to someone on rental assistance. Even though property managers could not discriminate by law, they were still slower to rent out to someone on assistance. This is due to the stigma that often gets attached to someone living in poverty. They are looked upon as druggies, criminals, stupid, or lazy. Stephanie proves to be the exact opposite. Even one of her clients whom she cleaned for called her the hardest worker he knew.
MAID: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive is not just a book about surviving on government assistance, however. It also showcases Stephanie’s creative side, especially the parts where she names certain houses she cleans. She names the houses based on the lives of the people who live in them. Some of the clients she never sees but others she gets to know quite well. These are all clients who live in “The Plant House,” The Chef’s House, “The Sad House,” “The Clown House”, and “The Hoarder House.” Stephanie does a great job of describing these homes and other places and events throughout the book without going into too much detail. I know writers are supposed to “show and not tell,” but in my opinion, some authors go a bit overboard on the descriptions.
I took my time reading this book, which is 270 pages. I didn’t feel compelled to read it in a few sittings. So in that sense, it wasn’t really fast-paced. It was more like I was taking a stroll alongside Stephanie and observing her day-to-day dealings of working hard to get out of poverty. It took lots of time, dedication, and hard work for Stephanie to get to where she ended up. She eventually moved out of her home state of Washington to Missoula, Montana where she received a bachelor’s degree in English. For these reasons, this is far from a “rags to riches” story. Instead, it’s a story of grit and determination to do what some might think impossible. She made it on her own, with the federal government as her only form of support. Without it, who knows where she and her daughter would have ended up?
This story might not appeal to those already in her boat. They know what it’s like. They understand the daily grind and all the stress that comes with trying to stay afloat, knowing that any kind of emergency would be a complete financial disaster. However, people who rely on government assistance might be inspired, as I was, to see her tenacity and the determination to provide her daughter with a better future. I think this book would be an excellent choice for those who have no idea what it’s like to survive on minimum wage with virtually no support from family or friends. It would be a real eye opener and might even cause them to be less judgmental of those who depend upon help from the government.
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© 2022 Cari Jean