Source: Simon and Schuster
Stephanie Land’s daughter, Emilia, was 7 months old when Land was forced to leave her volatile life partner. What came next for the single mother was homelessness and food insecurity — but somehow, at the same time, Land also worked to finish her college degree and pursue a writing career.
Her memoir, “Maid” became a best seller in 2019 and then, two years later, a popular Netflix series, chronicled Land’s work cleaning houses for $9 an hour. Her new book, “Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education,” published on Nov. 7, tells the story of how she clawed her way out of poverty and became a writer — taking out nearly $50,000 in student debt to do so.
Like Land, more than 33% of single mothers reported food insecurity in 2022, a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found.
“The fight to make rent, eat and find child care was constant,” Land writes. “I never got a break from it.”
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CNBC interviewed Land last month. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Annie Nova: I notice that whenever you’ve been faced with a big setback or problem, you don’t really have time to feel much about it. You write that immediately you have to figure out what to do.
Stephanie Land: Yeah. There’s a line in the book that says, ‘I didn’t have the privilege to feel.’ And that extended to my daughter, too. There was just no time. I’ve had the same therapist now for five or six years, and it’s mind blowing how lacking in that kind of care I was. Just acknowledging that an experience was really hard, and taking the time to try and process it, we never had time for that. It was always, ‘Okay, we got to go.’ And I think there were many layers to it: I couldn’t get angry at the lack of government assistance programs because, you know, an angry person is often not treated very well. They’re often given fewer resources.
AN: The child support you received from your daughter’s father never seemed to be enough. What problems do you have with the child support system in the U.S.?
SL: I really struggled with the fact that they kept imputing my income at full time, but I didn’t have enough childcare to work full time. I got $40 a week, or something like that. So, it didn’t really feel helpful.
AN: What is it like to have to be in court demanding money from someone you’ve dated?
SL: It’s hell. There’s really no gentle way of putting it. Especially as a domestic violence survivor. When I first went to court after he kicked us out and punched out the window, the judge said in open court, ‘The question we’re presented with is if a reasonable person would feel threatened.’ And he said, ‘No.’ And so I was shown to be unreasonable. I also think I was looked down upon because I was homeless. And I had left a home that, you know, to everybody else, seemed stable. He had a full-time job, and I wasn’t working. And so I was the ‘bad parent.’ Because he hadn’t been charged with abuse or because it wasn’t visible, it was like it never happened.
AN: For how long were you and your daughter homeless?
SL: The first time, it was for almost six months. We moved in with my dad for a little while. That didn’t work out. And then, we got the little cabin in the homeless shelter system. We really didn’t have that much stuff. All of our main stuff that we used could fit in my car.
And so, it was just kind of like, ‘Oh, well, we’re sleeping here now.’ I don’t think my daughter was really affected by it all that much because she was so little. My main concern was just finding a job. You can’t really move out of homelessness if you don’t have money to pay rent. But that was impossible because I didn’t have childcare.
AN: Your daughter was so young when there wasn’t enough to eat. How did that affect her?
SL: It was hard. It took several years for her to not be scared of new food, because as much as I tried not to be stressed about what she ate or what she didn’t eat, there was kind of this fear in her of, ‘What if I don’t like it?’ Because we couldn’t waste food. And it’s not like I had yelled or anything. But it was frustrating when your kid won’t eat, and you don’t have money to buy something else. I couldn’t make another dinner.
AN: You wrote about getting this desire to flee, like your mother did to Europe. What do you think that fantasy was about?
SL: I needed a break that was longer than a couple of minutes in the bathroom. As a poor woman, and a single mom, the stress we have of not being able to feed and house ourselves, they’ve documented how much of a toll that takes on your body. Cognitively, it lowers your IQ. And it’s pretty recognizable, the amount of stress you are under. It’s constant, and you can’t get away from it. And there were times that I just really wanted to get away from it.
AN: While you were struggling to work and raising your daughter, you were also studying literature. How did you focus on topics like Shakespeare while facing eviction?
SL: I just had to get it done. It was homework. And when I started working as a freelancer, it was the exact same situation. I think one of the most valuable things college taught me was how to write a paper even when my life is in chaos.
AN: You’ve published books and own a house now. What is it like to be more stable?
SL: I still worry about everything. A weird smell, or a weird noise, and I’m nervous that everything will just disappear. But that may live with me forever.