(Post updated at the end)
I have been a stay at home mother for fourteen years. I thought it was the best choice for my kids. I still think it was the best choice for my kids. But in 103 days (not that I'm counting) I'll be financially on my own with three children.
I am thoroughly unprepared for this.
My parents divorced when I was little. My mother has always been the breadwinner. I didn't grow up in a home where it was expected that I'd marry a nice man and stay home and raise children and be completely financially dependent on someone else. I was raised with the expectation that I'd get an education and have a career and if a nice man and children were part of the picture, that would be lovely, too.
But the nice-man-and-children came along during the get-an-education portion of my life plan, and I opted to forgo the have-a-career part.
And now here I am at nearly 38 years old looking at entering the workforce for the first time in fourteen years. With no skills. Did I mention that part? I mean, I have skills. But I have no official training that would make me an appealing job candidate to an HR department.
Despite what the title may suggest, this isn't a post about working moms vs. stay at home moms. This is a post about being prepared for the possibility that your choice to stay home might be taken away.
There are some of you reading this who are smugly sitting there thinking that your marriage is too good to ever end. Your husband is too good a man and you're much too happy together. Odds are, you're right. But guess what? I thought that too.
I have a dear friend whose only preparation is having a substantial amount of life insurance so that she doesn't have to worry about money if her husband dies. I think that's a wise thing to do. Except sometimes they don't die. Sometimes they just turn out to be a really poor choice in a mate, and you don't discover that fact for a couple of decades.
I'm not suggesting that all women go out and join the workforce immediately. But I am suggesting that all women who choose to stay at home also choose to prepare themselves for the possibility--no matter how impossible or remote they think the possibility is--of having to support themselves and their children.
Get an education. Learn a trade. Do something. My immediate future is limited. There are only so many jobs I can do, and jobs in general are scarce. I am facing the reality of free school lunch and food stamps, even with a job, because the type of job I can get will likely be minimum wage. It's a hit to the self esteem to know that I will have to rely on those programs for awhile. (Let me be clear--there is nothing shameful in needing to use those programs. But when you have a Facebook feed full of friends posting self righteous posts about the person in line in front of them who is using food stamps but also has a nice smartphone and nice clothing, it can cause you to feel ashamed if you find yourself in that situation. I have a nice smartphone. It's far, far cheaper to keep it than to pay the fees for canceling my contract early. I have nice clothing. It was bought before I faced life on my own.) (Side note: I really need to clean up my Facebook friend list.)
You wouldn't sail a boat out into the depths of the ocean without a life vest, even if you were positive the boat was too strong to sink. I did, and now I'm treading water a very long way from shore, with three children holding onto me. When it takes all that you have to just keep your head above water, it's practically impossible to make any progress toward the shore.
Let me serve as your warning.
(Umm, also? If you happen to be someone hiring in the Baltimore/Annapolis/DC area, I can start June 3rd.)
****I am updating to clarify a few things in the post, as some concern about them was mentioned to me. First, my husband will be paying child support. He will also be paying alimony for two years, and will help out with other things when possible. Second, it was my choice to have the kids most of the year. I insisted on it, in fact. He did not run out on us. It was a mutually agreed upon decision to divorce, and I am insisting the kids be with me for the school year. Third, when I said, "There are some of you reading this who are smugly sitting there thinking that your marriage is too good to ever end. Your husband is too good a man and you're much too happy together. Odds are, you're right. But guess what? I thought that too," I was not implying that he is not a good man. He is. We had our problems, but he is a good man. Fourth, he has asked us to follow him to his next assignment in Georgia and live there near him, which he feels will alleviate most of the financial problems I am facing. (For the record, I disagree, but that's for another discussion.). Fifth, I had a couple of ideas about work over the past few years (personal trainer and real estate) and he was supportive of those.
I wrote this post to talk about the necessity of women to be self sufficient. I thought I had made it clear that *I* made choices that have made me not self sufficient and have limited my own prospects. Others saw this post differently, and I wanted to clarify.****