This piece originally appeared on HerViewFromHome.com (https://herviewfromhome.com/im-a-stay-at-home-mom-with-an-older-child-whats-next-for-me/)
Growing up I always knew I was “going to be somebody and make something of myself.” An obsessive overachiever, I was confident I was destined to do something amazing with life. I had big plans for myself, and I never deviated from a well thought out plan.
High school was a breeze for me. To be quite honest, I was bored most of the time. As soon as I was eligible, I enrolled in my high school’s work-study program. Enrollment in this program allowed me to attend school for half of my day and spend the rest of my day working. By the time I was eligible for work-study I had already been working an average of 30 hours per week while attending school full-time, so work-study was like a break to me.
I began my freshman year of college the September after my graduation from high school, right on track. So sure of my plan, I went into my freshman year with both a declared major and minor. I was determined to complete my BA as quickly as possible so that I could move onto pursuing both my MA and Ph. D. I loved college. I loved my instructors, I loved my campus, and most of all, I loved being surrounded by students just like me, who had made the conscious decision to major in English and minor in Art History. Never before had I experienced the thoughtful, knowledgeable, and meaningful conversations I did during class. I was hooked; I couldn’t get enough of it! I soon grew to feel a great sense of camaraderie with my classmates. I had found my place and soared, regularly earning a spot on the Dean’s list (while continuing to work my nearly 35 hours per week “part-time” job). All was going according to plan.
And then, it wasn’t.
I had been casually dating a neighborhood boy for the entire summer preceding freshman year. Soon after classes started and I moved onto campus, our relationship grew serious; very serious, very quickly. I began spending more and more time at my boyfriend’s house and less and less time on campus. While I remained dedicated to my studies and earning superb grades, I completely forfeited any true “college experience” for the sake of my relationship. Despite my parents’ greatest efforts to spare me from missing out on my chance at a college experience, I chose to honor my commitment to both my relationship and my boyfriend. It wasn’t long before I moved off campus and into an apartment with my boyfriend. I was only 19. Amidst all the changes that had taken place in my personal life, my academic performance never suffered and my passion for learning remained as strong as ever.
I married my boyfriend during spring break of my junior year. Nine short months later, while seven months pregnant, I proudly walked across the stage to receive my degree. I had already applied and been accepted to grad school and was scheduled to begin my graduate career the following September, after a five-month “break” to recover from and adjust to being a first-time mom. A first-time mom who stayed home with my son and handled each and every single responsibility pertaining to the care and well-being of my child, and our household. By this point, my responsibilities also included “damage control and cleanup” for whatever mess my husband had created for himself, and I began growing more and more exhausted as the weeks passed. When September inevitably rolled around I was excited to begin my graduate studies, though admittedly plagued with anxiety at the thought of leaving my infant son in the care of my ill-equipped husband for nearly five hours per week.
I attended three weeks worth of classes before realizing my son needed me full-time (his father simply couldn’t be trusted) and withdrawing. I was devastated; for the first time in my life, I was a failure. I couldn’t finish something that I both started and yearned so badly for.
Despite my disappointment, I became engulfed in my new role as a full-time-stay-at-home-mom. I was so very in love with my child, and never took for granted the privilege that I had been afforded. I heard my child’s first spoken word, witnessed his first steps, taught him to count, read to him every single night before bed, and even saw him proudly use the potty for the first time. I was blessed and I knew it, on most fronts.
My marriage was broken, shattered beyond repair, and I knew it. Instead of addressing and handling the problem, I instead chose to turn a blind eye to the catastrophe that had become my marriage. I immersed myself in my role as a full-time stay-at-home-mom and even began internally identifying myself this way. Occasionally I’d feel the sting of desire and regret over the goals that had essentially been abandoned. In those moments, I reminded myself just how badly I was needed at home and did my best to convince myself my circumstances were beyond my control; I had a small child and an immature, irresponsible, and unreliable husband. How could I ever balance graduate courses in addition to my daily responsibilities, I’d ask myself?
A devastating family death finally inspired me to file for divorce after a 10-year-long-relationship and four years of marriage. At the time I filed for divorce, I had been out of the workforce for four years and had never once worked since graduating from college. To say I was scared would be the understatement of a lifetime, but I knew I was doing what was right for both my son and me. After a few too many wine-fueled late night pity parties, I knew what I had to do. I contacted my former advisor and re-enrolled in my graduate program. I found an apartment (complete with a white picket fence!), bought a new car, and landed a pretty desirable position at a well-known local law firm. It seemed as if my plan had managed to find its way back to me and I was back on track.
My divorce was terribly messy. I was awful, he was awful, it was all awful. What should have been an open-and-closed case was dragged out for nearly two years, courtesy of my ex-husband. I was struggling to balance single motherhood, a demanding, fast-paced job, and managing a household and all the expenses that come along with it (including preschool). I was juggling this far too fragile balancing act all while taking a full load of graduate courses and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. It wasn’t long until my ex-husband decided he would no longer honor his moral obligation to provide for my child with child support payments. The fact that these child support payments were court ordered meant nothing to him. He ceased all means of support (and continues to). As I grew into my role at work and began to excel I knew something had to give. I was simply spread too thin. I was unable to be the very best mom, employee, or graduate student that I knew I had the potential to be while juggling so many major responsibilities. Because I wasn’t receiving any financial assistance from my ex-husband, I once again made the decision to withdraw from my MA program upon completion of the classes I was enrolled in. This time, I truly had no choice. I had a small child to support, obligations to honor, and I needed to work to fulfill these obligations.
Over the next few years, I largely worked in education, with a short-lived stint in IP law. I continued to struggle. Though it was gratifying to know that I was modeling strong, positive, and responsible behavior for Jack to see, I hated leaving him in someone else’s care each day. Time and time again I was told, “it will get easier,” and “it won’t always be this hard,” but it never got easier and it continued to grow increasingly harder.
When I met my now husband, he encouraged me to leave my position with the IT law firm and follow my heart. As badly as I wanted to, I was afraid. What if I left my job and once again fell flat on my face? I couldn’t bear the thought of starting all over again. Eventually, I did find a part-time position in my field and left the firm. I remember walking out of my office on my last day at the firm and feeling as though my soul had been set free from the prison it had been shackled in. I was liberated.
Much to our surprise, shortly after we became engaged, my then-fiancée (a fine dining chef), was recruited by and offered a position in Las Vegas at one of the country’s top-grossing restaurants. The offer, experience, and education my fiancée stood to gain was far too good to turn down and so together we made the decision to accept the offer and move across the country to Nevada. Our move and the major change in lifestyle we experienced brought with it many new decisions to be made and questions to be answered.
During one particular conversation, my husband sat me down and told me he thought I should stay home with our son. He thought it best for me to be completely available to our little guy during his transition period. I agreed. He surprised me, though, when he told me that he knew I wasn’t as happy as I could be. He continued, reporting it was his observation that I hadn’t been truly happy since returning to the workforce and forfeiting my role as a full-time-stay-at-home-mom. What could I say? He was absolutely right. In that moment, we decided I would resume my role as a full-time stay-at-home-mom, with the unconditional support of my husband. I was so filled with relief, love, and gratitude that I couldn’t speak.
The next few years were amazing. We blossomed into a whole, healthy, and happy family. My husband experienced great success and our son prospered. I was once again fortunate enough not to miss a single baseball practice or game, school performance or event, soccer game, or karate lesson. To our son’s delight, I was even able to read to his class a few times that year. My “job” as a full-time mom allowed me the freedom to ensure our little guy was able to accept almost all invitations to play dates and birthday parties, sleepovers and camp outs. I loved “having my old job back” and was deeply happy and content.
A few years ago, my husband accepted yet another prestigious position, this time closer to our home state on the East Coast. Though it was difficult to leave the friendships and life we had created during our time in Nevada, each of us was excited to be so close to family, friends, and home. We settled beautifully in our new beachside community. My husband continues to excel in his career and our son is well adjusted, popular, and a genuinely good-hearted little boy. We’re all healthy, happy, well taken care of, and safe.
So, what could possibly be wrong?
Me. It’s me. As I approach my 34th birthday and my son rapidly approaches his 10th in just a few short months, I find myself wondering and worrying about my future. Though he is still very young, requiring supervision, guidance, and love at all times, my son has begun to assert his independence. He will need me less and less as the years pass. Then what? What happens to me?
It’s not my son’s job to fulfill me, make me happy, or give me an identity. That’s my job; always has been and always will be. This I know without a shadow of a doubt.
My husband’s career has taken off. He’s experiencing well-deserved critical acclaim and has even been featured in local media quite a few times. My heart swells with pride and admiration for my husband. He deserves every bit of the success and attention he’s achieving and receiving. So, he’s good. He doesn’t “need” me for anything either. But what about me? Where does that leave me?
The same fears, worries, questions, regrets, and anxieties continuously run through my mind. The relentless fears and regret torment me, racing through my mind leaving me to wonder . . .
Is it too late for me?
Did I waste my potential?
What is my purpose?
And finally . . .
Maybe, just maybe, now is the perfect time for me. Maybe now is the ideal time to revert back to my plan, get back on track, and to not only meet but crush both my MA and Ph. D. goals.
From the sidelines where I find myself sitting these days, it seems now is as good a time as ever.