I was a stay-at-home mom for seven years (not counting the 14 months in the middle I was away from home to deploy overseas), and I loved every minute of it. I’m an introvert by nature and I was a young mother – I had my son at 21 and my daughter at 24 – so not only did I not do a lot of play dates, but I didn’t even know anyone my own age with kids. I was isolated from the world for a while, but I had my angels, so I was happy.
I was there for every moment. All the firsts; the first smile, laugh, roll-over, standing, steps, fall, words. You name it, I was there to cherish it all. And even though I was married at the time I felt like a single parent. My then-husband was working long hours installing drywall and was in no mood to deal with fussy kids when he got home. It wasn’t just the lack of co-parenting from him, there were also numerous occasions of emotional and physical abuse followed by the eye-rolling cliché of apologies and empty promises that left me angry and confused as to what I should do or if there was anything to do at all. I made excuses for his behavior and lack of parenting for almost 8 years, mostly because I was also able to hide it from my kids. The one time he threw one of his tantrums in front of my sweet babies, I knew I couldn’t pretend any of it was OK anymore.
It could be argued, and actually has been by former friends and family of mine, that I gave up on a good thing. I knew how cushy it seemed I had it; a husband working long hours so I could stay at home, not to mention a relationship that took up almost the entire decade of my twenties (18-28). That is one of the reasons I didn’t leave sooner. Who wants to throw away so much of their life spent trying to make the best of a bad situation and building a family?
Another reason was I had never been on my own before. I met him 5 months after I graduated high school. I went to college for a semester, joined the Army at 19, moved back in with my parents after my training, and then married him New Year’s Day 2006 (at age 20). The last reason was my family had plenty to say on why I should ignore his “antics” and be happy that I found someone willing to “deal with me.”
To be fair to them, he was very good at playing mind games. He was an absolute artist at turning a situation, even in front of my own family, to make me look like I was losing my mind. It wasn’t like I decided to take the hard path because I was bored. I didn’t have much support to say the least. But what I did have were memories of a troubled childhood that drove me to push for a better life for my kids than I ever had. I also had the GI Bill I earned overseas that was paying me almost $1,900 a month to go to school online, and I was three-quarters the way through earning my bachelor’s degree in business administration. The future had potential.
So with more courage than I knew I had, I somehow talked my soon-to-be ex-husband into filing pro se (sans lawyers), we reached a custody agreement and were officially divorced a month later in November 2013. The stars aligned just right for me; there was a brand new low-income housing complex that just went up on the South end of town, and I qualified to live there with my two kids, who were 7 and 3 at the time. It was a pretty good set-up as far as low-income housing goes; three bedrooms, two bathrooms, washer and dryer in unit, all utilities except electricity included in the rent all for a whopping $470 a month. Oh yes, I was not only going to survive this. I was going to thrive.
To help keep the bills low, I forwent cable and satellite and buffed up my penny-pinching skills and yes, I was on food stamps for about 8 months during this time. I also qualified for energy assistance, got the kids on MO Healthnet, and signed them up for adopt-a-family so their first divorced Christmas wouldn’t be completely horrible. Anything to help. I did need internet though; going to school was my income until I graduated with my degree in June 2014.
The last hurdle I came to after finding my new independence was my lack of work experience. In the 11 years since I’d graduated high school, I had nothing but factory work and the Army on my resume; not exactly impressive when you’re trying to break into white-collar work. Since being on my own, I had found work at three different factories, as a hospital housekeeper, a pet sitter and an in-home elderly care specialist… all of them paid minimum wage, had no benefits, and no single-mom-friendly schedule.
After trying my hardest (more than 80 online applications and countless walk-in application requests) for the better part of two years and not getting a single interview for anything that would lift me out of low-income, I knew I had to start thinking bigger picture. After only two weeks of searching for a job in the Kansas City area, I landed an interview in Overland Park and got my dream job. Office assistant isn’t super glitzy, but it’s what I’ve always wanted. I was able (after five months and a very stressful court battle) to move my kids and myself closer to my new job, and we’ve been living happily here for almost a year now.
The journey here was a hard one but being able to build a new family, making amazing new friendships, and watching my kids flourish in school has made it all worthwhile.