As I begin this article please bear in mind some components I expand upon are directly related to the area I reside as well as a personal stance, revolving around my own decades. I do not seek to judge nor mock others. When a topic takes up too much space in my mind I generally note this as a signal to write it out. Therefore, take nothing personally if your scenario(s) played differently. We all bear daily crosses. My intention is to support and uplift through ideas and instances I withstood.
This particular idea came upon me recently: I know young kids who are embarking to become single parents. I have acquaintances who confront challenges with shelter and job security and such. My story is not too different, except my phase was initiated in my mid-twenties. Here I express what I did, as a woman and as a mother, to reach the plateau I stand atop today.
“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
At the age of twenty-two I accepted an engagement proposal from my boyfriend. We had been “high school sweethearts”. When I opted to further my education and he continued the education of hard knocks, it was time to bid adieu to the “sweetheart” token. We went our separate ways and dated different people. In November 1996 our paths crossed again. We’d grown and realized we saw destiny together.
He and I were quite smitten with one another. We had good jobs and good friends and good fun. Why would we not choose to marry? After all, that’s what couples were supposed to do eventually. So we set a date for November 2000. Plans were drawn and the ball ready to roll.
“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
On Valentines Day 2000 I discovered I was pregnant. I sat shocked on a bathroom floor, mostly because I’d been advised this wouldn’t be a likelihood for me. I wasn’t young per se, twenty-four years of age, but my mind was very immature. And I was selfish. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids, primarily due to the childhood scars I wore. After careful contemplation I chose to carry my unborn baby. My faith told me a bigger plan was in store and I was not one to intervene.
I cancelled my wedding arrangements. Out of respect for my father I moved up our date to become a Wife before I became a Mother. We eloped and got hitched on Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. I was seven months along and we went camping anyway. We took a week to explore and gather ourselves for what was ahead. It was blissful and perfect.
“Put your heart, mind, and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” – Swami Sivananda
Success can mean many things to people. Perhaps it’s a degree or a career or crossing an item off a Bucket List. In the infancy of both my marriage and of my youngest child, for me it meant a spotless residence, complete meals, and laundered apparel. It meant returning to work and taking night shifts so my husband could work days. It meant shelving my aspirations and instead supporting my husband’s dreams. It meant a cease to my existence in exchange of putting the needs of others before mine.
My firstborn was easy. He slept through the night by three months. He was inquisitive and active. Nevertheless he missed milestones. As he grew I sensed something different about him. This put stress on my matrimony. My husband refused to believe anything could be wrong. But my intuition was correct. Our son had Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and “Asperger’s-like tendencies”. It was a lot to learn about, yet I sought to educate myself to be the most effective parent possible.
Unfortunately, the stress between my husband and I grew. We fought frequently and communication became challenging. We still decided to have another baby. Maybe we thought it would save us? Maybe we hoped it might complete us? In any event, we both wanted a sibling for our oldest child. Neither of us were only children. Our last baby joined us in February 2003.
“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” – Jim Rohn
Regrettably, our last baby couldn’t actually save us. We had been doomed for many months. The problem was I wasn’t ready to admit it. Doing so would leave me feeling a failure, like I hadn’t done enough. I stayed. Through the emotional abuse and the tangible neglect I experienced. I rationalized since my kids were cared for, I didn’t matter. Until one day I woke up.
I had been reading an article in a parenting magazine about raising strong adults. How could I achieve this if the example my husband and I were setting was everything opposite? During my six year marriage I had let myself go completely. My hair was a mess and I was twenty-five pounds away from weighing three hundred. On a whim my husband went south for construction work following Hurricane Katrina. I switched my work shifts to days and called upon friends and family for help. The first week was frightening. Thereafter, I felt intense peace and relief.
“You can’t live your life for other people. You’ve got to do what’s right for you, even if it hurts some people you love.” – Nicholas Sparks
It was a difficult task, telling my husband I wanted a divorce. I worried about my young children and how they would manage. I was concerned if I really had what it takes to be a single mother. I was scared. My husband was angry, lamenting alternate reasons for my position. He dismissed any responsibility on his part. And that’s alright. I’m not mad anymore. We are all entitled to our opinions.
Fault didn’t matter. It wasn’t important. What was important was ensuring I could eat from this platter I’d set before me. I needed to keep a roof over our heads in order to keep our little family together. I needed a steady income, and possibly some outside assistance. I was determined to be the best me I could be. For myself as well as for my offspring.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.” – Stephen Chbosky
The daunting aspect to relationships is how we justify reasons to stay. I wasn’t dumb. I knew signs and warnings. I realized my marriage wasn’t healthy anymore. I acquired very little positive pleasure throughout our final year as a couple. I was extremely close to giving up entirely. My kids kept me going and provided me purpose. In the end, they were actually my reason to expect enhancement.
I went from a girlfriend to a wife to a mother in a matter of months. As a result I believe I forgot who I was beforehand. A once healthy, energetic, outgoing woman I had become a shadow. Initially I remained as an obligation to my kids. However, staying together for the kids is a disservice to everyone involved. Misery doesn’t make one a martyr. It breeds discontent which is apparent in every instance. It is never advisable to sell your soul to make anyone happy. Love is everywhere. It manifests itself often when we least expect it.
“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – Neil Gaiman
No one enters a commitment with the expectation for collapse. We all want a happy ending, to grow old beside our partner and enjoy grandchildren. I clung to those possibilities, as well. I have always been a thinker and a planner, leaving very little to chance. Therefore, as soon as each of my kids were born I placed their names on a wait list with a local childcare network. Not necessarily because I foresaw future issues but rather as a safety net. What if my husband or I fell ill or suffered permanent injury? What if we both had to take day jobs instead of swapping care between us? My hope was to never need such a commodity, but it certainly didn’t hurt to take the precaution. I could always decline if a spot became available.
Finances were rarely plentiful in my marriage. Still, we never sought assistance. My husband was hard-pressed against it. He didn’t fancy being viewed a statistic. I learned quickly there was a difference between abusing a system and gaining a stepping stone. After we left our home we lived in motels for almost a year and a half. It is not a cheap route. Yet it is a roof and a place to dwell together. I had no reliable transportation and little savings. I welcomed a promotion at my job as a manager to earn a steady income. I applied for Food Stamps. I also activated an application at a subsidized apartment complex. Paying rent based on my income was the only way I could envision a stable environment.
For two months I paid for daycare from my pocket. Then a miracle occurred; my name rose to the top of the childcare network list. I took it. This organization provided me a discount. I could work with my juveniles accounted for. I used this service until my kids were in sixth and fourth grades. I remain truly grateful to have benefited. Most importantly, to be given the ability to provide after-school and summer camp experiences to my kids, which I otherwise may have not been able to cultivate.
It was my choice to stay in motels and I placed our belongings into storage. I firmly believed our situation wouldn’t be permanent. Our first motel had two bedroom apartments with a kitchen/living room area and a bathroom. They were far from fancy but decorations and items from our previous home made it comfortable. Within ten months it was scheduled to be shut down for offices to be built. Thus, we had to leave the premises. Our second motel had efficiency units with a small kitchenette. This was imperative as I had to prepare all meals to save whatever money possible. Honestly, it was almost like a vacation. It was June and there was a pool onsite. Maids changed the sheets, vacuumed, and cleaned. The owners were nice and it suited our temporary urgency.
School came into session again with mornings containing a slight chill. At work one day, I received a call which threw me into tears of joy. It was the apartment complex calling to inform me they had an apartment for us. It was a dream come true! My determination was paying off. After months of feeling hopeless, I suddenly felt hopeful.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
It is so much easier to make excuses for our circumstances than it is to face them. If I hadn’t been proactive, even when my journey was decent, my present may be drastically different. Perchance you and your partner get along swimmingly, barring absent resources. Or there’s no one around to lend a hand or watch your kids or provide transportation. It may be a lack of affordable housing or family services causing concern. Whatever it is, get up and rise up. We never comprehend how strong we are until we have no other avenue. Trust me, there were epochs I felt like the worst mother in the world. Weeks where I wondered if it was worth it. But when I had no ride, I walked. When food was scarce, I sacrificed my plate. I never allowed myself to stay in a rut for too long. I acknowledged and moved on in an effort to move up.
Thankfully, that book of my life is closed. It doesn’t mean my new book is an easy read. I continue to frequently doubt my abilities. The difference is I glance at my teenagers and recognize they need to learn from my mistakes to avoid repetition. I want them to perceive foundations for a healthy relationship. I don’t want them to settle because it seems uncomplicated. I desire for them to possess the courage to defy the odds, to turn doubters into believers. I owe it to my kids to wake each day, improved somewhere.
There is also no genuine place for blame in my case. It was not the responsibility of my boss to cater to my needs. It was my job to have more than one plan. It wasn’t the obligation of my friends or family to babysit (unless they wanted to). I had to conjure alternatives. It was not an assignment for anyone to make up my shortages. It was my place to do so. My trials were not my ex-husband’s fault. Because I accepted the role to raise our children. Through sheer dedication, I complete this vital task daily.
So when you feel you’re at the end of your rope…when you want to wave the flag at defeat…please recall your courage and your value. If I can make it to the light at the end of the tunnel, anyone can. Blessings to all…
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou