Not that long ago, I sat across a table at a local Beans & Brew, sipping coffee and talking to a friend “Tori” who was giving me the rundown on her marriage.
Her husband cheated on her with a single neighbor. She read some of his private emails and got the surprise of her life- her husband was in love with another woman and she knew her.
And, she discovered, he was also a porn addict (just about every Mormon woman I know has a husband who is/was a porn addict, whether that is true or not is debatable).
“I don’t love him,” she said almost flippantly. “Sometimes I think I hate him.”
“Does he know this?” I asked.
“Yes. He says he loves me and wants our marriage to work. He ended the affair,” she said. She was so matter-of-fact I couldn’t determine how she really felt about the whole thing. Numb maybe?
“What are you going to do?”
“Oh, I’m staying. I thought about leaving him but no way. It comes down to the fact that I don’t want to work. If I leave him, I’m going to have to get a job and support these kids and I don’t want to,” she said.
Wow. This brought to mind another story of another friend several years back. I’ll call her “Clara.” Clara had a kindergartner, “Timmy” who announced to his teacher one day that his dad was hitting and punching him. He showed the principle the bruises to prove it. Clara got a call that afternoon from a police officer. He informed Clara that they had just interviewed Timmy at school and she had two choices: 1) Move out of her marital home with her son in tow while the investigation took place; 2) Have Timmy taken into protective custody and placed in foster care. Clara rushed home, packed a few suitcases, picked her son up at school and waited for social workers to arrive with papers “allowing” her and Timmy to move out (Clara’s husband was threatening to fight any attempts to move Timmy). When they arrived, one social worker handed Clara a list of women’s shelters she could go to.
“We’re not going to a women’s shelter!” Clara almost yelled out. “We are going to a hotel.”
“You’re lucky,” the social worker said. “Many women have no money and no other options.”
As Clara told me this story, she was in tears. “Thank God I have a good job. What would I do if I was poor?”
“Go to a shelter and hopefully get an attorney appointed to you by the state,” I answered.
Today is March 8, which happens to be International Women’s Day, which calls for the celebration of women’s economic, political and social achievements. One of those achievements ought to be financial independence. Because without the ability to care for ourselves and our children, we are kind of screwed.
Several months ago, I spent a weekend volunteering at a polygamous community. I heard a story of a woman who showed up with her many children at a safe house attempting to leave her husband. “I need money for gas and food,” she said.
The social worker explained to her that they were there to help her find a job and housing, and to assimilate into a more normal society than the one she had been living in. “I can’t work,” she said. “I have children to care for.”
The social worker explained to her that part of caring for her children also meant providing for their financial needs.
Going back to the story of Tori, I reflect on prior conversations we’ve had. Tori has four daughters and she is raising them in a very traditional Mormon environment—their greatest goals should be motherhood and, likely, they will aspire to be stay at home moms. There is everything “right’ with this desire (if it is the daughters’ choice, not Tori’s or their community’s) but to purposely raise daughters to be dependent on their husbands is quite shocking (and a dangerous mistake).
I was once a teen making big choices about college and career. After two unpaid internships, I entered the workforce at a very low wage. But it was a start. I lived off of credit cards, worked a second job, and scraped by (barely). I decided that I would never be financially dependent on a guy and I worked very hard to ensure that would not happen. Later, I adopted two children, got sick, and got a divorce. All kinds of unexpected things can happen to us in life and that is certainly true in my case. No amount of preparing softened the blow of the pain and suffering I endured during some really tough times. Nonetheless, we can (and should) do our best to plan, and then pray for some luck to carry us the rest of the way.
Now, as a mom to two daughters (one in high school, the other in middle school), what do I want for them? I hope they live a purposeful life, that they are independent, strong, resilient and amazing. I wish for them love and a fabulous life partner, wonderful children, and a fulfilling career. As their primary parent (their dad picked alcohol over parenting), I am trying very hard to encourage, guide, and cajole (when necessary) them to be achieve their best, and to work hard getting there. Economic dependence, I hope, won’t be part of their future.