In preparation for my move to a smaller place next month, I’ve been sorting through the detritus that has dogged me since my first divorce, trying to decide what is purge-worthy and what is worth keeping. I came upon a box of old photos — rifling through photos is about as dangerous a time-suck as any — that included a black-and-white 8×10 wedding shot. Of me, at my first wedding.
Picture this: a lithe figure, sort of a bridal Venus De Milo, sprouting from a cloud of Vera Wang tulle, clasping a bouquet of lilies and leaning demurely against a large wagon full of flowers. (So natural! Just me and my wagon!) My coiffed hair covered by a veil, I beamed a dazzling smile over my shoulder.
I stared at this shot, taken 20 years ago, and thought: how was I ever that person? That person who believed that because I had “married well,” into a “good family,” I was destined for a lifetime of idyllic holiday cards?
I remember shortly after the wedding, sitting on the living room couch next to Prince, telling him I would like to quit my day job so I could write. I wanted to become a mother as soon as possible; what better job for a mother than to be a freelance writer working from home? Given that all our friends were affluent, most of the wives stayed at home, my sister stayed at home to raise her kids, and Prince’s family was supporting us so that even he didn’t have a regular job, my request seemed perfectly reasonable.
And, after all, wasn’t it best for the kids if the mother quit her day job and stayed home?
So I quit working. I wrote freelance magazine articles. I had a baby. I took long walks through our lovely, hilly neighborhood, pushing Luca in the stroller. And when I felt like rolling up my yoga mat and dashing off to a 10 a.m. class, I handed him over to the nanny.
And guess what? After nine years of being a SAHM and sorta freelance writer, I was briskly escorted out of the Eden that had been my married life of privilege. And I was virtually unemployable.
Now, ten years after the divorce, I am a licensed therapist with a low-paying day job and no child support. As grueling as my job is, and as exhausted as I am when I slog through the front door at 6:30 p.m., I cling to it for the insurance, the retirement plan, the paid sick leave, and the fact that, without my job, my kids and I would be sleeping in my Prius.
Yesterday, a friend posted an excellent article by journalist Katy Read, who wrote that her biggest life regret was being a SAHM — because now, post-divorce, she’s broke.
It is my biggest regret as well. That and the fact that I didn’t build a career early on that was more lucrative. If I had, and I’d kept it, I wouldn’t be moving to a 2-bedroom apartment. I wouldn’t be swallowing Klonopin at night to quell the harpy-like thoughts about what happens when my savings run out. I would be firmly planted in fiscal security and the comfort of knowing I could one day retire. I would be breathing at least a few times a day.
All the studies about what hurts kids — bottle-feeding, daycare, two working parents — pale next to the reality of the typical single mother. So when I read about those studies, and the tiresome Mommy Wars debate, I am infuriated that no one is having the conversation worth having.
Which is this:
Unless she has family money or has cashed out of Silicon Valley with many, many millions, no woman should stop working. EVER. I don’t care if you were raised Catholic, if your husband has assured you that “divorce is not an option,” that no one in your family has ever been divorced, that you and your beloved still laugh and have fabulous sex three times a week — all of that can, and does, blow up in an instant 50% of the time.
A wife morphs into a mean drunk. A husband descends into a depression from which he never emerges. One person falls in love with the neighbor, or the personal assistant, or the babysitter. Another can no longer keep the secret that he’s gay and leaves the marriage for his long-time lover. Or, after the kids have left the house, two people realize they have grown too far apart to stay together.
So, spare me the lectures about what’s best for baby, and, blech — finding a good provider early on.
Opting out is out. Getting in reality is in.