When married couples enter their 60’s the saying goes…“We saved all our lives, so now we can spend!” A single mom usually says, “I spent all my life and now I can save.” That’s my story anyway. When I became a single mom after 13 years of marriage, my 2 children were 4 weeks old and 4 years old. As I entered this world of “Single Parentdom”, I took a long breath and said, “Right! You got this Karen. You have no choice anyway!”
Single Mothers and Retirement
What I didn’t realize is that it would take all of my income and financial stability to achieve raising my young family alone. The $300 and change per child for support would not go far and it took all of my income to achieve the job as head of household, with providing a home to be the biggest expense. No surprise there! I live in Southern California.
When our children were both born, we were prepared to start this family. We were married for many years before having children. But when my ex-husband decided to leave the family just weeks after our second child was born, it toppled that plan over on its head. Immediately the cost of diapers and formula for the newborn baby were intensely felt. The preschool cost for my 4-year-old was also immediately felt. And then throw into the mix that we had been in the middle of a home remodel and were paying a mortgage and rent for an apartment while the construction was being done. I have no clue how I didn’t jump off the nearest bridge. But I would hear my own voice say…“Right! You got this Karen. You have no choice anyway!”
Understandably, the pressures of a home remodel and the arrival of a new baby would stress anyone out. But inevitably and logically you know that the house eventually gets built and the children grow up. But with this pressure, my ex-husband felt the need to depart the scene and left it for me to finish the jobs at hand. What made him so sure I could handle it? When I look back at that poor girl who was left to hold all of that up…well it puts back the feeling of that hole in my chest where my heart was broken and my head was aching all at once, all the time. And it was cruel.
It was cruel to leave a young vulnerable family to fend for itself. It was cruel to have an affair. It was cruel to turn a blind eye to what was so overtly right in front of us; two small babies. And now they looked up only to me for all of their security.
Making it All Better
Leave me. Fall out of love with me. I can recover from that! But don’t rob your babies of their security. But he did. So, I was going to do what I always did and still do. Make it all better. Or at least try anyway.
When you can’t go back you have to worry about the best way of moving forward.
The real price of his departure is being felt most profoundly as I am now 60. To add serious salt to my wounds, he made me sign off on his retirement all those years ago. In my blind trauma, I had no idea what I was signing. I just wanted the craziness to end. I wanted to breathe again. I wanted my life to look familiar again. Another act of cruelty.
And now as he approaches retirement safely and richly, I am just now starting to save. I was not able to participate in any savings programs because I needed every nickel I made in order to raise this family alone. Living in Los Angeles does not hold much value when it comes to child support payments to raise a family on unless you intend on not allowing them to participate in anything that slightly resembles fun. Those small stipends eventually went away anyway. But the cost of the kids didn’t stop. The asks don’t come from me any longer. They come directly from our kids now. And that in itself is liberating. I have waited a long time for them to find their own voices. To this day I still try not to ask much of him. I don’t like interacting with him so if my shouldering a cost keeps my nerves steady…well it’s worth it.
You cannot make sweet wine out of sour grapes. Thomas Fuller
The Silver Lining
So here is the silver lining. I may be 60, but I have the energy of a 40-year-old. I guess I have no choice! I’m in good health, and I am encouraged each and every day to be the best me I can be. My kids continue to support my spirit too! As long as they continue to support my spirit and my endeavors, I will be fine. I will work hard for many more years so that they are not supporting me financially too! As I once noted, my accountant told me I had to work until I’m 75. I laughed and then realized he was dead serious. So, I took a deep breath once again and said.. “Right! You got this Karen. You have no choice anyway!”
My once 4-year-old boy at the time of my divorce is now 25. Yesterday his car battery died. He was daunted to deal with it because he was so busy at work.
He turned and said to me, “Mom, how did you do it? How did you handle so much and still have a full-time career and raise us? I can barely find time to deal with my car, so it won’t affect work. I totally see now how hard that must have been on you now.”
In a strange and validating way, I smiled and thought he really has come full circle in his experiences as a child raised by a single mom. All of those nights that I went to bed with the weight of a heavy globe crushing my chest, I wondered if my kids would ever know how much it took out of me to be the one parent who raised them alone? And in this instant, I got acknowledged I guess.
I once wrote an article called. “Don’t forget to pay yourself”. I will say again to you, what I said in that article. Budget Budget Budget! And stick to it! But I would also add, Fight Fight Fight to protect and care for your financial futures too. You may indeed get married again. But live like you will not. I say that with all of the kindness in the world too. Because you need to make sure that you protect and care for yourself as much as you are protecting and caring for your children. YOU MATTER TOO! And never sign off on his retirement unless you are sure you are secure. Don’t be scared to ask questions and don’t get bullied. It makes forgiveness almost impossible when you reach my age. But I still try.
I can’t change what I did right and what I did wrong. I can’t change that I just caved and threw myself into debt in order to pay for everything that his support couldn’t alleviate. I don’t have the luxury of time like many of you younger divorced moms. So be good to yourself and speak up when you need help from the man that was there when the order for the children was placed. My ex-husband will retire soon and live a very comfortable life. I don’t think he thought that I wouldn’t get remarried. I am sure he hoped I would end up happy too. But, I made different choices and many sacrifices that most times felt like the only choices to make. All of which have affected me deeply financially. My friends are all retiring. I will never be able to retire. But I am fortunate to still be relevant in my career and also have the additional energy dollars to be a Life Coach to single moms.
So, love on your children and spend on them when you can. But participate in as many retirement savings programs as possible and make sure you are getting the support you need. I am living the results of taking the lion’s share of the financial responsibility of raising a family alone. I wish I wasn’t put in that position. I wish I wasn’t forced to be the brave one. But I was. I always was. And I still am.
When I see how wonderful and honorable my children have turned out to be, it makes the financial worries that coursed through my body almost 24/7 for 20 years seem like a fair price to pay. It’s just a shame that this was asked of me.
And I will keep on saying…“Right! You got this Karen. You have no choice anyway!”