My children are ages 30 and 18. When both were only six weeks old, I returned to work. The circumstances and reasons for my choices are as disparate as the years between my children, and they were right for me.
The Path of Poverty
With my eldest, I had no choice other than welfare. I was only 18; so was her dad. It turns out he wasn't able or willing to support a family so our financial circumstances were challenging at best, impossible at worst. I barely earned enough at my job in a shoe factory to pay the bills and for many reasons, the marriage deteriorated, ending in divorce when my daughter was only 2 1/2 years old. Her daddy didn't support her, leaving me on my own to raise our daughter. Do You Know Someone Owed Child Support? - Noncustodial Parents in U.S. $105 Billion in Arrears for Child Support
This was not a new circumstance. My parents were divorced and my father was a classic deadbeat dad. My mother worked in a factory and did her best to support four children, barely surviving. I was on the path of poverty, destined to repeat my family history.
Something, however, led me down a different path. Perhaps it was my mother's strong work ethic. Maybe it was having a "big sister" thanks to the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. My grandmother's love of books might have been the key. Teachers who recognized my potential and encouraged me to excel could have tipped the scales. I suspect it was my good fortune to have all of those factors leading to a perfect storm of positive influence.
When my daughter started kindergarten, I started taking college classes at night, working during the day. It was difficult, to say the least, but four years later, I had a bachelor's degree. I also had a new husband. Three years after earning my bachelor's degree, I had a master's degree and a baby boy.
When my son was born while I completed my master's degree, my circumstances where very different than when my daughter was born; I had the choice of returning to work or staying home. I opted to return to work.
- I had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to earn my degrees. My career had just begun and I wanted to utilize my knowledge and skills.
- My husband had supported me financially and emotionally while I pursued my dreams of higher education and the opportunity to have a professional career. I had student loans and felt I owed my husband a return on his investment in and support of me.
- I wanted to be able to support my family if something happened to my husband.
- My daughter was 12 and I realized how quickly my children would grow up and leave home. Pursuing my career, in the long term, would result in being able to provide more for them in the future.
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and (Wo)Men
It turns out my plans didn't have quite the results I hoped for.
I do utilize my knowledge and skills. The student loans were paid off years ago. My husband and I have a wonderful marriage and our relationship is strong, but if something happened to him, I could take care of myself. And I have a career that not only earns a decent salary but gives me great satisfaction.
The failure in my plan is that I provided a better life for my children but, unfortunately, not as good as I had hoped. And I failed at conveying to them the value of pursuing education and a professional career. I guess I thought they would absorb that through osmosis.
My daughter joined the Army after high school and is now a stay-at-home mom. I'm proud of her and thankful she can stay home but worry that if something happens to my grandson's daddy, her ability to provide for their son will be challenging.
And my son... oh, my son. He's only 18, dropped out of high school, is already a daddy and unemployed. He is on the path of poverty I worked so hard to avoid.
Overwhelming "What Ifs"
I know I'm being a worry wort and hope my children forgive me for the times I nag and voice my fears for their futures and the futures of my grandchildren. Kiddos, sometimes the "what ifs" are overwhelming. All the "what ifs" that were realities in my life... what if they become realities in your lives?
One of my biggest "what ifs," is what if I had stayed home with my kids instead of working?
With my daughter, not working would have meant years of barely getting by. Returning to work - and going to school - was the right choice.
With my son... I'm not sure. Maybe his circumstances - and future - would be different had I stayed home. Now it's too late to know if things would be different but I suspect there wouldn't be much change. Seems there's a whole lot more to nature than to nuture!
Despite my doubts, I do believe the sacrifices we made and my choice to return to work were the right choices. My childrens' lives were better and, ultimately, my grandchildren will reap the benefits... I hope.