“Mom, where is my purple headband?” Claire yelled at me. “I asked you to put it in my drawer last night and it’s not here!”
“Claire,” I answered, “I don’t know. I can’t deal with that right now.”
It was 7:30 in the morning and I had three kids to get up and dressed and out of the house. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to describe the scene that lay before me, but it was filled with dirty dishes on the counter and pull-ups that needed changing and papers strewn everywhere.
“Mom!” Claire continued to whine, “this is important!”
“Claire,” I said sternly, “it’s not important that I find your headband right now. Do you know what I do that’s important? I go to work and I make sure that we can stay in this house. I make sure we have food. I make sure you can go to the doctor. That’s what’s important.”
It shut her up, though I felt bad immediately after saying it. I get it – a special headband is important to a 9-year-old. Worrying about the basics of life should not be.
It’s not like we are destitute. In fact, we can afford to stay in our house in our upscale neighborhood and buy new shoes when we need them and see all the specialized doctors that my allergy-prone kids require. In so many ways, we are still quite privileged.
But my kids are also aware that I am concerned about providing for them. I do not feel bad that we aren’t driving a new car or using the latest technology. But if I’m being honest, I do sometimes feel guilty when I share with them the stressors in my life that surround providing for them.
Shawn definitely worried about supporting us. He had complex spreadsheets depicting how we’d save for the kids’ college and retire at a decent age. He talked to me a lot about his planning but I honestly never thought that much about it. Consequently, I didn’t usually bring it up with my kids. I think this is probably how a lot of upper-middle class families operate – we don’t talk about the cost of things because we don’t have to.
My kids will grow up without their father, but they will be much more financially secure than many kids in similar situations. And yet I stress about making sure they are getting what their peers are getting, including expensive things like fun trips. I stress about making sure that when I retire, I’ll be able to spoil my grandkids. I stress about being the breadwinner, even if I know we will remain in some level of privilege no matter what.
I guess it’s a lot of what Shawn felt as the primary earner in our family. I worried plenty about how much screen time my kids had or how many vegetables they ate, but I really never thought about our long-term financial stability.
Now I do. For the first time ever, I’m being very honest with my kids about what it takes to make it all work. I’m also starting to think more about what my career needs to look like in the long run. I didn’t think about it right after Shawn died, but recently that’s all started to change.
Last week, when I heard my school might create a new leadership position, I went right down to the principal’s office. I asked for 5 minutes of her time, walked into her office and said, “I know that our school might design a new leadership role next year, and I want you to know that if it happens, I’m going to apply. I want that job.”
She was kind, and said she thought I should definitely apply. She’s a divorced mom of two and so she and I talked for a bit about raising kids on our own, even if the situation is a bit different.
“You know,” I told her, in a moment of candor, “before Shawn died, all I really wanted was to work part-time and volunteer at my kids’ school and go to Costco. Shawn could have the important job that made the money. But all of the sudden, I’m feeling this hunger to provide for my family. I’m the one who is going to make it for my family. There’s no one else. It’s just me.”
She looked at me with a certain understanding that I recognized. “I get it,” she said, “I totally get it.” She didn’t promise me the job, but she encouraged me to apply when it came out.
I walked home that day feeling a brand-new emotion. Confidence, maybe? That afternoon I saw my friends Becky and Michelle and I recounted the conversation with my principal. “It’s funny,” I said to them, “but I feel….hopeful about this possibility. I might not get the job, and I’m not even going to apply for it until December, but today was the first time since last fall that I’ve felt excited about the future.”
“That is something that deserves celebration!” Michelle said as they both hugged me.
I might not get that specific job. But I am finally thinking about the future of my family in a real way, with me at the head. That’s unsettling to write. And yet, for the first time ever, I think I feel like I can do it.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.