What I Didn’t Know I Wanted Once I Was At My Lowest: My Mother Tribe
I sat with my back bent over my desk. My face couldn’t be more than six inches from the laptop screen, as if being physically closer to the information would help me understand it. I screwed up my eyes and tried to process every word in the document, but I was lost.
That was not my responsibility for 10 years.
My ex-husband was the main member of our health, life and auto insurance. It was part of his employer’s service package. I didn’t even reimburse him, so I didn’t even know how much the insurance was. He was a CPA and the love of my life so I trusted him. When we got married, I joined his family insurance. When we had children, he applied for their social security numbers, researched tax breaks, and made sure they were covered by his health insurance.
On paper, I was dependent on him, and I actually depended on him for life.
Then I decided to part with him after all these years. I felt like a kid who decided to run away from home. I didn’t want to be where I called home but I had no idea where it was going or what was coming. His alcohol addiction had resurfaced, and although I had signed up for marriage with him knowing it was a problem, our children did not come forward to be raised by an alcoholic. They didn’t deserve to have a father who was depressed, self-harming, and at best withdrawn from them.
In the weeks between moving out of our apartment and moving into a three-room apartment, we made a legal separation. That was my first impression of how difficult it can be to process legal documents. I had to draft our marriage contract and submit it to the state courts to divide up our property, our property … and our children.
My ex had no objection to the breakup – he knew he wasn’t up to helping me raise our children. But his alcohol-related mental absence and incompetence meant I couldn’t rely on him to help me fill out official papers. A month after I filed for divorce, I learned that my husband had lost his job while we were still living together and was keeping it a secret; this meant, unnoticed, that my children and I were without insurance. I cannot put into words how dangerous this was as my children went to the hospital with asthma complications.
I wasn’t submissive in the office. I was a confident professional who walked the hallways in my four-inch heels with my head held high. But when I realized that I had no choice but to explain my situation to HR, I was embarrassed. I took no pleasure in discussing my personal life at work – the last thing I wanted my breakup to be water-cooler gossip.
I turned to our social security specialist and, to my surprise, she understood my situation. She made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Although she made all the forms I had to fill out clear, she broke the professional wall between us and admitted that she had been in this situation before. At first I entered her office meek and embarrassed, but her compassion comforted me and showed me that I could get through this. I could be the head of my household.
When I stared at my employer’s health insurance and health insurance certificates, I felt like an idiot. My confidence waned once again. I was raised by a single mom, had a college degree, a working mom who made more than $ 80,000, and yet I’d allowed a man to control my life. Worse still, I had given him the keys to the three-room cell where he could keep me prisoner. That was my fault; I would risk the health and safety of my children because I loved a man. I knew better. I thought I was smarter than that, but I couldn’t even decipher a damn PDF myself.
My colleague – also a working mother – must have seen my disappointed and confused expression. She came to my desk and asked what was going on. We were personal friends so I disclosed the situation. She took a deep breath, pulled a chair next to me and explained:
“These are the different types of medical plans you can enroll in. Which one you choose depends on whether you spend little or much time in the doctor’s office. You know your children are always sick, so you need a health care account! “
She continued, “You will also need dental work, but no eyesight for the children because they are not old enough to have an eye exam. And get an account for childcare because … childcare. So expensive, isn’t it? “
“Yes!” I groaned.
“Now it’s just you,” she reminded me confidently, “and you have to prepare for the worst. Add disability, child life, and supplemental life insurance. This is a great company to invest in, so be sure to buy stocks too. “
“Okay,” I exhaled.
“But it’s not enough for me to tell you that, Christine. You need to find a financial advisor to help you plan for the future. ”“ Okay, ”I sounded like a kid. I gave one word answers as my parents directed me.
Without these two women who say protocol and limits are fucking said, I would be just another single mom struggling financially. My fear would have pushed me into isolation and my children would have suffered as a result.
But both women personified community. It was in that moment that I understood what a mother line was. It offers support in times of danger without judgment. It’s the mix of encouragement, empowerment, empathy, wisdom, affirmation, and acceptance that only another mother can offer. It’s the half smile on another mom’s face that tells you – in any situation – that you are not alone.
It’s funny; I wanted so badly to break free of a controlling, parent-like relationship that I would eventually run towards the caring, comforting bond of motherhood.
Best-selling author Christine Michel Carter is the world’s # 1 voice for working mothers. At home she is the mother of Maya and West, the two cutest children in the world. Your Own Best-Selling Children’s Book Can Mom Go To Work? has been classified as an “empowering book” and a “life changing book to guide feminist parenting”. Her book MOM AF is a sister circle in a book inspired by both Carter’s life and her published articles.