One of the low points during those first post -split weeks came on a Friday afternoon when my twelve year-old came home from school with his pals. He announced that they would be staying out as late as they wanted that night. When I said no, he puffed himself up, made sure his whole crew was listening, put a derisive sneer on his face and shot back with this: “I don’t have to listen to you! You don’t even have a job!”
In the few awkward seconds while my son’s friends glanced nervously at each other, wondering what would happen next, I came up with a quick response.
“Do too! And it’s whupping you upside the head, you rude, over-entitled, ungrateful cretin!”
But rather than blurt it out, or do any whupping, I did what most child experts would probably prefer. I paused, took a breath, and eventually this response emerged instead; “Come sit down with me Mr., we’re going to have a talk.”
My son knew that years before, I had quit writing articles about sports gear and fitness trends to stay home and read Greek myths and Harry Potter with him and his younger brother. While they were little, I worked on and off for various non- profits from our kitchen table. We got to spend afternoons going ice skating, visiting museums and dueling with plastic swords in our living room. He may or may not have known that the words “job” and “career” gave me occasional bouts of anxiety. But he did know that his father had met the new love of his life at the office. Perhaps he thought that if only his mom was in the office also, working at a JOB, his parents would still be together.
Statistics actually don’t show that women who work are any less likely to get divorced. But they certainly show that women who are divorced are much more likely to need to work. And if we have been home for much of the time our kids were young, this can be an especially daunting prospect.
Pretending to take my son’s comment in stride, I sat him down and spoke as concisely and patiently as I could. Someday, I told him, I would likely have again the sort of job he was referring to, but for the moment, my primary job was being his mom, and he needed to show me respect. As I spoke, I realized that I was distilling the last eight years of my life into a kind of manifesto. The reasons I had taken time off from paying work were still convincing to me: I regretted my own parents not being around when I was a kid, the babysitter cost more than I made each week, and writing about toe cleavage and step classes just couldn’t compete with the chance to personally introduce my kids to the world. It was a choice I was lucky enough to be able to make. As much as it stung to hear my son’s first big “diss,” and as much as it would sting on my inevitable re-entry, I did not have any regrets.
And this helped. Soon afterward, I was forced to confront my post-divorce income, my actual employability and financial security. It helped me to recognize that in some very real way, I had been nurtured and trained by raising kids. I mean, could an unjust boss be that much worse than my swaggering, contemptuous pre-teenage son? I was even willing to believe that the perspective gained from years of cooking, planning, organizing and listening, would enhance, instead of diminish my ability to earn an income. Sometimes (and I heartily recommend this), all it took was a conversation with a myopic 24 year- old, clawing his or her way up the career ladder in some industry (just like myself at that age), to remind me that one could be smart about work and still be a complete idiot about the rest of it.
“Anyone can be ambitious for work,” says Sophie Wade, founder of Flexcel, an employment firm specializing in career change and re-entry on the flex-time model, “far better to be ‘ambitious for life.’’
The phrase “ambition for life” is a good one. It sets the goal higher than just getting a good job or good paying job. And it puts things into perspective. As a mom, you already have some of this life stuff covered, so now it’s just a matter of finding work. Okay, maybe it won’t all be that easy, but according to Wade and other employment experts, much of the trick to getting back into the world of work is to tackle it from a positive place rather than a panicked one. Confidence is the single biggest determinant in your ability to push yourself successfully over the threshold to a new and independent life. Breathe deep, rise above those dissing cretins, and take a first step.