My ex-partner and I have been separated for almost two years, and with the help of an amazing mediator—which I highly recommend—we will soon file our divorce paperwork. Even though separation and divorce come with emotional whiplash, my ex and I have worked hard to remain honest with each other and amicable. We have three kids together and still have the same parenting goals. We respect one another and have a history together that has a lot of good.
Separation has been an overwhelming process when faced with the fact that certain parts of that good just weren’t good enough. I have been learning to hold often opposing truths even when they hurt both me and my ex. The push and pull to live an authentic life is painful even if worth it. I know time will make much of this easier because I have already seen improvements.
Space will help too, but that piece is harder to come by. I still live in the same house as my ex and our kids. My space has been the spare room until I can afford to move out and into my own house. I had hoped to find financial independence this spring; the pandemic had other plans.
I knew financially supporting myself would be difficult, but not for a lack of determination or effort. When I gave up my full-time cleaning business and side gigs to become a stay at home parent, I also gave up earning potential. It was a decision that made financial sense for our family at the time. Three kids in daycare was roughly what I was earning each year; my ex and I decided to keep our oldest in preschool while I stayed home with our twin babies.
I became the parent and person who attended field trips, cleaned the house, made the meals, and did the grocery shopping with babies in tow. I was the supportive spouse to a partner who worked long hours and carried the weight of all of our household income and health benefits. I gave up the professional, gratifying piece of my life for a more domestic but less satisfying one. I love being a parent. I have admitted hating being one who stayed home with their kids. I was lonely and often bored. Yes, I loved my kids, but I hated what I lost in myself.
When all of my kids were finally in public school, I began to re-enter the work force with odd jobs and more consistent writing gigs, but I was still the default parent. I was seen as more available to be home, which also meant less available to work. And while I benefited from financially security in this pre-divorce life, I wasn’t fully benefiting from my marriage. It was terrifying to finally admit both of these truths to myself because to try to seek something different in a different partner also meant having to find a way to fund this new phase of my life.
I began to work more. I was slowly piecing together a way to make ends meet, and I was starting to allow myself to get hopeful about jobs I had applied for. Days before COVID-19 shut down our state, I had sent my resume and cover letter to two promising jobs that would have fulfilled both financial gains and personal reward. I received notice soon after that all hiring had been suspended. Hiring is still frozen at these two companies and at many of the places I have contacted about employment. There is no way to be certain I would have been asked to come in for an interview, but those positions had provided hope. After two years of self-employment, I was trying to find a job that came with a W-2 because according to lenders I am relying on to get a loan for a house, I am “too risky.”
I have been self-employed because I created a flexible schedule that supported raising kids. It also allowed me to support myself emotionally; as a nonbinary person I created my own inclusive work spaces. As a LGBTQIA+ educator, I know most businesses are exhausting and damaging—even if unintentionally—to transgender folks. To shift from paid educator to someone begging an employer to be educated is exhausting and not a role I want. But I want a house with space to provide a second home for my kids that is just as safe and cozy as the one they have now. I want space to find closure so my ex and I can get the fuck on with our new normal.
While I continue to work full-time as a self-employed person, I am still trying to find a job that would come with a pay stub to put a lender more at ease. I know this new job will come with some personal sacrifice, but I want all of my hard work to make ends meet because right now my self-esteem is shit. As I try to re-enter the workforce at 41, I feel old and very unwanted. And unqualified. Life experience doesn’t equal a degree title and the degree titles I do have don’t apply to what I want to do with my time and energy. I don’t have an employer to pay for my master’s degree or a live-in partner who could support me if I went back to school. My ex had both of these, and even with me to support her, I know how much work she put into getting a second degree.
So I search for limited options while living in a room in a house I no longer own but still contribute to to make it run. Jobs are frozen because of COVID-19, but I feel frozen too. Making plans feels like making jokes because so much is uncertain: school, travel, work, and time. No one knows how long any of this will last. Finding independence means being dependent on the outcome of a pandemic. I never planned on a divorce, and I sure as hell never planned on a virus ripping away options and hope as I began to build a new life.
Every day I look at job boards, and I have applied to several positions, but I have yet to hear anything about them. I can’t collect unemployment because I am making more this year than I did last year even with COVID-19, despite the limitations of COVID-19. And I am keeping my fingers crossed that my kids can return to school in a safe way that allows me to continue working the jobs I do have. Finding financial independence in the middle of a pandemic has felt like satire. I can only hope to some day be able to laugh at the humor of it all.