Re-entering the work world after being stay-at-home mom for 7 years

Whoa, it’s been a crazy overwhelming couple of weeks, and I’ve struggled to find a moment to breathe let alone write. There has been so much change, so many emotions and stress. Every new season in life comes with both ups and downs, right?

A new season in life

I’ve known the day of me returning to work was around the corner, but it’s been a huge struggle to get all of the pieces needed to make that happen come together. If you’ve been following my story, you will know that when I left my abusive marriage last April, my ex who had been controlling me financially cut me off completely and I’ve been left without a bank account, a car and starting completely over with my 2 boys. It’s been almost 8 months without any child support with not much change in hope legally (I’ll save that for another post). Without money saved for childcare for my youngest and a car, it’s been very overwhelming trying to figure out a new career after staying home for so long.

An opportunity came up a couple weeks ago for a 12-week interim second grade teaching position and with good pay and school hours, I knew I had to at least apply for the job. I taught for 6 years in Florida, but that was 11 years ago, before kids, so the thought of returning to the classroom came with many mixed emotions. I liked teaching at a time, but I always thought when I was teaching that it would be a struggle to give my all, all day long to other people’s kids and then come home and still have enough patience leftover to be fully present for my own. Since making the big move and thinking about what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, I’ve thought about teaching a lot. As a single mom I want to be with my boys as much as possible. The hours of teaching would be ideal, to be home after school, to be off when my son is on vacation. However, with a single income and starting from scratch, the pay is not so ideal. It saddens me how underpaid our teachers here are. I had looked into being a TA a few months ago and you could make more money working at Starbucks then being a teacher’s assistance. I was running my thoughts by a dear friend, and I mentioned that I felt that maybe a 12-week teaching position would allow me time to figure out if teaching is where my heart is at. She told me that she thought that was amazing mindset to have with taking the job. Well, I interviewed on a Thursday and was offered the job on the spot and started teaching the following Tuesday and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.

Sadness of dropping my youngest off at daycare for the first time

I really struggled with the thought of leaving my newly 2-year-old, like really struggled. I don’t know why this is so hard for me. So many moms go back to work almost 2 years earlier then I am. But everyone’s journey is so different, everyone’s journey through motherhood is their own. I have a newfound respect for all those working moms out there, as the new juggle I’ve been challenged with has been very overwhelming. I always imagined that I would be with my boys until they were in school. I truly love being a stay-at-home mom and I feel like I’m good at it. Growing up, I never felt like I was truly great at something. I did great in school, but I had to work my butt off. I was an athlete, but never a star, and I just never found like I found my niche in life, until I became a mom. Being a mom has brought me so much sense of self-worth and as challenging as it is, I just love raising my boys. I feel like they are becoming pretty amazing humans and I’d like to think I have something to do with that. I had so much one on one time with my oldest before my youngest was born. And although in a perfect world I would have had them much closer together in age, I found happiness that now that my oldest was in school that I was also going to get that one-on-one time with my youngest. I didn’t think I would be going back to work so soon, and it’s been hard to process the emotions of feeling like I’m going to miss out on so much. I’m used to being there for all of it, the good and the bad. When I dropped him off on day one, he went right in happy to play with all the new toys and didn’t even notice that I left. I sat in my car, and I cried. I knew he would be ok; I knew I would be so busy with my 22 second graders to dwell too much, but it was such a huge first for the both of us. I’m incredibly thankful that a girl I grew up withs mom lives a few houses down and has had her own at home daycare since we were kids. I found comfort in dropping him off somewhere I had spent a lot of time at as a kid. I’m also incredibly thankful that my mom who we live with is watching him 3 days of the week, so it’s made this transition a lot easier to ease into. Other than being sick after one day of day care and refusing to nap there, he’s having a wonderful time making new friends and that makes the sting of not being with him hurt a little less.

Back in the classroom after 11 years

I was so nervous coming into a classroom this far into the year, not having any idea of the curriculum, and not teaching in oh so many years. My first day I got to the school, grabbed my badge and was immediately told that I had an hour-long IEP meeting for one of my students. Surprise! Nothing like a curve ball on the first day. The first day was A LOT and I was feeling by the end of day one that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. I missed my boys. I was exhausted. I got up at 5 and still didn’t seem to have enough time to get all that I needed to do. I didn’t feel like I accomplished anything, and I was feeling pretty down. But I reminded myself to allow myself some grace. This is new, this is so much change, it’s day one. I reminded myself to be patient and that tomorrow would be better. Each day would be a little better and become a little easier…and it did. By day three my teaching days started to come back. I navigated away from the busy work sub plans and decided to actually teach a lesson and I quickly was reminded that I can do this. I was a good teacher once upon a time, I’m good with kids, my boys will be ok, and we can do this. I’m still overwhelmed and I’m now sick with a nasty head cold after only a week and a half of school, but I’m confident that I can do this.

One step closer to independence

When I was offered the job, I knew other than childcare there was still a difficult piece of the puzzle to figure out. I had to turn in my leased vehicle when we left because he stopped paying my bills, so my mom and I have been sharing a car. Worked out fine for a while, but it’s been such a struggle at times and with accepting this job and knowing she would be watching my youngest, we both knew getting me a car was a necessity. I’ve been fighting legally to get access to some of the proceeds of our home that is tied up in a trust fund for a car with little luck so far. When I got this job, I knew that after 12 weeks I would have enough money for a used car, so my mom offered to loan me the money upfront. When I drove off the lot in my new car, I felt like I had taken one more step away from my ex’s grasp. One of my best friends texted me and said, “No one can take this from you. You don’t have to worry about him holding this over you, threatening to stop paying the payment. This is yours and he can’t take it from you.” And she was right. He’s taken so much from me, and my boys and he could not take this. This was mine and I’m doing it all without him. And that brought me so much joy. It’s one step closer to my independence. I’m reminding myself every day that as much as he tried to make me feel as though I needed him, in his words exactly, “you could never survive the real world without me”, I don’t need him. Not only do I not need him, but we are so much happier without him in our lives. I’m regaining my independence and my inner strength little by little each and every day.

Road to healing: Finding joy in the small moments

I’ve been feeling in a funk these days, my life feels like it is in such limbo. Nothing is happening on the legal front which is beyond frustrating and trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life outside of being a mom is so overwhelming. I’ve been trying to be intentional about finding something that brings me joy and peace each week.

Date night with my boys

In Florida before life went spiraling out of control, I loved taking my boys on lunch dates, either solo or with my amazing mom friends. On the rare occasion I had someone to watch my youngest, taking my oldest out do dinner just the two of us was always such an amazing time. Since being in MA we haven’t done that once. I’ve been trying not to spend any money other than on necessities and things for my boys. But lately, I’ve been feeling so much like I don’t have much of a life here. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve reconnected with so many people I grew up, have my family close by and have so many people in my corner, cheering me on. But I had a life I built for 18 years in Florida, relationships that I invested in. I miss my friends in Florida. Outside of my ex I just miss my normal every day-to-day life that I had with friends and neighbors back home. So, while my mom was out of town this week (her and I usually eat dinner together) I decided to take the boys on a dinner date after my son’s taekwondo. Now to be completely honest I knew this was going to go one of two ways depending on my almost 2-year-old. We would either have a lovely dinner as a family of 3, or I would be drinking my glass of wine in a rush and asking for my meal to go and running out of there as fast as could be. 😉

I don’t know if the universe sensed my need for a peaceful night with my boys, or if my little guys were as excited for this night out as much as I was, but we had the most peaceful dinner out. I was so proud of both my boys. My toddler actually sat in his highchair, had zero meltdowns, and seemed very focused on his big plate of food. And my oldest ate every last bite of his dinner and had amazing conversation with me about his day. It was in this moment that I was reminded, “I can do this. My crew and I got this. As long as we have each other, we’ll be ok.”

Emotional abuse: No longer under his control

I’m starting to realize how freeing it is to be able to do what I want without constantly wondering if it’s going to make my spouse upset. I feel like I’ve been living my life walking on eggshells the past 5 years, constantly questioning my decisions, asking myself if I do this is it going to create a battle at home. I always valued family meals, sitting down with either my spouse at night, or as a family for dinner was always a priority to me. I always made this clear with my ex and there was a time many years ago where he prioritized that too. But when mental illness and alcohol took over, I found myself either eating alone each night, or cooking a nice family dinner for me and my oldest son. It broke my heart daily as my son would always say, “I want Daddy to eat with us.” I would constantly make excuses for him, as I was very careful always as to not speak badly about his dad. But it was so hard. It made me so angry that he was not valuing this time, that he was MIA doing who knows what, yet would constantly complain that he never saw his kids. Yet there were so many times where I wouldn’t plan a meal and would take the boys out to meet with friends and that would be the one night he decided to come home on time without any communication per usual and I would be made to feel so guilty. Or be told, “It must be so nice to have fun with friends.” I tried so hard to communicate, to let him know our plans, to invite him, to make him feel included, but it never mattered, I was always in the wrong. Emotional abuse is so hard and so tricky to navigate. Just because you don’t have bruises on you, it doesn’t mean it’s not real. I actually think it’s this kind of abuse that’s most tricky to heal from. I’m slowly realizing just how much control he had over me and I’m slowly breaking free and finding peace in the fact that I can choose to do what makes us happy and not worry about how it’s going to affect someone else. It’s such a small thing, but it’s also HUGE. It’s no longer all about him. It’s about what makes ME happy, and my boys happy too.

So, this dinner with my boys, it was a moment of clarity for me, and it was just what the three of us needed. It brought me joy, it brought my boys joy, and I need to make things like this happen more often. Trying to let go of those things I can’t control and let these peaceful moments with my crew carry me through.

Financial abuse: Getting out and resources available to victims of domestic abuse

So let me begin by saying, if you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, and financial abuse is part of that equation, it is extremely hard to find your way out. I stayed far too long in my marriage for this reason. If you have a friend or loved one that is in a toxic marriage, and you often find yourself wondering why she/he is still there, I ask you to remind yourself that you can’t possibly know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes unless you’ve walked in them yourself. Financial abuse is one of the most powerful methods of a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship and makes it extremely difficult for she/he to financially survive after leaving an abusive relationship.

surviving domestic abuse

Signs of financial abuse

These are some of the tell-tale signs of financial abuse: Putting you on an allowance, not having your name on the bank accounts, getting angry at you for spending money on yourself, hiding money, spending tons of your marital money without consulting you, giving you only just enough money to buy what you needed (example grocery money for the week). If you feel like monetarily your spouse or significant other is treating you like a child you are most likely being abused. I tried for years, even brought it up in therapy, to get my names on our bank accounts, but he always had an excuse. He was self-employed. He didn’t want my name attached to the business in case something happened. He didn’t think I could handle the monthly cash flow. I never knew how much money we had in the bank, or where our money was being spent. We were living a very comfortable life, with lots of privileges so many don’t have, and then we had nothing. It was always so unsettling to me. It comes down to control. He/they, they want control.

Leaving

When I was forced to leave my home with my boys almost 6 months ago, I had nothing. My name wasn’t on the bank accounts, and even if they were, my ex had depleted most our funds during his downward spiral the last couple years. Furthermore, my ex tanked my credit the last time I tried to leave by telling his office manager to stop paying all bills in my name. Thankfully I had amazing friends who helped me sell personal belongings and furniture and gracious friends donated cash on hand for me and my boys to temporarily live on. It saddens me that it took a night with the police involved to finally find my way out. But my home, my neighbors, my friends, a life I built for 15 years, it’s so hard to leave all that behind. I won’t lie, it was extremely sad selling all my things. If you are forced to do this, I recommend asking a friend to help you. Have them just do it for you, it helps it sting a little less.

Resources for domestic violence victims

When I moved to MA, I was very fortunate to have my mom’s house to move into. Although not my first choice I know so many aren’t as fortunate as I to have a family member to turn to. If you have nowhere else to go, I recommend calling your local Hubbard house. If you are not sure where, who to talk to, call your local DV line. I did meet with the local Hubbard house, but after discussing my situation as a whole they agreed that relocating to another state since I had family to stay with was the best option for me and my boys. If you are in a situation where you have nowhere to go, call your local domestic violence hotline. They can tell you what your options are. Furthermore, if you are in a relationship where there is a history of violence, you can get an injunction against domestic violence and be granted full use of the home. You can have them legally kicked out. I have an injunction in place. This was the first thing I did after the incident. You can either file it online or go to your local courthouse and ask for the DV room. However, our home had been destroyed during his violent rages and it was no longer secure and safe for me and my boys, so staying there really wasn’t an option. You have options to stay if that is what you want. Document, document, document. Keep a log, nothing to little is not worthy of writing down. And lastly, and this is one that was incredibly hard for me to do at first, until it wasn’t, do not hesitate to call the police. You need to put your abuse on record. I know it’s hard; To call the police on someone you once loved, maybe still do, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Since being in MA, we have received zero support or access to assets, accounts in almost 6 months. I have a lawyer, and she is diligently working on this, but it is absolutely mind blowing that it takes this long legally for a woman and mom in my shoes to be granted rights to assets and funds. It’s been extremely frustrating, and I’ve been forced to take advantage of aid I never imagined having to use in my life. I still feel like there should be more resources for woman in my shoes. I want so badly to start over, to earn a living, to build a stable life for my children, but it’s so hard to even know where to begin without a car and money saved for childcare.

In MA they have what’s called DTA, Department of Transitional Assistance. And this is the place to qualify for food stamps, cash assistance, and daycare vouchers. I’m not sure what it’s referred to in each state, but if you call your local domestic violence hotline, they can give you the numbers to call for all of this. At first, I felt so ashamed, I was embarrassed to have to ask for help. But without a car (he stopped paying my bills so had to turn that in) and having been a stay-at-home mom for 7 years and have a little one not in school yet, and no money yet saved for childcare, finding a job has felt near impossible. Friends and family have reminded me that these resources are there for a reason, they are there for people that truly need help, to help people get out of a bad situation. So, if you are trying to find your way out, let me tell you, it’s not a time for pride, accept all the help you can. If a friend wants to give you money, take it. If a family member wants to take you in, go. If a family member wants to get you a lawyer, do not hesitate. People that love you want to help you. And if you aren’t as fortunate as I am, reach out to your local resources. If you are here in MA, feel free to send me an email and I can point you in the right direction. If you aren’t in MA, I can still help you know where to look. It’s not easy, it’s so hard, but there are resources available, don’t hesitate to use them.

Lastly, I’m going to be 100% honest. I was petrified to leave. I kept trying to create a plan. I kept telling myself I need to find a way to save money first, I need to leave when there is more money, I needed him to keep paying my bills to restore my credit. None of that happened. I told myself that I could just live my life with our friends and neighbors and ignore him. It was no way to live. I was living a lie and I was living a life walking on eggshells in my own home. My boys did not have a happy mom at home. I was petrified to leave, but I was even more petrified to stay. If you want out, just get out. You will figure it out, people will help you in your time of need. You deserve so much more. And when you leave, you will feel FREE.

Gaslighting from afar

Have you ever been hurt by someone physically or emotionally and then awake the next day to them pretending or denying it ever happened? Have you found yourself questioning your own reality? It makes you feel crazy when someone can blatantly deny they’ve hurt you. Welcome to the horrible world of gaslighting. And if any of this sounds familiar, I’m so sorry you are dealing with this too. 

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which someone makes you question your own reality. It happens when an abuser tries to control a victim by twisting their sense of reality, aka, doing something horrible to you and then telling you that was not the way it happened.

Gaslighting red flags

Being a victim of gaslighting has been my entire world the past 5 years. And if I was to look back at the entire course of my 17-year relationship, I could probably find signs of it along, which was then exacerbated by substance abuse and mental illness. I constantly felt like I was walking on eggshells. And when we had a fight, which became more often than not, he would completely disregard my feelings, and find a way to make me feel guilty, as though I was somehow to blame. He was always playing the victim in all aspects of his life. 

When I finally worked up the courage to leave 5 months ago with my boys for good, I thought I was finally breaking free from the hurt, from the constant manipulation. I thought I was finally breaking the cycle. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and he is still finding ways indirectly to hurt us.

Even without contact, he is still finding ways to try and manipulate me. From harassing those that have helped me and my boys in our times of need, to slandering my name to family and friends, the distance between us somehow hasn’t ended the hurt. It amazes me, that even though his family has seen firsthand his violence, his sickness, that they are still not only enabling him but believing his lies. Lies that are not only hurting me, but substantially affecting the financial future of their grandchildren. 

It has been a hard month and so many of the bad choices he’s made are directly impacting the life of me and my boys. It’s disturbing how even though you are the victim you still can be left feeling like you are the one being punished. It wasn’t until I was chatting with a dear friend of mine who has also been a victim of abuse that I realized that his family is gaslighting me too. My friend made a significant point, that he was probably brought up with parents that used this manipulation and that is probably where he learned it. 

That right there was another reminder of how important it is that I got my boys away from him, the reason why I’m fighting with all my power to not let him near us until he gets the help he needs. Another friend keeps reminding me, I’m in the HARD part right now. Leaving is only the first step. Now is when the real healing begins. I’m trying to allow myself to be angry, but I’m also trying really hard to let go of those things I can’t control. One of my best friends gave me a necessary kick in the butt and said to me,

“Just keep looking forward Ashleigh. There are a lot of what if’s, just focus your energy on moving forward. He has not ruined you.” 

And that is exactly what I’m going to continue to try and do. They can continue to try and beat me down, I will overcome. I know the truth. 

  

Domestic Violence and My Story

This is a huge topic, with so many different layers. Experiencing abuse, whether it be verbal, emotional, sexual, financial, or physical, is something that no one ever imagines will be part of their story. At least I didn’t. Never in a million years did I think I’d be sitting here telling you all that I am a victim of domestic abuse. But I am, and I wish I had known five years ago that I was not alone. 

This is a hard part of my story to talk about, but I feel like it’s worth sharing.  I’m still very much in the beginning stages of my healing. I’m not a doctor, or a therapist, but I have experiences that I’ve been through, lessons that I’ve learned, and feel I may be able to help someone else out there that’s been living in my shoes. 

I’ll be talking about many different facets of abuse:

  • Narcissistic abuse
  • Gaslighting
  • Living with alcoholism and mental illness
  • Why I stayed so long, and what I wish I had done differently. 
  • Resources that are available to those of you in need. 
  • Protecting your kids from abuse

It is possible to get out of a horrible situation. It’s not easy, and I’m still in the hard part, but if you are feeling scared, or alone, I’m here for you. You are worth fighting for. 

Stay tuned, I have a lot to process, and a lot to share. 

divorce