I Was The Default Stay At Home Parent — Now I Need To Be Financially Independent

by Amber Leventry
Amber Leventry is a queer, nonbinary writer and advocate. They live in Vermont and have three kids, including twins and a transgender daughter. Amber’s writing appears in many publications including Romper, Grown and Flown, Longreads, The Temper, The Washington Post, and Parents Magazine. They are a staff writer for Scary Mommy and LittleThings. They also run Family Rhetoric by Amber Leventry, a Facebook page devoted to advocating for LGBTQIA+ families one story at a time. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

I am 41, have been separated from my ex for almost two years, and was supposed to be in my own house by now.

But I am still living in the spare bedroom of the house my ex and I bought together years ago. I have always earned less than my ex and when we had kids together, my role shifted to that of the stay at home parent because it seemed to make more financial sense for me to drop my career than to pay for day care for three kids.

I became the default parent who kept a schedule flexible enough to take care of babies, chaperone field trips, and run errands.

My job in the home was valuable, but it didn’t come with a paycheck. When I was a stay at home parent, my earning potential decreased and I became fully dependent on my ex for money and health insurance. The decision to end my marriage meant I also had to remove these layers of security. I am excited to carve my own path, but becoming financially independent after a divorce — even an amicable one — is terrifying and, thanks to the pandemic, is starting to feel impossible.

My ex-partner and I have three kids together and they deserve as much stability as possible. Because I still live in the house my kids call home, I am happy to maintain and run the house as if a divorce never happened. This is getting harder as hybrid school schedules collide with the hustle I am doing to pick up more gig work. My self-employed status makes me a risky borrower according to the bank, so I am also applying to the limited options of jobs that would let me wave a W-2 at a lender.

Finding a job in the middle of a pandemic after being self-employed for over 10 years is like finding a Democrat who approves of Trump. The pickings are slim and I feel too old to start over. But I want a space that is just mine. I want my ex and I to find closure on what was a 20-year relationship so we can create a different one. I want all of us to settle into a new normal even if I have to fight my way through barriers of uncertainty.

My ex and I co-parent well and will always need each other to juggle the busy schedule of three kids in sports and other extracurricular activities. COVID-19 has slowed down so many components of our life; my ability to search for houses has stopped altogether. Renting is more expensive than a monthly mortgage payment, so that option seems out of reach, too.

I have a brand new appreciation for low-income earners and single parents. Even though I grew up in poverty and will always fight for equity, I have had the privilege of financial security for half of my life. I am better off than my own parents, but the fear of not being able to provide for my kids and myself is stirring up old fears and anxiety about a new reality.

My kids know I will be moving out and have expressed excitement about the idea of a second bedroom and new spaces to decorate. But they also mourn the thought of no longer having both of their parents under the same roof. I mourn pieces of the separation, too, yet I long to move on and out. I have given all of us the space for these feelings and encouraged my kids to hold onto two ideas, two opposing truths at once, because that seems to be the only thing we can count on right now.

I am incredibly thankful my ex and I are on good terms. I’m grateful that I’m in a safe home with all I need and more. I am privileged to be able to save some money while I look for a job. I recognize I have a safety net while I work my butt off to create a new one that isn’t dependent on marriage to another person. I want to feel the risk of jumping without the guarantee of a soft landing.

I’m also immobilized by fear. I feel free and stuck at the same time. The pandemic has dumped roadblocks on my path to independence, and I am living in a type of purgatory that is like running on a treadmill. I will continue to run, sweat, and accumulate miles without going anywhere because I need to believe that hard work will pay off even if I can’t see the rewards yet.