Identity Crisis

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Vindhya Chari

As a professional who left work to be at home when my second child was born, I have had a year and a half to think about what life, work and family balance mean to me.

The major stress of not working, besides real or perceived financial dependence, is my loss of identity. I always defined myself by my role at work. The first couple of months I stayed home, I faltered when introducing myself. It was surprisingly difficult to say that I was staying home. I usually embellished it by saying "I am taking a break for a couple of months" or "I am looking to get back soon." I experienced a constant feeling that I should be doing something more and fear about being unemployable in the future.

My identity loss was not society's definition of me as a working mom or stay-at-home one. It was my own mental image of myself that I lost. I had always seen myself as a busy, successful professional, my ambition influenced by my mother's high-profile career as a banker. Before having children, I completed a bachelor's degree with honors and moved to the United States from my native India to pursue a master's degree. At home with my children, without a career, I didn't know who I was anymore.

The obvious, wonderful plus to not working was that I have spent more time with my kids and family. When I was working I would save up enough vacation to make a short trip back to India as often as possible. Once I stopped wor -- for the first time in 10 years -- I spent two months at home with my extended family. Living with my parents again was a luxury. They were happy to pamper my children and me endlessly with favorite foods and attention. I relaxed with my family, at home without having to run a household. A number of elders had passed away, cousins had married, and many relatives had school-aged kids I had never seen. It was joyous to meet, to talk and to revel in all that had changed in so many years. I was so happy that my circle of relatives could get to know my children. Of course they exclaimed "you were just like that when you were little," which delighted me.

Staying home has meant both gaining and losing my "identity." What about you?


Vindhya Chari lives in Louisville with her husband and two children, ages five and two.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  April 1, 2008; 7:10 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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This hits home for me, because I went through a similar period when we moved and had our first baby, and I was left telecommuting part-time from halfway across the country. It wasn't that I'd always dreamed about being a partner in a law firm -- it was more that I had always assumed I'd have a career, so I had never given any thought to what it might mean not to.

I don't think you can underestimate the impact of the distance from family in this. One of the big issues I dealt with was arriving in a new place where everyone knew me as "X's mom" or "Y's wife." No one knew me as just Laura. If we had been at home, and I had been surrounded by my family and friends, I suspect the transition would have been a lot easier -- if I had felt like I was losing who I was, I would at least have had a lot of people to remind me!

Posted by: laura33 | April 1, 2008 7:54 AM

well written and I've been there myself...Ironically, when I stopped defining myself by my job, I learned to define myself by who I am to myself. All in all, it was a growth experience, though it didn't feel good at the time.

!!!! NOTE to Leslie: wapo is making it difficult to get to today's blog. I got here by going to yesterday's blog and clicking on recent posts...top one was today's blog entry. Any other way just gets a blank page (meaning blog.washingtonpost.com/onbalance is blank)

Posted by: dotted_1 | April 1, 2008 10:43 AM

I definitely can relate to this. I just left my job in February after the birth of my 2nd child. I too have a hard time saying that I no longer work and am a stay at home mom. After earning my master's in London, I always assumed I'd be the ultimate "career woman"--whatever that means. I am happy to be home though--last time I went back to work, I got sick at the thought of leaving my son at daycare. He was fine of course, but now I'm happy to have them both here with me at home. I'm sure I'll find my balance over the next year.

Posted by: andrea.wehbe | April 1, 2008 10:48 AM

Dotted, I wholeheartedly agree with you. There is great danger in defining oneself by external measures, many of which derive from how others perceive you. Men and women both need to make sure they know who they are at their core. I think this is a very American phenomenon which leads to a lot of unhappiness. My grandfather was always an advocate of spending money on education because "no one can ever take away what is in your head", I'd say the same applies to finding your true self and owning it. Once you know truly who you are, no one can ever take that away from you.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 1, 2008 11:18 AM

Thanks, Dotted -- and thanks to everyone for their patience today. Today's Guest Blog will run tomorrow as well to make sure everyone has a chance to comment and the Guest Blogger gets her due!

Posted by: leslie4 | April 1, 2008 11:19 AM

This is OT but I would like some help from other people who are out there who have a spouse that pays child support or otherwise supports their other family.

My husband pays about 77% of his take home pay to child support. This is a private arrangement that was agreed to when he was making about 25% more. Child support was not supposed to be more than 50% of his take home pay. On top of the money that he pays in child support, we also support the mother by driving her back and forth to work (to the tune of about 150$+ worth of gas in a month), we also paid her security deposit among other things and are now looking at paying 100s of dollars in dental bills for the kids for which she has yet to offer to pay a single dime. I guess what I am trying to say is that all of his pay cheque and some of mine is being spent on his children. This has been happening since she arrived in this country.

I have been getting resentful that I am working 2 jobs (60 hours a week) and watching the income from my second job head to the other family as well as getting absolutely no help with paying the bills that our own household creates. And just so people know... this was definitely not the case when we got married. He spent about 1/3 of HIS income on the kids and I thought was reasonable. I even thought 50% was basically reasonable although probably fairly generous.

Because I thought this was outrageously lopsided, I spoke to my husband about this. I asked if Kelly was going to contribute any money towards the dental bills that have cropped up this month (200+ and counting). I also suggested that given that she has a job and is getting more self-sufficient that we should start to cut back on the money we give her. I suggested that we cut her child support by a mere 25$ a month. I also recommended that he look a whole lot harder for a better paying job if he wanted us to stay financially solvent.

My husband spoke to the ex. I have no idea what was said but the ex is not speaking to me. Lets just say the drive from her house to her job was absolutely silent and more than a tad uncomfortable.

My questions are.... am I being unreasonable to expect my husband to contribute to our household? Would any of you be ok with your spouse giving their entire salary to their prior family? Would any of you also give part of your salary to the prior family? Would any of you expand your end of day commute from 30 minutes to 90 minutes 3 days a week to drive their ex to work?

Kelly seems to think I am some big, bad ogre for thinking that the support arrangements are a little lopsided and wanting to slowly correct it. I am a little pissed at her attitude because I don't think she would get the same help or understanding if my husband happened to be married to some other person. Are other spouses this accommodating to the prior family?

I would prefer not to go down the path that I married him so I should have expected this. I have never heard of a prior family taking all of a spouse's income and the new partner's income as well. I have no problems with giving a reasonable amount of money to the prior family - it is his obligation... but I am having a hard time thinking about all of his income and a chunk of mine is reasonable.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 1, 2008 12:10 PM

If you define yourself by your job, what do you do when your job ends? Suppose that you've got a graduate degree in industrial engineering, and you've run a plant for years and been the best you can be. And then your huge multinational employer decides to close your plant and move production to China. And you're unemployed for the first time in 30 years. What happens to your identity, then? Is it any different?

And throw in a kicker: suppose your ex-wife dies on your last day of work, so that now you're not just the custodial parent of your two daughters, you're the only living parent. And you're the *unemployed* parent, to boot.

Dotted, as usual, nails it. Define yourself by who you are to yourself. And to those you mean the most to, and who mean the most to you. You're not "the guy who produces every drill bit and router bit that Lowe's and Home Depot sell"; you're "Dad".

(Posted in honor of my brother, whose last day of work was Monday - which was the same day his ex-wife succumbed to liver cancer at 46.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | April 1, 2008 12:15 PM

Army Brat, my sympathies to your brother and his family. I assume the extended Army Brat family is reaching out to him with their love, help and moral support at this trying time.

Posted by: mehitabel | April 1, 2008 12:21 PM

Wow, this post and the comments from Dotted and others have really been insightful. I know I'm pretty caught up in my career identity, although I do feel there is much more to my identity than that. I would have a hard time stopping work, but if for some reason I had to (or could!), I'd probably start a new identity as a committed volunteer and mom.

As ArmyBrat pointed out, this issue is also very relevant to folks who find themselves suddenly out of work late in their careers, like my dad who got downsized by a buyout in his late 50s and was never able to find a new place in the corporate world. He has since found other things to do, and seems to have emerged from the confusion of not knowing where he fit in or what to do now that he wasn't in corporate finance anymore. But it was pretty rough there for a couple of years.

Posted by: chescokate | April 1, 2008 12:47 PM

I think living far from relatives can be very stressful. My family lives across the country, and it was a big deal to go and visit. It's not inexpensive so it always seemed like it would be nice to go and stay awhile.

As the years have gone by and those little children have grown up I'm glad that I took some time to go and visit "for awhile."

I was fortunate that I didn't have to outright quit my job, and I certainly am glad I had the time instead of whatever stupid thing I would have bought with the income I passed up.

Posted by: RedBird27 | April 1, 2008 12:51 PM

ArmyBrat: I'm so sorry to hear about all of that.

As for the job thing - when I was a SAHM - that's what I told people. I am a lady of leisure (even put the job title - MOM on my linked in!).

It was ASTONISHING to me that others, who always seemed resentful of working (before husband and kids) and who told me how they could never imagine taking one second to consider going back to work after having a baby - and would be kind of judgemental to those who did - THOSE are the people who, when they don't see someone for many years, emphasize the part time job that they have, and how important that is, etc. Or those are the people who put up some fancy title on their linked in pages, etc.

I mean, really - agreed with those above who indicate that your job can't be your LIFE (okay, unless you're bill gates or ted turner or something). Then you are totally dependent on someone else for your identity (cause unless you own the company, you don't own the job).

Two weeks and two days - counting down til *I* can be back to being a lady of leisure!!!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 1, 2008 12:51 PM

Reading all this, I got a kind of crazy image in my head of a person somehow saying to his job "You . . . complete me".

I agree with Dotted. You shouldn't let yourself be defined by your job. Too hard to "think outside the box" if you are defined too narrowly, and then you miss an awful lot of fun.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 1, 2008 12:52 PM

Wow.

ArmyBrat, I'm so sorry for your brother's, and his daughters' losses.

Posted by: mn.188 | April 1, 2008 12:56 PM

ArmyBrat: my sympathies to your brother.

Billie: NO, your situation is NOT in any way normal. Many exes don't personally interact with the new wife EVER. You've said before that you like her and value the friendship you have with her. Here's my point: couldn't you pay someone to pretend to be your friend for FAR less than you're paying this woman?!

Your situation is the strangest I've heard of, to be frank. Take the woman to court, agree to what the court decides is fair based on income, and give her not one cent more. Stop commuting with her, particularly if it's out of her way. She's going to struggle sometimes; that's what adults do! But it is NOT your job to continually bail her out of every hardship.

If the kids don't have insurance, they need to go to the public clinic, paid for by taxpayer dollars. (I don't know how that works on the dental side, but there should be a program.) She might need welfare or food stamps. All of these are perfectly fine while she figures out how to stand on her own two feet.

But currently, she has the benefit of BOTH a husband AND a wife supporting her. Why would she ever agree to a change?! It's going to have to be forced upon her. YOU shouldn't do the forcing; the legal system should determine a fair, equitable solution for all of you.

Posted by: newslinks1 | April 1, 2008 1:07 PM

I have no problems with giving a reasonable amount of money to the prior family - it is his obligation... but I am having a hard time thinking about all of his income and a chunk of mine is reasonable.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 1, 2008 12:10 PM

Billie, If you want to resolve this, you need to petition the court that signed the child support order to reconsider the amount due to a change in circumstances. You cannot simply make an agreement with your spouse's ex, or unilaterally decrease the amount based on what makes sense to you. Or, at least, you can't if you want to avoid violating an order of the court. If you can afford an attorney's assistance, I'd recommend you avail yourself of that option because the outcome is generally more favorable and more efficient. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: mn.188 | April 1, 2008 1:07 PM

ArmyBrat, my sympathies to your brother's family.
Billie: You know what I think. I would go to court and change the child support payments. But I would also reconsider the type of marriage you are in. Your husband should be standing up for his rights and your rights as a couple.
For todays news: I have never had that problem because except for a brief maternity leave, I have always worked outside the home. But I wonder if it is like that when the kids leave home. Right now at day care, school, and the neighborhood, I am known as K's mom. So I wonder if parents loose a part of their indentity when the kids go off to college or move out. But overall, I would say let your occupation be a part of you but not all of you. And let yourself be an ever evolving persons. Who you were 5 years ago, doesn't have to completely define yourself today. I think retirees often have an indentity crisis when the cease working (whether voluntarily cease employment or forced out).

Posted by: foamgnome | April 1, 2008 1:21 PM

ArmyBrat: All the best to your brother. As my mom used to say... It never rains but it pours. I am sure with the support of his extended family, he will rise above these challenges.

To all those that say go to court:
This is not court ordered support. The courts have never been involved to my knowledge. The amount of support paid is a private arrangement agreed to by them. When they changed the amount in December to take into account the cost of living in US vs their country, I had input into what would be considered a reasonable amount based on his income at THAT time. So... in this case, the amount is flexible. Even when he quit his job shortly after that... I still went ahead with the original payment to help her out. But now that she had a job and is getting on her feet... I feel we need to adjust what is becoming a very lopsided financial relationship. I am a little confused as to why my husband doesn't feel it is lopsided. You could have hit the nail on the head, foamgnome.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 1, 2008 1:55 PM

Sorry if this posts twice..

Billie R, forgive me, but your story is confusing. Where were you husband and his ex married, and where were they divorced? When did each of them come here? What's the custody arrangment? Is there a court order on the divorce, custody and/or support from another country?

I second MN's suggestion to see a lawyer, regardless of the fact that there is no order from a court in this country right now. I would think that their rights and obligations are still subject to court review; and a good lawyer working with full information will give you much better (and by the sound of it, much needed) advice.

Posted by: LizaBean | April 1, 2008 2:08 PM

I can strongly relate to today's post. I have been a stay at home mom for two and a half years. During this time I have struggled a great deal with my identity. Previously I owned my own business and traveled extensively. Even though I knew I was giving that life up when I married and had children, I wasn't expecting the intense emotions of grief and loss when I gave up my work. Even though I continued consulting part-time and started a non-profit organization, I just hadn't realized beforehand how much of "me" was wrapped up in my career. While the past several years have been trying, I am learning to see who I really am outside of work and outside of being a wife and mother. Now that new understanding will be tested when I return to work full-time in two weeks. I am sure there will be a whole new set of challenges and identity issues to resolve as a working mom, but at least this time I am confident that I am not defined by my work or my family, but am a strong woman who will be able to take on whatever role I need to without losing myself.

Posted by: juliemartinez5 | April 1, 2008 2:23 PM

Army Brat, sympathies for your family. I have an idea that you will take the lead of stepping up to the plate and doing what you can to to give your nieces the support they need to live a successful life.

On topic: Loss of identy? Ha! I *Gained* my identity when I lost my vision. Let me tell you, it kinda sucks going through life being defined by others by your greatest weakness, but it's something that us handicappers just have to accept. Looking on the bright side though, not everybody treats me like a freak of nature, and that's something to be thankful for.

Posted by: DandyLion | April 1, 2008 2:34 PM

ArmyBrat and family -- That is so sad. What to say? Thank god they had each other for so long. But that also makes the loss much harder.

Posted by: leslie4 | April 1, 2008 2:38 PM

And DandyLion, once again your view is a wise one. Thanks --

Posted by: leslie4 | April 1, 2008 2:39 PM

Well as usual I would say this is something to seriously consider and evaluate before the choice to have a child/leave you job. However, no matter how well one KNOWS that this new identity is right for them, it takes time and experience to really settle into it.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | April 1, 2008 2:41 PM

Billie-R: I'm not a lawyer. But you need to see a lawyer like yesterday. Informal agreements may not hold up in court. It will only get worse the longer you wait. You need a lawyer who understands the legalities on your county and state, plus will look at the totality. I'm not saying fight, I'm saying make it right. And make it clear. It is best for everyone in the long run if rights and responsibilities are made crystal clear. It removes the current emotional blackmail situation you are currently enduring too! Newslinks said it best: The ex currently has a husband and a wife. That is just not good...not good at all.

ArmyBrat: My condolences to you and your family. I'm sad about this and I wish there was something I could 'virtually' do to help.

Posted by: dotted_1 | April 1, 2008 2:55 PM

LizaBean,

They never got married. He arrived here several years ago and sent back money to support them. When we got married, I didn't have a problem with him sending them 1/3 of his salary. There were never any 'extras' paid for except for Christmas/birthday. I didn't even have a problem with him supporting her because the amount was reasonable enough that it didn't matter who he was supporting. When we found out that she got a visa in the visa lottery, it was agreed that she would be working and we would increase the child support as it was more expensive to live here. We chose what I thought was a reasonable amount although a fairly generous portion of his salary at THAT time.

I am more asking these questions to determine if I am being unreasonable as opposed to trying to find out what is reasonable. I am fairly certain I am not being unreasonable but if I am... then I need to change my mindset. If I am reasonable... then I guess I am looking for reassurance that I am not some big, bad ogre for wanting to equalize this inequality.

I don't know what my husband said to the ex but apparently I am being blamed for whatever misdeed was done. I hope that he told her that this was something he was behind but maybe he didn't.

I definitely get the feeling that this relationship is going to go down the tubes. I don't feel supported by him anymore. I am in a fairly depressed state and I don't need this extra drama. I am barely hanging in as it is.

A part of me... maybe not the good part of me... would like to just say... Adios and go figure out how to support you and your other family without my help.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 1, 2008 2:59 PM

Billie_R: wow...You are not a bad ogre. Never once have I heard you say you don't want him to support his children...and I hope you don't feel that way...somehow I don't believe you do It is okay to vent here. Disengage from her to gain some emotional distance. Stop carpooling at least!

Posted by: dotted_1 | April 1, 2008 3:21 PM

Billie, wow, I guess I'd change my recommendation to seeing a counselor, together if possible and if not by yourself (and I mean that with a smile, not at all snarky or harsh). It sounds like a really difficult situation, and more than anything, it sounds like you need to decide what is workable for you. The thing about your question of reasonableness is that, as far as I know, in pretty much every state child support is figured by the courts according to a particular formula, and while it's hard for me to imagine that formula resulting in what you describe, I think that's the way most of us are used to thinking about it and it's hard to judge what's going on in your circumstance.

But given the circumstances, it seems like that's not really the question - what matters is whether you and your husband can find a way to see eye to eye and whether you can feel comfortable with your husband's approach to balancing his obligations, like foamgnome said. You don't sound like an ogre to me at all, but you do sound like you need some help getting clarity and drawing some appropriate boundaries around these relationships. I wish you the best of luck.

Posted by: LizaBean | April 1, 2008 3:44 PM

Billie, I think it would be very reasonable to be thinking about leaving this guy.

As several other posters have suggested, you really need to speak to a lawyer.

I would also suggest marriage counseling.

Posted by: Wioleta | April 1, 2008 3:50 PM

Thanks to all for the kind thoughts and words. My brother and his daughters are doing about as well as can be expected given the circumstances. (They've known both events were coming for about a year, but both on the same day was kind of cruel.)

But even though I always wanted a meaningful/successful career, I guess I never in my life thought it would completely define me. Oh sure, I've been proud to be "fast-track Fed" and "CTO of a start-up" and "go-to guy" and "engineer who solved those problems" etc. There's nothing wrong with those being PART of my identity.

But I'm also "husband" to my wife; "son" to my mother (and father before he died); "brother" to my sister and brother; "Dad" to my four kids, etc.

And I'm also "the commish" to the 600-or-so girls in the softball program I run and their families (and have been "coach" to the 300 or so kids I've coached over the years).

I've been "Professor ArmyBrat" to the 1,500 or so college students I taught over the years at various schools. Plus a bunch of other things.

And ALL of those things are part of my identity. If I lost any of them, I'd have the others. I wouldn't be happy to lose my job/career, but I could survive it. And personally, I think that they're all pretty important to a well-rounded life.

Others don't necessarily have to agree - some may never want to have kids and be "Dad" or "Mom". Others may not want a career, or a second job, or to be involved in kids' sports or whatever. More power to 'em.

But to me it's important to be well-rounded, as that definition fits you. I've known people who were "partner at Big Law Firm" or "Executive VP at Mega-Bank" and that was their whole life. Their kids were afterthoughts or trophies or whatever. Their entire persona was tied up in being "partner" and if they ever lost that they'd be emotionally destroyed. I'm sorry, but that's a bit one-dimensional to me.

So I think that this is a good guest blog, and I'm glad the writer discovered that there's more to her than whatever her job/career was.

(And as I noted, dotted summed this up perfectly earlier in far fewer words than me. I'm also "long-winded coot.")

Posted by: ArmyBrat | April 1, 2008 3:56 PM

Ditto LizaBean. Billie, you have every right to go to court here and have them order a certain amount of child support, which I can almost guarantee would be less than what you're currently paying. But a court order won't make your husband or his ex see reason -- it would just be more ammunition for them to blame you for being the ogre. It is not reasonable for your husband to expect to spend all of his money and time on his ex, while you work two jobs just to pay the bills. And if he's making you feel like the unreasonable one for even suggesting change, then counseling is in order, quick.

AB, really sorry for your brother and his family. But I'm so glad his girls have an uncle like you to be a rock for them.

Posted by: laura33 | April 1, 2008 3:57 PM

To be honest, Billie, I'm shocked that it's April and you're not divorced yet. I don't mean that to be harsh: I mean to say that you seem like an incredibly strong woman who has had a clear view of this messed-up situation for months now, and I don't see the benefit to you in prolonging it.

It's your decision to end this as quickly and easily as you can. IMO, he never committed to you fully emotionally or financially and still has stronger ties to his ex than to you. That's not acceptable, and it's never going to get better.

You deserve someone who cherishes you. He doesn't. It's simple, really, in the midst of all its complexity. (hugs) to you at this difficult time.

Posted by: newslinks1 | April 1, 2008 4:24 PM

Billie, I also remember your initial post under this name, and my reaction at that time.

What newslinks and LizaBean said.

Posted by: mn.188 | April 1, 2008 4:42 PM

ArmyBrat - I have to say it...but you're OUR old long-winded coot. Now Fred, don't get your dander up on this one... Share and share alike.

to multiple dimensions...S A L U T E ! (do it the Hee Haw way, if you can)

Posted by: dotted_1 | April 1, 2008 4:49 PM

Dotted, for the second time today, I will second your sentiments.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | April 1, 2008 5:00 PM

Hey moxie - you're too kind..sun shining your way? Not seeing the sun for a few days makes me ornery, but we do need the rain.

Posted by: dotted_1 | April 1, 2008 5:02 PM

No identity crisis for me. It's a simple choice really: working single mother or welfare mother. I prefer the former rather than the latter : )

Billie: It's hard for me to relate to your situation because my story is the complete inverse. My ex-husband has never paid a dime of child support and never will. My daughter is still waiting for her Christmas presents from him, and it's April (her birthday is a month from today, hopefully he will get something here by then). He lives in Australia (he married an Australian he met online), and somehow their postal service is subpar...but our kid knows that I collected, wrapped and shipped Christmas care packages to 225 Marines in Iraq, so she's not buying her dad's excuse that it's too difficult to ship from Australia to Arizona.

I agree with the others that the issue of child support should be re-examined in court. However, everything I have seen written here goes addresses the relationships among the adutls: you, your husband and his ex-wife. It's the children who need to be taken into consideration, and the court is the impartial arbitrator. BTW: Your husband's desire to provide for his children is NOT a lack of love for you. He really is between a rock and a hard place, but I respect that he loves his kids and that you have been so very understanding.

And whoever wrote that the mother should go on welfare and collect food stamps doesn't understand that the government considers itself a payor of last resort. There will be no food stamps or welfare as long as there is a daddy to provide--nor should there be. Regardless of the parents' marital status or custody arrangements, the government expects the parents to provide for their own children. And frankly, we taxpayers are footing the bill for far too many children of irresponsible parents...which goes full cirlce to my non-identity crisis: I would rather be a working mom than a welfare mom.

Posted by: pepperjade | April 1, 2008 5:06 PM

Pepperjade, my hat is off to you as a single working mom. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to raise a child without any practical or emotional help from the father. It often is a much simpler choice than we try to make it. For me, I have had the opportunity to stay at home, but now due to my husband's health I have to go back to work full-time. Sometimes its easy to get caught up in the emotions of it all, but the simple reality of providing for our families in the end drive the choices.

Posted by: juliemartinez5 | April 1, 2008 5:26 PM

There are plenty of food stamps and welfare for children of low-income fathers. The fact that the father contributes something does NOT indicate that he is able to fully meet the financial needs of the children.

In this case, Billie is covering costs that the government would never require her to meet, and in sum they're paying something like 125% of the Daddy's income. That's untenable.

Clearly it'd be better for the mom of the kids to get a better-paying job, etc, etc, but in the meantime, instead of Billie working 2 jobs so that her husband can contribute 125% of his income to the kids, perhaps a better situation would be one in which this low-income mom takes the benefits available to her from the government. Those benefits will be calculated based upon a REASONABLE contribution to costs from the father, NOT the unreasonable contribution Billie and her husband currently offer.

Posted by: newslinks1 | April 1, 2008 5:28 PM

pepperjade: Australia post is an amazingly good government service. He could buy online and save postage as postage between the two countries is confiscatory. For example, he could buy from Amazon.com and pay US postage to your home from toysrus... By the way, if your ex kept american citizenship he must, by law, file taxes every year. Your child has claims on his refunds, etc. See a lawyer on this one.

Posted by: dotted_1 | April 1, 2008 5:32 PM

This posting really resonated with me. In fact, my husband and I have been talking about this concept for weeks. I gave up work after we had our daughter 8 months ago and the Navy moved us to the middle of nowhere on the other side of the country. I wasn't prepared for the grieving process that giving up my career, which was a large part of my identity (as it is for many people), entailed. I've struggled with how to answer the question, "So what do you do?" and I still respond with "Well, I stay home with my daughter for now, but by profession, I'm .... " That's compounded by geographical distance from my family (it's difficult to fall back on familial identity when I live 3000 miles away) and my status as a Naval officer's wife. Regarding that second point, people want to subscribe to me the attributes of the steretypical military wife (which is a whole other issue) and I find myself fighting that current while trying to find my own identity independent of my career.

This is something not many people talk about and I'm glad to see it's a more common experience than I thought it was.

Posted by: aklein97 | April 1, 2008 6:05 PM

It is interesting to me when people ask 'what do you do' and many women I know seem to be apologizing for 'just' staying home with their kids. Even when they didn't want to go back to work.

This surprises me. I struggle with it myself. As in, when I was a SAHM, I really would struggle. Cause it seems that most people would think - oh, you're a woman - you 'gave up' your career, you must have been in PR or HR or marketing or something (not that there's anything wrong with any of those professions). As if they were like - you must not have done anything 'important.'

So most times I wouldn't say anything - because I *didn't* want to be apologizing for staying home. Why should I? But then it would sometimes come out what my background is (math/statistics/etc) and people would just look stunned. As if they didn't think that I should do something like staying home with kids if I had *that* background - how could I *possibly* want to do that (and I would find myself sometimes apologizing - as in - well, I was laid off when I was almost 9 months pregnant, etc).

I am SO HAPPY that I quit my job. It's gotten mixed reactions at work, but I'm pretty happy that our hectic lives will get less so. Of course, we're going to have to learn to cut back on expenses again, but we'll figure out a way. So I'll be a SAHM this summer and I'm *thrilled* about it, really.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | April 1, 2008 6:45 PM

I am still going through this crisis. To be fair, I think it is all internal, i.e. in my head and people could care less whether I am a SAHM, a WOHM, or in between. I think it is because I was/am so ambitious and so goal driven and also because I live and work in Washington DC where #2 question is what do you do? In my case I went from a very demanding job in terms of "face time" to a predictable 40 hour a week job which I call my "mommy track" job. And while there are days when I say "I am so lucky" to have this situation, there are other days when I seriously question this "mommy tracking" because I see where my former colleagues are professionally (both men and women) and also I can calculate in dollars how much this mommy tracking is costing me. I know that some women have been successful in "on ramping" into great jobs but I don't think it is possible in my field. The other times I feel good about my decision especially when I am doing a school activity or something else with my kids and their eyes light up when they see that I came to their 5 minute performance.

Posted by: tsm | April 2, 2008 9:09 AM

To actually comment on the post at hand... I don't have any of my identity wrapped up in my job. I hate my job with a passion so I see it totally as something that I do to pay the bills as opposed to something that defines me.

I think I have to agree with ArmyBrat's posting. I am many things because I have many roles in my life. I presume that I could lose any of those roles and still continue on because I have other roles that would fill in that space. Of course, losing some roles would suck more than others. Like say... the whole job role... that would definitely mess things up. But on the other hand, I can't imagine that I would get too upset about losing the role of chauffeur.

I agree that going to a lawyer could certainly lay out the financial things a bit better. I don't know if this is in our best interest or not. It would be nice if this could be sorted out as mature adults.

A divorce could certainly be in the cards if things don't equalize. Pepperjade - I don't think that his desire to support his kids means he loves me less. I am in agreement that he needs to support them. Where we are in disagreement on is how much support is reasonable. This seems to have pitted us against each other rather than bring us together to agree on how to accomplish a more equitable distribution. Or perhaps the issue is that he doesn't see the issue with the inequality.

Posted by: Billie_R | April 2, 2008 9:46 AM

I think my world view on this is sort of clouded because of my childhood. My dad worked for the Fed, and he basically never talked about his job. It certainly was never his identity. I don't think I even knew what he did for a living until I was in middle school, since he just didn't think it was interesting enough to discuss! Even at social functions, he really doesn't talk about it. He'd much rather talk about politics or books or television. So it never occured to me, even when I was working, that I would identify myself by my career.

Posted by: floof | April 2, 2008 9:48 AM

First off, I am holding Armybrat's brother and nieces "in the Light" as we Quaker say. What a heartbreaking loss for all of you...

Second, I agree with the other posters who suggest the issue for Billie R is with her relationship more than the child support amounts. So I'd second counseling - together or alone if spouse won't participate. As a couple, I'd think you both need to agree on what's reasonable here and if ex disagrees then you can take it to court.

Finally on topic, I was thrilled to be able to finally stay home after my second was born even though I loved my work. I knew it was temporary. Staying at home with two in diapers turned out to be harder than I ever imagined but I don't think it affected my identity! It helped me appreciate my job more when I got back. I was very proud at the time that I was a stay-at-home Mom finally. It's not an option for many women. I continue to balance being mother and worker and my identity is very much caught up in feeling like I'm doing a good job in both fields. When they were so small, I felt I was needed more at home than at work. Now I'm back to work and consider myself lucky to be both Mom and a competent professional!
Take the long view -- intensive parenting does not last forever. An identity is forged over the long-term and you're allowed to be complicated!

Posted by: anne.saunders | April 2, 2008 10:10 AM

TSM -- What you said. Yes, we are "just so lucky" to have these problems but it doesn't make them any less real, or less important, to our and our children's well-being over time. Thanks for sharing. Helps to know others are out there --

Posted by: leslie4 | April 2, 2008 10:40 AM

Billie,
I would agree with all the comments to get marriage counseling and figure out your relationship, but I think this has been going on too long. Get some counseling for yourself. Dump that worthless husband of yours, and stop supporting his other family. Let him do it on his own dime, not yours. This guy is using you, and you are letting him. Stop letting him. And yes, get a lawyer, asap. File for divorce.

Posted by: emily111 | April 2, 2008 4:15 PM

Billie -

I hope you're still reading and willing to listen to one more person. Many moons ago I was in a very similar situation that you are in. My fiance was married previously and two great kids. He too committed to a very large amount of child support - almost double the required amounts from pressure from his ex-wife, think 3300 per month while he made 65-70k per year. In the beginning it was manageable for him until she defaulted on all of the maritable debt she was responsible for as part of the divorce. At that point all of his income was gone and a large percentage of mine would have been gone as well to pay the debts and child necessities like dental work, school clothes etc.

While going through this process I discovered many things about how our system works that might be helpful to you. I do want to through the disclaimer out that there that I believe you have previously mentioned that your husband is not a US citizen and if his wife and children are hear on a visa I don't know if any of these services and laws would be available to them.

To begin with I agree that you need to consult a lawyer, however I think its clear based on your information you probably cannot afford one. In that case you and your husband need to go to your local family services office. By law the office is required to provide assistance to you in petitioning the court for a child support agreement. Please know they are equally obligated to help his ex if she so chooses to seek their assistance.

To those that claim your step children should be placed on state medical plans - I would think long and hard about that. If your husband works taxpayers are not going to support the children contrary to popular belief. The children will be immediately given medical assistance based on the mothers income BUT they will also immediately seek to garnish your husbands wages to pay for the care, require him to purchase health insurance through his employer, if available. I say this from experience as this happened to us even though my finance had insurance for his children, it took a year to get them removed from medicaid no matter how many times we sent proof of coverage. If you carry the health insurance for your husband you will have to add them to your plan. This is called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order and your company will add the children once served with the papers, no ifs ands or buts. In the mean time if your husband has any assets leans will be placed on them, which includes the home you may own together, and your tax return may be taken to pay for these services.

In terms of the child support my fiance went through one heck of time trying to get the support order lowered because the judges kept saying well if you could afford it once you can always afford it. I say this as a caution that don't assume you will automatically be granted the amount shown on your states child support tables.

While I would tend to agree with the many that you should really look at the way your husband treats you I know how hard it is to feel that way. I know what its like to see what little income you have dissapear and feel bad because it is supporting children. You need to know you are not an ogre. I'm not sure what type of FT job you have but if they have an employee assistance program I think you should really look into speaking with someone first about the stress that you have taken on. Then you can evaluate your marriage and next steps.

Posted by: noname1 | April 2, 2008 4:59 PM

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