What does the phrase financial independence mean to you? For some it’s passive income a la Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Sitting on a beach with a mai tai in hand. For others it’s six zeroes in the bank account, healthy retirement balances, and a good job. Women are judged for how we handle money, even though the facts and statistics support the conclusion that we’re financially savvy. There’s no doubt that it can be satisfying to know that other people would look at your financial decisions and congratulate you for taking care of your future. But I’m here to argue that, ultimately, the only person who can define your financial security is you.
After finishing up my MBA I’d purposefully gone in search of a six figure job. Our society often holds up “I make six figures” as the holy grail of financial security. My ex-husband had even mentioned it during his opening remarks at our custody mediation – as if it had anything to do with his parenting skills. I also needed a new job, as my company was about to announce a merger and mine was going up in smoke. I also, frankly, wanted to put some distance between myself and my verbally and financially abusive ex-husband.
I got the job, but in another state. Which sparked a huge custody battle. But I wanted that security of the paycheck, the benefits, the bonus and the stock options. I knew what a difference it would make in my son’s life. So I stuck it out for six months. Six months of flying back and forth, of crying in airport bathrooms.
Until one hand-off two weeks ago. It got bad. The kind of bad that left me shaking and upset. My son was cowering behind me, clutching my jacket, crying and refusing to go with his father. But I knew if I didn’t let my ex take him I’d have worse problems. I didn’t want to risk that my ex would act on earlier threats to involve the authorities. Giving my son one last hug and watching him walk out the Starbucks with his father was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I’d been defining my financial independence and security by my job. But it turned out the money I’d carefully hoarded had a different purpose.
The day after that disastrous hand-off I walked into HR and quit. I arranged for movers, packed up my stuff and threw it in storage and less than a week later drove four days across the country to pick my son up from school. My only plan was to get him and make sure he was safe. Other than that I’m letting the pieces fall where they may.
I learned that my financial independence and security, as much as they impacted my son’s future, didn’t matter when placed next to his safety and happiness.
The money in my savings was supposed to be for emergencies – job loss, unexpected car repairs, medical bills. I’m fairly certain that if I’d have consulted a financial advisor they would have told me to wait to resign. To line up another job in Minnesota, and a place to live other than a dear friend’s basement. To behave more responsibly. If I’d told them I planned to live off those savings for months until something else came along they might have thrown up their hands in horror.
But a good portion of that money came from mother, my biggest supporter and inspiration. It wasn’t just her legacy that got me through my divorce, the financial assets that she left me helped, too. Today I mailed two diamonds that were part of my inheritance off to Worthy. The money I’ll make from selling them will help tide me over a few months. I’d been saving them for a rainy day and, well, it’s pouring. And I know that she’d be the first to urge me to slip them in that FedEx box.
As women, we know what it’s like to be judged. Breast or bottle? Stay at home or go back to work? For leaving our husband too soon, or not soon enough. Somedays it feels like we’ll never win. And as long as we try to please other people, to live by their standards and how they define success, we won’t. I learned that my financial independence and security, as much as they impacted my son’s future, didn’t matter when placed next to his safety and happiness. So I’m unemployed in Greenland – okay, Minnesota.
If you’ve been through a divorce you’ve probably learned the hard way what really matters. At the end of the day it’s not who gets the china or the bigger settlement. Friends, family, and children are what really matter. Yesterday I picked my son up from school for the first time since September. He ran down the stairs and launched himself at me, wrapping his arms around my neck and burying his face in my shoulder. “I’m so glad you’re here,” he said.
And that’s all the security I need.
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