Working Mom, Ex-Wife.

by Margot Wheeler


I’ve been away. Not away away. But absent from my life. And now I’m trying to put it back together after separating from my husband of 15 years. True, it had been rough going for about half of those years. True, I was unhappy, tearful and lonely. And angry. Boy was I angry. And yes, I instigated the split. But still, no matter, it all came crashing down.


I moved out, less than a mile away, into a place I love, though perhaps one that costs more than I should have bitten off. Being close makes things easier with the kids. And I love our Seattle neighborhood so no need to start over somewhere else just because we’re not together anymore. We have two kids – a girl and a boy. Conceivably they could walk back and forth themselves. But then I’d have to grant them more independence than I’m ready to, wanting to believe they are still small children that need their mommy. Which they are, and they do. But not like a few years ago.


The long and short of the relationship and the “breakup” is this (and I know he has a different perspective, but this is my column and my space and I will share it as it feels to me): we met, we fell in love. He was smarter than anyone I’d ever known. Still is. I doubted my intelligence and the low-hum-paranoia of being “found out” was always just beneath the surface. What would happen when “they” found out how dumb I really was? My fancy college diploma would be revoked! My job would be snatched! He validated me. If someone that smart wanted to talk with me, how dumb could I be? And he was beautiful. Still is. And he made me laugh despite his darkness.


We went on to date and live together for three years. And then we married. Early on (very early, with only six months under our belts) I got pregnant. Not happily. Along came our daughter, and made us a family. Happily. Within the first year of her life, my husband’s start-up, well, it stopped. He took a break from full time employment to gather himself. It lasted the remainder of our marriage.


We are a liberal, modern couple. She works, he stays home, who cares?! Apparently I do.


In the end, perhaps we bit off the big proverbial bite and choked on it. I went to work, slogged away. Moved up the ladder. Hated it. Then started to like it. Let go of some, not all, of the resentment in not taking time off after the birth of our second child. That bit that I didn’t let go of? Well, it festered. The not very well concealed resentment made itself known. I felt enormous pressure as the breadwinner and craved the offer of relief, if not actual relief. I was disappointed in not feeling I had the choice to stay home with my second child for a few years of toddlerhood. Whether I would have taken him up on the offer or not can never be known, but I wanted to be invited. Not having had the opportunity to be at home with either child, prompted the desire for a third. Which, as the stay at home parent, was not something my husband was up for. I get it. He was finally getting himself back after having had a baby on his hip, if not on his boob, for a good number of years. The baby conflict went unresolved. There was no baby. And no mitigation in my desire to have one.


I was beginning to think I was the only woman in the world with a this problem. Though my husband is now working, over the years he's taken over the caregiver role in our home. And for most of our marriage, I've been the breadwinner, often working two jobs to make ends meet. Other women don't understand my anger and resentment... they chide me for not being grateful I have a man who will happily do "woman's work." Though I fell in love with his sensitivity, I not-so-secretly yearn for a stereotypical "real man" in my life. We've also lapsed into emotional silence, living like roommates and making the best of it for the kids. And, like you, I have emotionally strayed. The guilt is sometimes overwhelming. My heart hurts for you. But, having read your story, I feel slightly less alone. Thank you for sharing.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I love this calm, accepting, bittersweet essay. You tried your best and marriage is one of the hardest things we tackle in life. You sound very strong. I am sure you will find love again, true love. In the meantime, it seems paradoxical, but the best thing you can do for everyone is make sure your needs get taken care of. Hard for any mom - we are surrounded by messages that our worth comes only in terms of personal sacrifice, often to the benefit of the men in our lives. I don't buy it. You go girl.

Irish Lass

Wow, I hear such saddness in your words. Unfortunately, for as much as we think we have progressed with the "same as men" mentality, it simply isn't so. We are hardwired from the get-go to respond to life and the roles that have been determined for the sexes despite the fact that we are always trying to change the system. Men are men for important reasons and women are women for important reasons and its when we reverse those roles that trouble starts. I am not a particularly religious person but I do feel that whomever decided in the beginning that this was the best way to approach life had good reason to set it up that way. It is only normal to resent your husband to deny you the right to raise your children. Its your job. And it is normal to resent his not looking for work. He is supposed to take care of his family. That is his job. So, you really can't expect to change what is normal.