What is a displaced homemaker?

Displaced dog-lover.

This is a displaced homemaker:

A woman who was once dependent on another's income, but is no longer due to a change in marital status (divorce or death) or a sudden change in financial situation (partner loses his/her job), and is forced back into the workforce.  

Apparently, officially speaking, I'm right on track with my loss of identity, confusion, and fear.  As is my defensiveness and unspeakable desire to run away from it all.  We displaced homemakers have a lot of bullshit going on (emphasis mine):
She must cope with the rigors of basic survival, provide for herself... and get on with the business of deciding what she will do with the rest of her life.  These are no small tasks under the best of circumstances.  Goal setting may appear to be an easy task, but for an individual whose entire life is in disarray, even setting the goal of picking up an employment application is a major activity.  The displaced homemaker, at this point, is usually struggling to make it out of bed each morning, and often feels incapable of more formidable efforts.*
So... now I have another label.  First it was small, like, College Graduate; then a little bigger, Owner of a Masters Degree; then huge, such as Wife and Mother (do they keep getting bigger in life??); and finally, Divorcee and Displaced Homemaker.  

Ok, I'll take it.  I'm a displaced homemaker, a mother, a woman, and struggling.  Really fucking struggling.

I mean, half of my life includes being wrapped in soft, sweet arms; kissed with innocent lips; snuggled with and adored; filled to the brim with purpose and meaning.  The other half I am alone; wholly grown-up; drunk with friends; adrift; empty, terrified, and jobless.

I am thrilled at my freedom to be Me, but also deeply struck down by it.  I don't entirely know who that is anymore.  I am a mother without a son half the time, I am a wife without a husband, an ambitious woman with no job, an animal lover with no animals, a care-taker with no one to take care of, a lover with no one to love.

This separation/divorce thing is splitting me in ways I didn't even know were possible.  Not only have I separated from my life partner, but I have been cracked away from ideas and identities that were integral to who I was as a human being.  I had no idea I would be this shattered, this broken.

I feel dead inside every moment I am away from Hawk without exception.  My heart is icy, downright black.  I care about nothing.  Getting out of bed, being industrious, holding conversations are all becoming feats in and of themselves.   I do it all, every day, but I'll admit it's a struggle.

As I see myself slipping I understand that it's part of the process.  I knew this was going to suck.  -- What?  Did I really think that everything would be peachy?  No.  I knew it was going to get dark, I just didn't know it'd also lose who I was in the process of discovering who that was in the first place.

I think, "If only I had a job.  It'd keep me busy, give me something to do, someone to be..." But it's not that easy.

I had a conversation the other day I wish I hadn't.  I can't tell you how many times people ask me about my job search and how it's going.  I'm getting used to it.  I know that people care about me, but it's like asking "So, how's the cancer thing going?"  I don't really want to talk about it (it's painful and terrifying), but I do because I know friends and family are worried.  But this particular chat struck me to the bone like the others hadn't.  I was asked, "Why don't you just open a private practice while you look for other work?  That's what so-and-so did."

The question is innocuous, I know, but the message I got was, "You're not doing it right.  You're not doing enough.  Look at this other woman, she did it right.  You have no excuse to not be working."

This is a perfect example of my current state of mind, of how goddamned wounded I am.  I don't really know if that's what this person thought about me by their "helpful suggestion," I just have no buffer because I am lost and I am mourning.

My face, neck and chest flooded with heat and I had to fight the tears as I took a deep breath and responded as non-defensively as humanly possible that a) I don't want to start a private practice right out of the gate after a 3.5 year absence from the field, b) I have zero capital to do so even if I wanted to, c) I don't want to be isolated as a new therapist from my colleagues and would prefer an agency setting or other cooperative, and d) I don't think it's as easy as this friend of a friend made it seem; I have friends whose private practices are only just now in the black after a year of work and they had monies in the cache to do so.

I was gently argued with on these points, then given a couple of concessions.

I felt somehow simultaneously vindicated and even more defeated when I walked away.

I'm treading water from technical skill alone, not strength.  I only look normal:  I bathe, put on makeup, laugh easily, socialize.  I don't think people understand what's really happening to me; how sensitive I am.  How hard I'm fighting to keep my walls up and remain protected from the outside world.  What a big fucking deal this all is.

I have lost everything I knew and loved.  Everything I thought I was.  This isn't just some fucking bad mood.  I'm not weak.  I'm not making this a bigger deal than it really is.  This is awful.  And I don't give a fuck if someone else has it worse or it could get worse.  Of course it could get worse.  I'm not so self-absorbed or ridiculous that I don't know that, but really, what good does that line of thinking do other than make me feel stupid?  It doesn't make my feelings go away.  I appreciate some perspective, but I'd really rather skip over the idea that I'm not allowed to feel this way just because some other schmuck has it worse than me.

When I visit Hawk and his dad, Rooster, at my old house my heart clenches.  I see the plants I painstakingly put in the ground, the wall colors I spent weeks debating on, the old friends from across the street, the hopes I had sunk into those four walls.  When I look closer I see nail-holes from removed pictures, rearranged furniture, a masculine feel, a new smell; Rooster feels different.  He doesn't need me.  Hell, he doesn't want me. -- But of course!  It's all (say it with me) part. of. the. process.  The mother fucking process.

I feel like that house and its inhabitants are my ghost arm.  I'm limbless and I can still imagine I feel it, but it's gone forever.  What I had is gone.


And in case you were all wondering, I'm actually ok.  I'm just hurting.  An ok, hurting, displaced homemaker.

*I did a search for the psychological definition of "displaced homemaker" and stumbled across this paper written in 1981. 


Locking horns with a 3 year old: Are there winners?

A wild Hawk captured.

 I remember growing up and hearing about "the terrible twos," this mysterious time of defiance and confusion for parents and their toddlers where nothing made sense and rules were thrown out.  As I closed the gap to adulthood the story shifted to, "It's not The Twos, it's The Threes you should dread!" Once a parent this new idea was pretty much confirmed by everything I read and heard.

The Threes are an interesting time for everyone.  Our children can speak to us in English (or whatever language it is they've learned), they understand rules, expectations, and relationships.  Their emotional development can at once leap ahead to tenderhearted concern then recede to vicious tyrannical tantrums (and I use those loaded terms "leap" and "recede" deliberately - you'll see why in a minute).  And despite their supposed understanding of things they continue to defy, push, taunt, and sneer in our faces as often as they caress, kiss, fondle and massage our hearts.

So.  What the fuck do we do??  How do we handle these tiny mercurial beings in a way that keeps our values in line with our own hearts, goals, and ideals?

Here's what I've learned:

First, you're gonna feel like shit.  Some days you'll actually get dragged into a knock down drag out with your tiny dictator and be left reeling.  Did you really drag him into his room and lob him onto his bed, then oh so maturely slam the door behind you?  Yep.  You really just did do that.

And you know what??  It can't be helped.  The most important thing I've learned throughout this process is that I am only human.  I can only be taunted, defied, kicked, hit, screamed at, and generally dismissed so much, especially when it concerns a rule regarding a non-negotiable, such as safety.  Picking up spilled food is another matter; I'll be pushed around to a much great degree before I start feeling that prick in the back of my mind that this bullshit ain't flyin'.  But safety in the kitchen?  Not following the rules when there's raw chicken and knives laying around??  Forget it.  Mama's puttin' the kibosh on that shit, and fast.

So, there we were.  Hawk screaming on the floor, refusing to leave the kitchen, me firmly explaining the rules and why he'd been banned - repeatedly - and then he starts jumping in the kitchen just a foot, then another foot, and at that point I had to physically remove him.  Tantrums ensued, kicking, punching, yelling.  Then I told him he needed to cool off in his room, but he wouldn't go of his own accord, hence the dragging by the wrists (as gently as I could, naturally).

I was angry, but I didn't feel my reactions were angry towards him.  I disconnected as best I could, though I still yelled back.  I'd just reached my limit.  I'm just a woman, not a saint.

Second, he's going to forgive you.  I never leave Hawk alone too long after a spell such as this.  I don't want a pattern to develop where he acts perfectly normally for a 3 yo and then I unduly punish him for it.  I just want a period of separation to get my own cool, mostly.

This particular time I went back in and straightened up his room.  He said he was cooling down and he felt much better.  I said, "Good, Mama's not quite there yet, but I will be."  He says while sucking on his paci and clutching his blankie, "Ok, Mommy.  I do love you."

And when we talk I remind him of the rules and that when he defies me like that it frustrates me because I'm trying to keep him safe; that it's ok for him to be mad and frustrated with me, but he may not strike me in any way.  He solemnly nods his head and we hug fiercely and tell each other we love one another.

Third, perfection is a myth.  Sometimes you react badly to a situation.  It's human nature.  No one is above reproach, but every situation is a launching pad to learn something new about yourself, your limits, those of your child, etc.  What you may judge yourself on is settling; settling for the status quo, for what worked for your mother even though it doesn't feel right to you, for not educating yourself about the development of this tyrant at your knees, for giving up hope that you can do what feels right the next time it happens - because, oh lord, it will happen again.

It's easy to think they're forging ahead in development whenever they're soft and pliant and kind, and taking steps back when they're bullheaded and unreasonable, but really it's all a push forward in development.   That's right.  It's a movement of growth, truly.

When a young child defies his caregiver it's as integral to his development as following the rules.  You can't draw a chair without the negative space after all.  They have to discover the depths of the emotional spectrum as well as the highs; no one is all or nothing and certainly not children.  They're incapable of such emotional blandness.  They're programmed to feel all of it and it's our job as parents to help them navigate it, fights and all. 

Lastly, when you're in the middle of it try to remember how much power you have.  It's a trick that always seems to help me keep my cool for a ridiculously long time, if not entirely.  You are these kids' everything: their sun, moon, and stars.  Tread as lightly as you can in the scare-/mean-factor to get your point across.  It's all too easy to loom and boom and knock them around to drive home your point, but finesse - even loud finesse - works, too.

So, yeah, I fought with a 3 year old and technically won, but really I felt like I'd lost.  Then, later, I felt like we'd all won.  Funny how that works, but that's parenting in a nutshell: two steps forward, one step back, and another half-step forward.