One thing I know for sure is that there are many ways to be a provider.
Let me tell you a couple of stories.
When I had my son, 17 years ago, my world was tipped instantly on it’s head. He was early and weighed only 3 lbs and he and I spent the next 2 months in hospital, in intensive care. I stayed constantly by his side, full of absolute fear he wouldn’t make it.
These were terrible times that left a deep need in me to protect and be close to my children as much as possible. This need was to affect all my future decisions.
The thought of returning to my work a year after his birth was inconceivable to me.
At the time I was the main earner in our family and had a senior role as child development trainer within social services. I also co-ran a course with Nottingham University for post graduate social workers that was complex and challenging. My job was tough, intense and stressful. I loved knowing what I did mattered but, due to it being social work, it was sometimes deeply harrowing. I knew if I went back to work then work would get the best of me, not my kids.
Social work is a job that emotionally drains you like no other and I, well I have a soft and open heart, and I could not leave my worries about children I looked after at the door when I headed home. I am not made that way. I go all in.
And I had fallen head over heels in love … with my son.
There was no choice to be made and my heart ruled my head, it almost always has.
At the time my partner had a fledgling business though and I was the main provider. But I couldn’t care about this. I wanted /needed to provide for my son in other ways. I wanted to nurture him to good health, teach him, hold him, continue to feed him as his little body got stronger.
My mum (as always) held me as I leapt and I somehow negotiated a six year career break from my job.
We had nothing really and it was going to be a struggle.
It might have seemed crazy to everyone what I did, probably even irresponsible. I know a lot of people disapproved. Sometimes in life though I go against what is expected of me. Sometimes I am strong and brave and throw caution to the wind, especially when it comes to those I love.
I remember being at a party when my son was about three and my daughter was newborn and a woman asking me in front of a whole load of working mummy’s how I felt about ‘not providing for my family?’
I was so shocked.
I was their refuge, their cook, cleaner, teacher and playmate. I was their home making, adventure creating, craft loving, big hugging mama. I was giving them the very best of me. I knew I was providing for my family.
I also did do some work during those early years without having to leave my kids at all. I got creative. I bought second hand books and sold them for way more on Amazon. I wrote my first book called How to Afford Time off with your Baby (they say write what you know, so I did.) I sent my first book to 40 agents before Random House picked it up and said yes. What a day that was. I even ran a Baby Sing and Sign group with my tiny baby boy on my knee.
I manged to scrape by enough money to combine with my partners to just about get us by.
I felt quite proud really but more importantly it felt like the right thing to do at that time for me and for my children.
Six years on, and just 3 days after I returned to work, my beloved mum, who was only in her 60’s (and just 10 years after I lost my beautiful dad) died suddenly and unexpectedly. She was my anchor in life, my children’s wonderful grandma, my absolute best friend and my biggest cheerleader.
I was heartbroken.
She had supported every crazy dream I had ever had. When others doubted my choices she unfailingly gave me a little push and said ‘go on, listen, listen to the whispers of your heart.’ I can still hear her and I still listen.
I leaned in to her teachings and knew I needed to be home, to be the kind of mama that felt right to me.
I have never been back out to work since.
I provide well for my family financially now as a therapist, an author, and as a blogger. I still send them off to school each day and I am here when they come home after school. I have been able to go to every meeting, every play, and every sports day. I feel very blessed I have been able to do all this. It has been a graft. I work so hard right now to ensure I can provide for their future because I know I missed many years of earning. But that was my choice and I don’t regret it.
In changing ways, through all the years of their childhood, I have always been their provider. I have no regrets that, in this respect at least, I have truly followed my heart.
A different story (but in many ways the same.)
Now let me tell you about Ed, an avid reader of my blog, who had a totally different journey to mine and yet was guided by the same light – to provide for his child.
Ed is a lovely, hardworking and intelligent man in his early 50’s whose life has changed a lot this past year or two. Always suited and shiny-booted, he was director of his own financial firm for over 20 years and mostly, he loved it.
His work life was about as far from my dungaree wearing social work profession as you could get.
He provided his family with a great income and this was extremely important to him.
He paid off his mortgage early and, as he became a partner in his firm, his bonuses got bigger and bigger. He always had a backdoor plan to retire early but selling the business was stressful and frustrating. At one point he thought he might walk away with nothing.
In the end he pulled off an amazing deal and was able to retire comfortably. Ed was euphoric. Being a provider was a key part of his identity and he had done his job to perfection.
He didn’t count on how he would feel though and once the buzz and the beers from celebrating had worn off he wondered who he now was. He was no longer providing anything, not a penny – and that properly bothered him – even though it was no longer financially relevant.
But eventually Ed adjusted and realised that of course he was still a provider and an excellent one. He was taking care of the home he loved. He also found a new passion and talent for art and cooking and he took pride in the abundance of beautiful veggies he grew himself.
Ed is now very much at home in his wellies and scruffs and the sharp suit days are well behind him. The suits had never been him anyway. He says he was always a hippie at heart but he put a lot of himself aside to provide for his family. Now though, he has come to accept and appreciate that “providing” to a family household can, and will, take many forms, and he has experienced the extremes of them.
Ed and I have taken different paths through our lives but our values have been the same – we wanted to provide for our children and in our own way that is exactly what we have done. We both made sacrifices to do this, some much bigger than others.
Final thoughts …
There are many ways to be a provider and sometimes we have difficult choices to make about which path to take in life. What I do know, above all else, when making hard decisions the answer in the end has to, and must always, be this …
“Follow your soul, It knows the way.”