Tell Me About It: Moving to boost a spouse's career sparked regrets later

Posted: December 29, 2011

While I'm away, readers give the advice.

On moving for a spouse (or becoming a stay-at-home parent):

For 20 years, I moved almost every two years because of my husband's job opportunities, the last 10 years in foreign locations where I couldn't work. When he finally attained executive status, he wanted to see other women. I went through three years of trying to fix our marriage.

In retrospect, I was the only one trying to save it, because I was the only one invested in it. He promised many times I wouldn't have to be alone trying to support myself, and then resented a divorce settlement that would have provided adequate support. I turned 50 with few job skills, in a community with few job opportunities, taking care of an elderly mother and wondering how I would make it to retirement age.

I don't mean to sound bitter, but it takes a lot to start over later on in life. You do not get a "do over" to take care of yourself.

Make choices that will help you survive in a worst-case scenario. Know what you need from life and make sure you can provide for yourself. You are the only one who will take care of you.

On a mother with recurrent cancer who isn't following doctors' orders:

If the woman wants to eat chocolate every day, so what? Bad habits are not going to kill her, the cancer will. I have recurrent ovarian cancer. My life will be shorter than I expected or wanted it to be. I want to enjoy each day. If I feel like having a greasy burger, I do. No one should judge someone who is terminally ill. Give the woman stress-free support and love. That will truly make her life better.

On parenting in "the good old days":

I had two children in the 1960s, then two more in the 1990s, a generation later, and noticed in wonder that I was a different kind of father. With my first family, I was a fairly typical parent for the times. Thirty years later, I was also a pretty typical parent for the times. The change, though I was aware of it, happened unconsciously. I was not imitating or trying to be like anyone else but had adapted, it seems, to a new parenting environment, responding to new cues.

On the strategy of waiting to divorce until the children leave for college:

I was a high school teacher for many years and saw couples wait to split up until their children had gone to college. This was actually rather cruel: The child is having difficulty enough leaving home and parents, and to realize that there isn't even going to be any home there anymore just adds to the pain.


E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax, or chat with her online at noon each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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