This post is in collaboration with TIAA to empower women experiencing divorce, encouraging them to take control of their financial future.
Over the past three months I went through the process of sitting for my licensing exams to be a marriage and family therapist.
You may be thinking . . . wasn’t she already licensed? Yes, I was. I was in private practice for over a decade, before I had kids, and before I started a blog.
I loved being in private practice. I liked my colleagues, I liked that the job was challenging and cerebral, and I loved that I could set my own hours and work part-time for a decent wage. One of the things that drew me to this career was that I thought it would be very compatible with motherhood. I thought I could see a part-time caseload during my husband’s off days, while staying home with the kids.
This worked out well when Jafta was a baby. And then baby #2 came. She slept about 2 hours at a time. She nursed 24-7. I was a mess physically and emotionally. I was tired all the time. I was plagued with post-partum anxiety that made me even more of a catastrophizer than I already am (which is a lot.) I was a ball of nerves all the time. I no longer felt like getting dressed and going to work was a nice reprieve. Now, it felt like a complete and total charade. I was a stressed sleep-walker in a professional pantsuit. Underneath my blazer, I had a bulky maternity bra and leaky boobs. I struggled to stay awake as my clients talked about their life. I showed up to class with spit-up stains on my shirt. I felt like a sham.
In addition to feeling more frazzled in session, I really struggled to keep up with returning phone calls and setting appointments during the week. Once I had my third child, I could barely find the time to call back the referrals I got. The few long-standing clients I saw after her arrival were hard for me. I felt like my brain was in short-circuit mode. I just couldn’t get my head into a space where I could really be present with clients. I am an introvert, and motherhood was draining any energy I had that I could previously devote to my job. By the time child number four arrived, I decided I needed to close up shop. At least for a while. I cleaned out my office and decided to devote more time to blogging. I made a decent income from the blog, but my husband was really the breadwinner. My income from blogging was a supplement to his steady paycheck that supported our family.
And then I made a mistake that I would later come to regret: I didn’t renew my license.
It wasn’t intentional. I always planned to keep my license and thought it was a job that I could go back to someday. But life was happening all around me, and one year, we moved and I forgot to update my address with my licensing board, and I missed the mail-in renewal. I didn’t realize this until two years later, and by that point, my license had been canceled. All because I wasn’t staying diligent. I was busy being a mom, and I was abdicating the career stuff to my husband.
Fast-forward to a few years later, I found myself in the position of getting a divorce. The regret of letting my license lapse was now even more painful, because I needed to find a way to support myself beyond the supplemental income of my blog. I needed to become a breadwinner in my own right, and going back into practice, especially now that my kids are older and require less emotional energy, would have been a perfect transition. But I didn’t have the option.
I called the board and they informed me I would have to sit for my exams again. MFT exams are notoriously difficult, with very low pass rates, but I was grateful that at least my two years of grad school and three years of internships did not need to be repeated. So I set out and started studying. It was time for me to take control of my financial future. (TIAA offers some wonderful resources here.)
Taking these exams again was a humbling experience but it was also empowering. It was humbling because I had been a supervisor and a professor. I had taught some of the subjects on the exam. But at the same time, while I was out of practice, certain laws had changed and a new diagnostic manual had been published with a lot of changes – so I was truly behind. I failed my first practice test. I had my work cut out for me.
But it was also empowering because I knew that I was working toward a career option, one that I was grateful to have. While I always wanted to be a mom, I am so glad that I also recognized that nothing is ever certain, and had the sense to study for a career in my early adulthood instead of assuming I would just stay home and let my husband support me. Even though that was my reality for a few years, I’m glad I had a backup.
In September I took the first of the two exams and passed, and then last week I took the second and passed. It has been a huge relief. I’m not sure I will go right back into private practice but I am so glad that I have it as an option.
I had the chance to take part in a conversation led by TIAA about rebuilding after a divorce. It’s a topic I feel passionately about, because I know how much finances can be a strain in that process . . . especially for women. In this video, I talk about the process of finding my financial footing after divorce.
Whether or not you are going through a divorce, I would encourage every woman to make sure she has a clear picture of her financial portfolio and plans for the future. TIAA has some amazing resources to help with that endeavor on their website – check it out to learn more about how you can take control of your financial future.