Deadbeat Ex-Husband vs. Wanderlust: What Makes a Single Mom More Successful?
That photo above always transports me back to Marrakech and makes me smile because my daughter took it when we spent Christmas and New Year in Morocco 5 years ago. Travelling is a huge passion of mine (I’m now living in my 6th country, and have travelled around 31 countries) and my daughter and I had a lot of fun adventuring around different countries together…although life wasn’t always easy or financially secure. Yet somehow, that spirit to explore…that feeling of wanderlust…was always there no matter what.
Inspiration and Money
I think a large part of the reason I turned out as I did is because of Mexico. Growing up in California a couple of hours from the Mexican border meant that as teens we ventured down to Tijuana on the California border in San Diego (well, San Ysidro really) to drink because they didn’t enforce an age requirement there like they do in the USA. On top of that, package deals to Mazatlan were super cheap, so I had been there twice before I was 20, paying for the trips with my part-time jobs. Each time experiencing a life that was exotic and so amazingly different and thrilling to mine that it left me wanting more. I can’t be sure that Mexico turned me into the serial expat that I am today but it ignited a fire that I still haven’t been able to extinguish at 44. In fact, it was the first country I lived in besides my own.
Fast forward to Europe and country number two…Spain! I moved there at 22 and fell in love at the end of a summer spent on the beach in Barcelona. At 23 I married the Spaniard I fell in love with, had my daughter at 25. Then sadly at 26 we divorced and I was back living in California with my six month old.
Over the whole of my daughter’s life we never received any child support from her father. Well, he started to once in 2009. He paid €300 for three months but then decided his needs were more important again and stopped. That €900 barely covered 1 of the 204 months of rent I paid for since the divorce and until my daughter went away to university. I also pay 100% of her university tuition and her apartment in the UK because my ex refuses to contribute to our daughter’s education. Even when I was unemployed and we had no money for even basic things like food, he still refused to help when I’d ask. I never took him to court because he turned out to be a person with quite a mean spirit and I’m sure he would have fought me for custody just to not have to pay child support, and in all my life nothing has brought me more joy than my daughter so I never risked it. Plus I earn 3 – 4 times what he does when I’m working so most of the time I didn’t think twice about it.
A child is very expensive and I wanted to travel, have fun, and have nice things…and ensure that my daughter had the best education possible. Well, let me tell you. Those four things were quite the motivator and incentive for me to work hard to climb the corporate ladder. At the time of the divorce, I was only in my first real job and everyone knows how tiny those entry-level salaries are so I worked hard to move up from a coordinator, to a manager to director and then VP.
But what happens if someone isn’t in a situation like I was and highly incentivised to work hard? Or has never experienced anything other than their own microcosm so the only other life they know is what they’ve seen from films or TV? Or didn’t have a hobby like travel that requires a fair amount of disposable income? I realise this might all sound tremendously superficial but I really wanted to explore new cultures and NEVER have to depend on a man to provide it. I wanted to be happy AND enjoy the gift that was my daughter – who turned out to be my most favourite travel companion and we explored 11 countries on 4 continents together. Honestly, having travelled as a kid to destinations with exotic cultures like Hawaii and Mexico made a huge difference in my life. You know that old saying, ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you’? Well, once you do know, there’s no ignoring it and having seen the other side of life was motivating to say the least.
The Socio-Economic Effect
I saw a 2007 film this weekend based on the book The Freedom Writers that was the inspiration for this post (it’s a true story, please watch the trailer here). It is an amazing movie about a teacher in Southern California and her students from various ethnicities who came from rough backgrounds but were all bussed into a ‘posh’ school. Each lived a life surrounded by gang violence and horrors that no one should endure. None had travelled outside their existence, let alone the state or the country. They had a very in-the-moment myopic view of life and they only inspired to living up to the needs that their current life required. Then she showed them life outside their microcosm and that one change in their life made the biggest difference in the world. Some were the first in their families to graduate high school, and most of the kids went on to attend university at Cal State Long Beach.
The Wanderlust Factor
I don’t have a single friend who doesn’t travel but I do have family in the U.S. on both the east and west coasts that have never owned a passport. I know that financial hardships are more of a constant, daily reality for those family members who don’t travel, so it would make sense that they don’t holiday too far from home…but is that because they aren’t driven to constantly earn a higher and higher salary and only cover the current expenses of their life?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer. What I DO know is that all the women in my life who travel often work damn-ass hard to continually be the best they can be professionally … thus allowing them to live the personal life of their dreams.
I wish everyone had a totally different culture just 2 hours away to inspire their future. Somehow I think that my inner drive is tied to the wanderlust that my early travels instilled in me and I’m grateful. Being a single mom can absolutely suck for so many reasons (just like being a single dad) but for me it never did because my daughter is the greatest joy of my life and because she was the best travel companion on any trip I could have asked for. Africa, Europe, America, Asia…it didn’t matter where. And I’ll tell you. If my ex hadn’t cared so little to contribute to our daughter’s life and future, I probably wouldn’t have tried so hard to move ahead professionally…so for that I guess I absolutely should thank him one day.
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