By Erin Rabitcheff
Maybe this year will empower you.” This was the advice I received one day at a friend's gathering when worrying aloud about the prospect of solo parenting my two young boys for a year. My husband had accepted a post abroad, and for the first time we would be separated as a family.
Three years ago, my husband came home and told me there was a job opportunity in another city. For your average American family that might mean New York, Houston or Los Angeles. For us it meant Kabul, Afghanistan.
My husband is an American diplomat working for the U.S. State Department, and we are an average Foreign Service family. When he signed up for the Foreign Service, he agreed to go anywhere in the world, and when I married him, I agreed to be open to wherever we might go, for as long as I could.
The U.S. invaded Iraq when our first son was not yet a year old. During the months that followed, my husband expressed interest in going there to serve at the U.S. embassy. I was nervous about it but did my best to be open and supportive. I almost agreed to let him go, until four Americans were killed in the 2004 Fallujah ambush. I feared I would be left a widow with a toddler. I told him I didn’t want him to go, and his friends and family agreed that he shouldn’t. He stayed, and although I was relieved, I always felt bad that I had prevented him from pursuing his dreams. So this time when he said he wanted to serve in Afghanistan, I supported his decision.
And then I panicked. He was due to go in a year, so I had 12 months to nurse my fears of becoming a widow, of being a single mother with two young sons, of falling apart from the stress, of how the boys were going to react because they are very close to their father.
When I spoke about my situation at a friend's gathering, a guy there said, “I'm not married and I don’t have any kids, but maybe this year will empower you.” I stopped in my tracks. I had been so focused on my fears that I had not considered being empowered by this experience.
I had grown up with a single mother and it was no picnic. I could only imagine being like my mother—constantly struggling, stressed-out, overworked. Yet in a moment, the calm words of this acquaintance shifted my entire perspective. I remembered I was not my mother. I was married to a man who loved his kids very much. We had technology and could stay in touch as much as possible. I had friends I could rely on for emotional support.
That year, I had many opportunities to build up my confidence, everything from the mundane (figuring out how to change the clock in the car, a typical duty of my husband's) to writing a song with my children, which turned out to be one of my greatest joys. I talked to them about how they felt about their father going away, and we set their thoughts to music, using their words and perspective. I shot footage and edited the video myself, something I had never done before, and I posted the video on YouTube.
My greatest lesson was that by taking care of myself, I would take better care of my children. One of my dreams was to be a singer-songwriter. During the year that my husband was away, I carved out time to write music and to show up at open mics. I decided not to give up singing in a choir I loved, and took the kids with me. I made sure to meet up with friends and go and do something fun from time to time. I meditated and joined a gym and actually went regularly.
My husband made it home safe and sound. The year was very challenging emotionally for the entire family, and there were days when I felt nothing but exhaustion and worry. But I kept up with my music and tried to see my friends whenever I could. That self-care fueled me enough to be a happier person and a more loving, and empowered, mother.
Erin Rabitcheff, of Pixiegrowsup.com, is a singer-songwriter, blogger and mother living in New York. The song she wrote with her kids, "September 1st," recently received runner-up status in the Song of the Year Song and Lyric Writing Competition. It is available on iTunes, Amazon and CDBaby.