Your Back-to-Work Success Guide
Divorce Took Her by Surprise
Deborah Brewster, 37, a military wife and the mother of four children, was used to adapting; she'd followed her husband, Earl, to 14 locations -- including Japan -- over 16 years. Whenever marital stress began to build, she figured they'd work things out -- and thought the same when he retired from the Air Force to take a health-care administration job and the family moved yet again, this time from Hawaii to Wisconsin. So when Earl left her and the children in 2000, Brewster was devastated. "I was a basket case for a month, crying all the time," she says.
Counseling, religion, friends, and family helped see her through. Ironically, so did another relocation: Earl received a job offer in Colorado Springs, and the joint-custody agreement required the children to be geographically close to both parents. Brewster embraced the move, since her parents and three sisters would all be within a two-hour drive. But she struggled to get by financially, even with Earl's monthly child support (Shelby is 13; Kacey, 12; Audrey, 9; and son Grady, 6). Her job prospects were bleak: She'd married at 20 after dropping out of college. She'd only had short-term clerical and retail jobs, and she hadn't worked since Grady was born. Brewster began doing housecleaning, but it didn't pay enough. Then the divorce became final, and she lost her medical coverage.
She was shopping at a local Wal-Mart when it dawned on her that she might qualify for a job there. "You don't have to have a lot of technical training, and they're open 24 hours a day," she says. She realized that the children could stay at their father's on the nights she worked -- an arrangement that stirred mixed emotions. "I'm grateful," she says, "but it means I still have to rely on him when I'm trying to make my own way." Last June she started an $8.50-an-hour job stocking groceries on the night shift.
These days, Brewster naps for several hours after dropping off the children at around 5, rousing herself in time for her 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. shift. Then she sees Kacey and Shelby off to school from their dad's, and takes the younger two children home for breakfast and walks them to school. If she's lucky, she can catch a few hours of shut-eye before Grady's kindergarten lets out at 11:15. Once the girls get home, she says, "it's chaos." Brewster would not have survived without her church, which offers support groups for divorced adults and their children; the church's assistance fund helped pay for family counseling. Her father and sister have helped her cover car payments and, on one occasion, the rent.
Brewster dreams of a less physically taxing job than lifting cases and sacks of flour -- and one with normal hours. "I'd like to go back to school," she says, "but I can't handle another thing on my plate." Still, she is thinking about long-term goals for the first time in years. "I should have listened to my mother and gone to college or gotten some job training," she says. "I never found out who I was, but I want my kids to. I hope they'll make the right decisions."
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