5 Crucial Things I Learned From Cleaning Houses To Support My Kids

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woman cleaning window

Three years ago, my abusive husband abandoned me and our two young children. When faced with the reality of my newfound life (and the fact that I had no college education and hadn't worked since shortly after becoming a mother), to say I "freaked out" is the understatement of the century.

I needed money and I needed it quick. I also needed daycare for my infant and toddler — and it wasn't going to be cheap. In fact, the cost of daycare was completely beyond any budget I could work into the income that a minimum wage job would bring me.

Without a college degree, nearly any job I qualified for wouldn't pay more than what I'd be paying out in childcare expenses. So ... I decided to become a housekeeper.

And it was awesome, right? No, actually, it totally sucked.

But when I realized it was up to me — and only me — to make the life I wanted, I decided to stop looking at my job as a failure and start looking at it as a stepping stone to my future. If I wanted to get out of the rut I was stuck in, I better start climbing.

My days as a cleaning lady are over — the business very quickly proving too much for my body to handle —but the lessons I learned working that job have forever changed me:

1. There's value in getting your hands (literally) dirty. 

I know it sounds cliché but it's a lesson so many people fail to ever learn. I know what it's like to wake up in the morning and have your back screaming in pain, your life falling apart, your self-esteem damaged, your children grieving — and then walk into a job where most of the world doesn't even see you as human. But you do what you have to do in order to survive, and until you learn that you can hit rock bottom and still keep going, then you'll never really learn how strong you are.

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2. People are more than their 9-5 occupation. 

Being the "help" wasn't fun, and quite frankly, it was a position I never imagined I'd have to be in. It was embarrassing and degrading but I needed the money. Because of that, I've learned to value the people the world sometimes views as less important. 

I see everything that makes up who they are; not just the uniform that they are wearing because, well, I've been there. It also makes me want to get to know those people because of how much I wished people took the time to get to know me at the time.

3. Fight like hell for what you want.

I know what it's like to fight and claw my way out of a life I wanted more from. Nobody was going to hand it to me. If I wanted more for myself and my kids, then I was going to do whatever it took.

If back-breaking labor, sheer exhaustion, human degradation, heartache, and literal filth weren't going to stop me, not much else will.

4. You — and only you — are in control of paving your own path.

People love to throw around the phrase "create your own path," but until you've done more than select a course load out of a college manual, you really don't know what it's like to have to forge a path that hasn't already been pre-planned for you.

Creativity, persistence, and the willingness to adapt to new and uncomfortable situations are the primary reasons I was able to make the job work because hell, I knew nothing about being a cleaning lady and had to quickly teach myself. Plus, the job was gross. Let's just be honest about that. That took a lot of adapting on my part.

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5. Stop caring what people think about you.

In a job where everyone looks down on you, I needed to stop caring or else, the weight of other people's opinions would crush me. When I first started cleaning houses and someone asked me what I did for a living, I'd literally break out into a sweat before quickly changing the topic.

But by the end of my time in the cleaning business, I held my head high and reminded myself that any judgments people passed on me were a reflection of their own shortcomings. Most of the time the issues people have with you have nothing to do with you at all — and knowing that is so liberating.

My career as a housekeeper didn't last long, but it lasted long enough to learn one final thing about myself: I'm forever changed. There's no way to forget where I came from, even if sometimes that place was down on my knees, scrubbing floors.

Eden Strong is a writer and survivor of domestic violence, she writes mostly on her experience as a single mom in poverty. Find her here