Depending on whom you ask, being a stay at home mom can be: fulfilling, exhausting, joyful, mundane, and so on and so forth. Often times, it’s a mixture of all of that wrapped into one—or several—little bodies. Tack on the fact that every woman is different, with her own unique circumstances and feelings, and you’ll find a variety of perspectives. However, I will be so bold to say that many SAHM’s can feel a bit lost from time to time … like a piece of their identity is buried under the dishes, diapers, and discipline.
Perhaps that’s where you find yourself today. If so, this story is for you. It’s a story about a woman who has lived through many seasons of life—one of them being a SAHM. Though she loved that chapter of her life, she also found herself wishing for something that was just for her, her own endeavor, and she did just that…
But first, let me introduce you to this woman. Her name is Pamela Ham.
This lady is full of life, the type of person that has you smiling and laughing within the first few minutes of a conversation. She has a sweet, spunky demeanor that immediately puts you at ease. She exudes joy and spreads it generously, which is a very good trait for a nurse. However, Pam didn’t become a nurse until she was in her 40s, and she followed a winding road to get there, as many women do.
It wasn’t that she had never worked outside of the home; she had several jobs before getting married and having kids. She worked at a sleep center and had also been a medical secretary; she always seemed to enjoy being a part of medical field. After she had her two babies, she decided it was important to be at home with them.
“That’s not to say it was without sacrifice, because I do love my purses and my shoes,” she jokes.
Although she loved this season of her life, she acknowledges that there were times when it was difficult. Her husband, Greg, is an extremely busy executive who travels a lot for his career—sometimes being gone from home 200 of 365 days. Greg has worked in many capacities of the music industry, from Record Exec to Artist Manager. It’s a demanding career that, for Pam, dictated an even stronger reason for her to remain out of the workplace.
Life as a SAHM
Life as a stay at home mom was not easy, and it could be lonely. What she had envisioned was a bit different than reality.
Pam explained it like this, “For my thirtieth birthday I got a minivan. So I’m driving down the road with two kids and I’m in the car crying because I thought, ‘I have just become a stereotype.’”
Because it could be so often lonely, and because she believed it was important to find “a place for just you in your heart of hearts so that you don’t lose yourself,” she started volunteering at a pediatrician’s office.
“I always wanted an identity besides just being Kate and Rachel’s mom. So I strived to find that—find my own identity. Women are a lot of different things: we are mother, we are wife, we are friend, we are daughter, and if we just become totally one thing, then a part of our personality is cut off—so I never wanted that to happen. But it’s lost a lot of times,” she said.
…she followed a winding road to get there, as many women do.
After a few years, Pam’s urge to find herself grew stronger. She did more volunteer work, took some interior design classes, and tried a little bit of everything. She laughed and told me that her husband used to joke and say that she was a starter but never a finisher. “I think it was because nothing ever stuck. I liked what I did, but I wasn’t passionate about it,” she mused. It was around this time that she began to put some feelers out into many different areas of the marketplace.
Then, in 2010, a high-scale earthquake devastated Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Survivors were displaced, injured, and it’s estimated that some three million people (nearly one-third of the country’s total population) were affected and left homeless. Needless to say, medical care was scarce to none for the majority of the population.
Pam wanted to help. She and her younger daughter, Rachel, joined a medical mission trip team through their church and went to an orphanage that had just received 60 kids. “And I knew that if nothing else, I do know how to hold and rock a baby. I knew I could do that,” Pam recalls.
They arrived in Port-au-Prince then drove through some pretty devastated terrain to arrive at the orphanage. They spent their days playing with some of the kids that just needed some love and working with some pediatric nutritionists in the States to try and get the babies healthy.
“The very last day that we were there, the RN and I went to a community, which was 30 minutes outside of Port-au-Prince, that had not seen a medical missionary in 20 years. They had no nutrition, no medical care, no nothing. And when we got there at like eight o’clock in the morning, there were already 120-130 people who had lined up because they had heard a nurse was coming. She and I worked the entire day—for probably eight, nine hours—and it was like the light bulb came on for me. And I remembered what I was built to do,” Pam said, choking back tears.
Back to School
Pam had considered going to school to become a LPN (licensed practical nurse), and it was one of the many areas she had expressed interest in before going to Haiti. However, at the time she wasn’t sure she wanted to make the full-time commitment due to her husband’s schedule and her kids still being in the home. But on the day that Pam flew back to the U.S., she turned her cell phone on and there was a voicemail from the LPN school.
Pam recalls the moment saying, “I listened to the message and they said, ‘Hey … Don’t know if you’re really interested’—this was like mid-April—‘but we have a class that starts on May 5th and it’s for one year and we have one slot available. Please call us if you’re interested.’ And I was like, ‘Yup!’”
But first, she and her husband called a “Ham Fam Meeting.” They approached the opportunity presented to Pam as a group decision, including her children, and explained how life would be different. Pam wouldn’t be readily available as she had been thus far in the girls’ life. She wouldn’t be able to drop off a forgotten schoolbook and she laughed as she said she told her husband he would need to learn where the dry cleaner was located.
In the end, they decided they could do anything for a year, because that’s about how long the program would take. And though there were times when the adjustment was not easy on her girls, Pam said they were really supportive. She said, “They thought it was cool that their mom was trying something and going for it.”
Pam and her husband made sacrifices too. Greg took over the morning routine and helped the girls get to school, and Pam was determined to maintain their evenings together as a family. She made a commitment to herself that she would be home by 4 o’clock each afternoon to do the “after school stuff” and be present for dinner every night—without her nose in a book. That meant waking up at 5:30 every morning in order to study before class.
“Halfway through LPN school I looked at Greg and said, ‘Ok, this is not going to be enough. I already know that I want to do more,’” Pam said. And she did.
…it was like the light bulb came on for me. And I remembered what I was built to do.
Pam called the Bible college she attended while she and Greg were engaged and asked them what she would need to do in order to get into their bridge program to Belmont, which would guarantee her a spot in Belmont’s nursing program. They told her that if she came back and finished her degree, then they could reinstate almost all of her credits. So Pam finished LPN school and went back to the Bible College.
“So what’s funny is it’s really, really conservative. So I’m in my 40s right—and literally on my first day back to real college—I get into my class at 8:02 and my phone goes ‘Ding! Mrs. Ham: we saw you walking into class today and realized that your skirt is a little bit too short. If you have any questions about our dress code, please see Mrs. Whoever.’ I was wearing a freaking jean skirt that hit the top of my knees, and a pair of wedges … and a cardigan sweater … and I think I even had pearls on so I could have the whole leave-it-to-beaver look going on! And I get a note that says we’re really sorry your skirt is too short. So, that started my college career. It was really, really funny.”
This was just the first of many humorous occurrences Pam experienced while going back to school. She told me about how she was the one who always spoke up and answered questions during class—mostly because she got sick of the awkward silences and wanted everyone to be able to move on with the lesson. The teachers seemed to appreciate it, because they would always give her positive comments saying thank you for participating in class and answering questions. The other students seemed to notice this trait as well.
“… one girl turned around one day and said to me, ‘Oh my gosh, Pam, you are like the smartest person I’ve ever seen!’ And I said, ‘No baby, I’m not smart, I’m just old. Because some of these are not educational questions—some of these are freaking life questions, and we can move on ‘cuz we ain’t got time for that.’”
“And I was never embarrassed if I was wrong—they would always go, ‘mmm, not what I’m looking for…’ And I’d go, ‘Ok, cool!’ Move on.”
After finishing two years of undergrad, Pam earned an Associate’s Degree in Biology and began studying at Belmont. As Pam shared story after story with me, I noticed a common theme: she seemed really confident and rarely thwarted. So I was a bit surprised with her answer when asked if she ever wondered “What am I thinking?” while pursuing her education.
Overcoming the Hurdles
“Oh gosh, all the time! Oh, yes! All the time I thought ‘what am I thinking?’ Every year on the first day of school I would be a little older and the kids would be a little younger and I would go, ‘Oh my gosh, these people are not gonna like me. They are not gonna accept me.’ The first day of school was always so scary because even at my age I would say, ‘Am I gonna have a friend or am I gonna be the kid that sits by myself at lunchtime?’”
And then she answered her own question about whether or not she would make friends with a chuckle and another story from her college career—this time from her junior year at Belmont when she studied abroad.
“It was funny—on the day we left all the moms were like, ‘Oh my gosh, when Tori told me that you were coming on this trip I was so excited because I didn’t want to let her go to Switzerland with no adult supervision, and she told me that you had been around the world so I’m so glad you’re going to be there!’”
Find a place for just you in your heart of hearts so that you don’t lose yourself.
“And you know, two weeks into the thing I’d be doing the stupid stuff the 20-year-olds were doing, and I would get this, ‘Pam, we forget that you’re the same age as my mom.’ So I loved it. It’s funny, the very last night we were in Switzerland Greg flew in and we went to Prague and a couple of other places and he took all of my little group to dinner. And they kept saying, ‘Pam, it’s so cool that he’s taking us to dinner—Mr. Ham, you are the nicest guy!’ And even Greg said, ‘They’re talking to me like I’m your dad and not your husband.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, sorry. They forgot how old I was. They know how old you are, they’re not sure how old I am.’ So it was great.”
“So that’s the part that everybody thinks is so scary about being older and going back to school. But you put on the school clothes and you show up and learn the same things the 20-year-olds are learning and age becomes oblivious. You become one of the kids because you’re all in it together and you’re working together. Plus, you bring a lot of life to a classroom that they would not normally have. So, that would be one thing that I would tell people if they’re thinking about going back to school. The age thing gets lost and it’s ok,” she said confidently.
During our conversation together, I appreciated how real Pam was… about her insecurities as an older student, how teachers assumed she was “someone’s mom” at times, and even how school wasn’t easy for her. She worked her butt off to maintain the B average required—“otherwise you’re kicked out.” Algebra and Chemistry were not subjects that she remembered from high school, so she got a tutor for each. She and her husband joke that he could have passed the nursing exam because she made him ask her question after question every night before bed. Knowing that her tendency is to start many things, but rarely finish any of them, one of her favorite things her husband said to her during those five years was, “I think you’re really going to finish this.”
“And I said, ‘Oh yeah, I am going to finish it!'”
A New Career
Pam is now using her degree and drive at Hughston Clinic Orthopedics where she is the Manager of Quality Patient Care. Specifically, she works with 25 surgeons to manage patients over the age of 65 who are getting a total joint replacement. She is in charge of what their recovery is going to look like by coordinating with their physician, family, and the hospital. Post-acute care (meaning the care patients receive after leaving the hospital) can last up to three months, and during that time Pam is very involved in each patient’s life.
“I’ll hear the surgeon tell me, ‘that patient can go home and they will do this, this, and this…’ and I’m also hearing the family say, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t think we can do all of that. These are all of our barriers…’ and I mesh those. I call all of my patients all of the time. I’m their cheerleader, I’m their counselor, I’m their daughter, I’m their nurse…”
Pam believes wholeheartedly that everything—every season—leading up to this job helped prepare her for it. Managing her home while her husband was out of town, managing her family, plus her love of caring for people and the wisdom of life have all come together to make her perfect for the job she’s entered now. She says she wouldn’t have been ready for it otherwise.
And she’s good at what she does. In fact, Pam said, “I would be sitting in meetings with doctors, and they would say things like, ‘You’re really smart.’ That’s my favorite compliment. Not being the smartest kid growing up—because I was a C student all the way through high school—and then to end up on the honor roll in my 40s was awesome, and to have a surgeon say, ‘You’re really smart’ that’s my favorite compliment.”
“It took me a long time to find my passion, but I found it. And I love my work.”
Pam knows that her degree was obviously a vital piece of the puzzle, but also affirms that her 50 years of life experience has contributed just as much.
So, for those of you who are feeling a tug on your heart and a stirring in your soul, perhaps it’s time to start taking some steps toward your next season of life—even if it’s a mixed season of work and mom. Don’t believe the lie that you’ve missed some window of opportunity. You’re never too old or too stuck to discover your passion and pursue your purpose.
We say it’s time to go for it! Get to living that #gritandgracelife.
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