It was a regular Monday morning at the office: deadlines looming, cup of coffee in hand, 50 emails waiting to be read. Then it happened. I was pulled aside by my manager who let me know I was being laid off. I’m a type-A personality who would easily work 60 hours a week without complaining, so to say this was a little bit shocking would be an understatement. Even more shocking than joining the unemployed ranks was how unprepared I was becoming an instant stay-at-home mom and housewife.
My dad had the 1950s attitude toward work. He defined himself as the worker and provider and my mom as the housewife. He was a company man, bringing home the free turkeys at Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, I inherited my dad’s work sensibilities. He had no balance between his work and his life, and neither did I. Work defined me, gave me purpose, accolades, it was an old friend that never let me down as long as I fed it my best efforts. I never wanted to know how the stay-at-home moms did it and I was too independent of a woman to be a housewife. I was about to learn some very valuable lessons about stay-at-home moms, housewives, and myself.
I never had any intention of being a stay-at-home mom or a housewife. I would take my limited maternity leaves and would get back to the business of working. I like my life more organized and adult on a day-to-day basis. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and take good care of them both physically and emotionally, but even my kids know mommy is at her best with some outside stimuli. My kids respect that about me. They understand the importance of having your own professional and academic accomplishments. I need to work to earn money but more than that for my sense of self. I take pride in raising my children, helping them to become the best they can be but that pride is just not enough to completely fulfill me. What I was forced to learn is how to be fulfilled without a job.
The first thing I learned is that being a stay-at-home mom or housewife is harder than any job I’ve ever had. I always thought that was a cliché that the “stay-at-homes” used to justify their existence. I no longer think that. Kids are the meanest, most demanding boss you’ll ever have. I was always cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, running errands, breaking up fights among the three of them, having teachable moments, wiping tears and wiping…well you get the idea. All this with no time off for good behavior. I’ve also gained enormous respect for the day-care community, the majority of these workers have big hearts, huge patience, and low paychecks.
The second thing I learned is that your kids love you- if you have a job or you don’t. They just want to learn from you and spend time with you. My kids knew how difficult this transition was for me and were trying to be as supportive as any 4, 6, and 10 year olds can be. They saw me in a different light now, vulnerable yet quickly adaptable. Most importantly, they were excited to see mommy more- to them this was a positive situation. Work took mommy away, unemployment kept mommy home.
Lastly, even though I was relentlessly searching for a new position, I did have more time on my hands for outside activities and interests. We held more family BBQs during the summer, landscaped the yard together, organized a yard sale, and I spent more time reading, writing, and going to the gym.
What did I learn? Unemployment is difficult, demoralizing, and depressing, but I took a miserable situation and learned from it. When I finally land that next big job, I’m going to bring to it more of a work/life balance. My dad wouldn’t understand, but I think I finally do.