The first time I lost my job it was one week after the 2016 election. While the world around me was falling apart, my inside world seemed to be falling apart, too. Though I'd never been laid off before, I imagine it's always a potentially traumatizing experience, seeing as how money is what makes our capitalist world go round. As with seemingly everything else, when you're responsible for tiny humans the fear is exacerbated. As a parent, your children depend on you for literally everything so, of course, there are common fears all parents have when they're laid off.
I was the primary income earner for our household of five when I got the news that there was going to be a reduction in workforce at my corporate job. It felt like a blow to the gut. With three kids, and one stay at home parent, we had always lived paycheck to paycheck. Still, it was important for us, with one autistic child and exorbitant child care costs, to choose this particular arrangement. But when I heard the news, on a group conference call no less, I was riddled with terrifying anxiety. After all, I had an insane amount of student loan debt, and I was the one who was supposed to make sure our family was financially secure.
When you do everything right and you still get laid off or lose your job, your fears cause you to feel completely out of control. However, there is some solace in the fact that you're not alone. All parents have similar fears when they're laid off, and they certainly include the following:
Part of this "American Dream" we've all grown up hearing about is owning a house. If you've been privileged enough to be able to check that to-do off your American Dream list, as we were, one of your first thoughts that bombards your mind after you realize you'll be losing your job is, "Holy sh*t! I hope we don't lose the house!"
About a year and a half prior to being laid off, my partner and I took a huge leap of faith to move over an hour away. This move was made in part because we wanted to put my autistic transgender daughter into a school that would be able to support all of her needs. So while the house was double the price and in the middle of nowhere, it was the least we could do for our child. After all, I had taken a better paying remote position at a huge corporation in order to better suit our family's multiple needs. So we knew we'd have to scrimp but we could totally do what was needed to afford it.
Cut to a vomiting, hyperventilating mom when she was told there would be a "reduction in workforce."
Honestly, I couldn't even bring myself to think of my kids. I used the trauma-induced Jedi-mind trick of selective dissociation to push their faces from my mind every time they entered. Because, at least at first, to think of of my children without healthcare, without a home, or without food would have paralyzed me, and I couldn't be paralyzed at a time when I needed to figure out next steps.
As previously mentioned, I was on a tele-conference with several others when I was told I was going to be laid off. My partner was upstairs with our then 4 year old and 7 month old. The thought of telling him the news made a lump rise in my throat. How was I ever going to do it? How could I tell him the trust he put in me was not well placed? How could I tell him I had no idea what we would do now? How could I tell him that though we agonized to pick the "more responsible" and "stable" corporate position, in corporate culture I was ultimately expendable and the life we had built was in jeopardy?
Amazingly, when I told my partner he actually breathed a sigh of relief. "You're so much bigger than them. You should be working with people who appreciate what they've got." Swoon.
As a child of a single mother, I can remember times when we didn't have a fridge or when I was hungry. I never want my children to feel that hunger and that shame.
Thankfully, I soon realized we actually are a part of a community that helps each other. When I told the social worker at my son's school about my job loss, she immediately connected me to healthcare and food bank resources. She never once made me feel inferior for needing help, which honestly made all the difference in the world.
I also remembered that while I was hungry and ashamed of being poor as I as a child, I was also incredibly happy. I had a mom who devoted herself to raising my brother and me, while teaching us the value of education as she put herself through graduate school. We sang and danced in the rain, made goulash out of macaroni and cheese, and laughed all the time.
Money, though we are forced to need it, does not equal happiness.
Of course I questioned my family's future and how things would inevitably be. I still have moments when I wonder what's in store, honestly. It's totally normal for a laid off parent to question this new reality they've been forced to bring their children into.
Regardless of my bias against corporate culture, or my partner's unwavering support, it's impossible not to feel like a failure when you're laid off. I am a child of the midwestern work ethic. The rules are as follows: you work your fingers to the bloody bone until you die for an ungrateful company that provides you with stability. That is just what you do. If you don't follow the rules, so-to-speak, something must be wrong with you.
I have confronted this bullsh*t story line every day since I got news of the layoff nearly six months ago. For those of you whose layoffs are more recent, please know it does eventually get easier. The voice in your head that questions every career decision you've ever made, and your worthiness as a parent and provider, quiets down. If you're anything like me, it's easier to silence that voice when you start proving to yourself that the version of "success" we've been sold isn't the only definition of success.
I've never been good with authority. (I'll pause here so all the people who know me can laugh at this understatement.)
I'm fine with authority that has integrity, kindness, and ethics but, unfortunately, I have only come across a handful of authority figures in my time who meet this criteria. Hence, the problem.
I'd already started a small private practice for rape and other sexual trauma survivors while I worked full-time at my corporate job. That was meaningful work. That was the reason I became a therapist in the first place. I'd always eschewed relying solely on my own business, but was that just the fear or the Midwestern work ethic story line talking? The more I thought about it the more I realized I didn't think I was employable anymore. Perhaps I never was. My expectations of ethics, integrity, and not just doing no harm but actively doing good had always gotten me in trouble at places of business. This was true whether it was managed care, non-profit organizations, fancy hotels, you name it. The message was often the same: "Yes, we want you to be a good person, but not too much that it affects our bottom line."
Yeah, that doesn't really work for me.
My worth as a human should not be defined by what job I have. Because of the monetary system we inhabit, we are all forced to make money in some way. It's just necessary for survival. However, if moneymaking isn't my passion, should I be forever defined by what I do to make money? Or should I be defined by who I am as a person and how I treat other people? These are questions I've struggled with as a performer, a writer, and a healer for all of my adult life. I took this job six years ago because as a mother of one, going-on-two kids, a stay-at-home parent, and a calling that didn't translate to moneymaking, it was the "smart" thing to do.
I did some important work there, some that I was paid for and some that I wasn't. Still, in the shock and fear of losing our only income, I had momentarily forgotten that this job was too small to hold me. It had served it's purpose, cared for my family, and now the universe was telling me I was capable of more.
What do I want to teach my kids? That they are worthy only if they make money for a living? Or do I want to teach them that it matters more who they are and how they treat people?
I choose the latter.