Unemployment, it sucks…really

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Since 2007 I’ve faced unemployment three different times, each period longer than the previous stretch. I can honestly say that the reasons have nothing to do with how good of an employee I was. The first time had to do with me moving to a new city. The second time was because my grant-funded position at a non-profit was eliminated due the agency losing that grant. The third time, well, let’s just say that if I had been eligible to appeal my wrongful termination, I would have won.

We place so much value on paid work (and of course some paid work is more valued than others) that unemployment is viewed as a moral failing. Of course, not many would dare say that to your face but that attitude is all around us. How else to explain the fact that I automatically feel embarrassed when I meet someone for the first time and they ask me, “What do you do?”  I feel judged if I say something like, “I’m between jobs,” or  “I’m job searching,”  or ” I’m unemployed”. The stigma of unemployment is such that you can be assumed to be lazy, a terrible employee, broke (another “moral” failing), etc., if you don’t add qualifiers to your answer. So I rely on euphemisms like, “I stay home with my son,” because in some circles it’s more acceptable to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) of your own volition.

And yes, I have enjoyed being a SAHM. I get to spend more time with my son. I don’t have to deal with rush hour traffic twice a day. I don’t have to stress about workplace politics and dirty tricks. In many ways, I get to breathe. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really miss going off to an office environment. The problem is that I didn’t get to choose to be a SAHM so my family didn’t get to prepare for that choice. Instead, I was unceremoniously thrown into a situation that currently is unsustainable. So, for the past year I’ve looked for a new job.

Simply put, unemployment and job hunting sucks. It sucks for the basic reasons of having to organize a resume over and over, the hours of searching for job listings, and then having your applications rejected. It sucks when your options are limited because of childcare needs and costs. It sucks when the thing you’re qualified to do is not in high demand in your city. It sucks when being unemployed is also a hindrance to becoming employed. Here’s why else it sucks — it makes me question my own value.

What good am I if no one thinks I’m hire-able?

Am I a bad person for not wanting any old job?

What was the point of getting a master’s degree if it actually hinders my job search?

Am I letting my family down by not being “successful”?

To some, this thought process might sound irrational but when society says your worth is tied to your ability to make money, is it really that irrational? Unemployment is a soul-sucking, doubt-inducing beast that sometimes left me sobbing over my computer keyboard.

Sigh.

So here’s the good news — I’ve been hired. I’m simultaneously relieved and anxious about it. I’m grateful for the opportunity because now there’s the promise of steady income. With steady income comes a lessening of family stress and room to breathe. However, I don’t like having to find alternative childcare for my son (a situation worthy of its own post) and I’m sad to lose the flexibility I had with my time.

If there’s anything I learned from being unemployed, it’s that I like to be the primary determinant of where I spend my time. So, over the next year I’d like to find a way to earn a steady paycheck while spending my time in ways I find fulfilling, and that includes being my son’s primary caregiver.

However, I’m glad to say goodbye to involuntary unemployment. I hope we never meet again.

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Posted on April 17, 2011, in Random bits from my life, Stay At Home Mom, Uncategorized, Working mom and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. You are right about attitudes of unpaid work, or being unemployed (voluntary or no). I’ve come to see how many people are struggling to find paid work, and it seems to me – where I live, anyway – the stigma of not having paid work, while wanting paid work, seems to be lifting. Perhaps this is just my perception.

    Job and work status is a fascinating subject to me. Soc Images just posted some graphical data on what we value. I plan to pore over that bit more later.

    On a personal note: congratulations! I hope you write about your experience. And best of luck with the new work.

  2. First, congrats on the new job! I know you are anxious about leaving your son for any old job. I have the same fears about going back to work. I tell myself that the work has to be worth leaving my baby with someone else. Please do keep us posted on your re-entry

  3. Congratulations!

  4. “If there’s anything I learned from being unemployed, it’s that I like to be the primary determinant of where I spend my time. So, over the next year I’d like to find a way to earn a steady paycheck while spending my time in ways I find fulfilling, and that includes being my son’s primary caregiver.”

    Man, this resonates so strongly for me. Wishing you the best NGB!!

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