Like so many people in our country, I lost my job this year. As
marketing director, I was aware of the challenges my firm was
facing and wasn't shocked to be included in the third round of
layoffs. In fact, I was fortunate; the leadership was hopeful and
asked me to consult while we awaited a renewed economy. I was
unemployed, but I at least had some income.
My layoff transpired the Friday prior to my son's spring break
from school. What luck! I could be home with him for the entire
week -- no camps, no huge sitter bills. A working, single parent
for most of my son's life, I had always planned meticulously for
these breaks, driven to arrange for his fun and safety to deflect
my guilt and his attention from the fact that I wasn't
That spring break week was a real treat. We slept in, made big
breakfasts of blueberry pancakes and cheesy omelettes and even
watched a few movies in the middle of the afternoon. Spring break
soon turned to summer vacation and the complex matrix of camps and
sitters again gave way. I had remarried just months before the
layoff and my new step-daughter would also be spending every other
week with us through the summer. Instead of scheduling the kids
with baseball, rock climbing and art camps, I signed the three of
us up for a few tennis lessons and bought a family pool pass.
With intermittent consulting (combined with my husband's
salary), I began to explore a level of personal flexibility I'd
never known. For the first time in my son's 13 years, I was a
stay-at-home mom. I traded my suits for yoga pants, Starbucks for
my own French press coffee and my car for my purple bike.
Life was good.
So why was I so anxious? I'd worked since I was 15 and my career
had come to define my place on the planet. Even once I became a
parent, my biggest challenge was balancing home with work, striving
to be successful enough at both without dropping either ball.
As this dynamic shifted and the balancing act no longer required a
Herculean effort, I found myself unsure and unmotivated. Without
the tightrope tension of my former life, I was lost. My consulting
practice lacked focus and inspiration. I timidly dabbled at my
life-long dream of being a writer, but this felt selfish and
far-fetched. I was frustrated, grateful to have a moment of
reflection and yet perplexed that I didn't know exactly what to do
One afternoon's roller coaster of emotions brought tears, which
wasn't especially unusual, except that I lost track of time and was
surprised by my son's arrival home from school. Despite my effort
to feign normalcy, he immediately sensed my mood and asked what was
Scrambling for a short, diversionary answer, it struck me that
this was an opportunity to really parent in an active-verb sort of
way. Instead of perpetuating the fantasy that life is all about
baseball and blueberry pancakes, this was a chance for me to share
my vulnerability, even my fears as
I struggled to redefine myself and begin anew.
That 30-minute talk was transformative for both of us. I was
careful about characterizing my feelings, knowing my son relies on
me for strength and assurance, but I was frank about my fears
regarding the transition of my career and even shared my writing
aspirations. His thoughtful response stunned me. He was genuinely
enthused by my openness, offering comfort and words of
encouragement. A few days later, another conversation revealed that
he was quite moved by my authentic expression of my fears and told
me he thought I was "brave."
As I continue to find my way, I am made more confident by the
wisdom of my 13-year-old. He's right, it is brave to look hard at
yourself, and it takes courage to accept what you see, even if it
Linda Stephens is an Oak Park mom rediscovering her love for
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