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 available.
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 with it.
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 wrong.
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 is unfamiliar.
Linda Stephens is an Oak Park mom rediscovering her love for writing.