This post is over a year and a half in the making. I’ve had some time to live through cycles of emotions and new perspectives, and will continue to learn. But after the dust has settled, here is where I stand – humbled, but confident in pieces of the future that are being slowly unveiled.
I lost my job. I had always worked, ever since I was 15 years old. I took pride in having a job, making my own money, especially being in a management position where I could practice working with people and use my administrative skill set.
My supervisor called me in to tell me that the organization was eliminating my position. It was an upper management decision, and it felt that way. I didn’t understand it at first, but slowly came to accept that this was a much-needed end to a difficult road that had taken a toll on my family.
Side Effects of a Working Mom
Little did I realize that my drive to succeed in the workplace was having an adverse affect on my husband and children. I often burned the midnight oil just to stay on top of things. The workload increased more every week as the organization grew and projects popped up to which I often jumped to take on. I genuinely thought I was handling everything well, but in reality, my priorities were askew – I had little to no quality time with my kids, constantly fatigued and irritable with them and my husband. I was always on my phone or computer, answering emails at any time of day, night, weekend. The kids needs fell to my back burner and I got to them when I had a free moment.
I felt myself drifting further from my husband as I grew more independent in the confidence of my job description and small successes at work, so much so that I actually resented his presence. I felt as if he was evaluating the wife and mother I was at home, never happy for me about the things I was getting done at work, I didn’t feel like he supported me in that, but only looked for gaps in my domestic duties. That’s how I felt. That’s how I saw it.
In reality, he didn’t know how to tell me how much he resented that I couldn’t put our family first. Our arguments boiled down to one thing: trust. I didn’t trust that he supported me or understood what it took to do my job successfully, nor he trust that I supported his efforts to successfully run our family business. Toward the end, we were not connected; barely speaking let alone finding time to hang out, and I was running in circles trying to juggle it all. I was trying to be Superwoman. The pressure I put on myself was so great that when the news came that I was being let go, I felt as if a huge burden was lifted. But that initial relief was only making way for deep sorrow.
Stages of Grief
What followed in the next few weeks was an unspeakable feeling of loss. It took some time and counseling to get through these stages, but here is a glimpse of that awkward transition of rediscovery.
Denial & Isolation
“This can’t be happening.” I had to stay away from the building, from that part of town where most of my errands were run. I was ashamed and embarrassed to not be able to identify with the work I had done so rigorously for so long. It all came to a screeching halt, and I began to feel empty.
I began questioning the organization’s business practices – “Why would they do this to me? What did I do wrong?” I didn’t understand the business process; all that I understood was that it was over.
“If I could just show them another way they can preserve the position…” I thought. What if I had done the job differently, not asked so many questions? Then I actually battled between being okay with the decision; understanding logically why it needed to happen that way. Board of Directors, budget cuts, scaling back, reorganizing the company’s structure. The logic made me feel better for a time, and I convinced myself that as long as I hung out in that shallow end of the pool, I wouldn’t give into the depth of my emotions.
Then it hit me. There were two full days where I felt so utterly empty, useless, unwanted. It was difficult to get out of bed and when I tried to open my eyes, my skin was stiff with the leftover salt wash of my tears. These feelings surprised me because I worked so hard to pretend like they weren’t there, like this event wasn’t getting to me. It was just business, after all. But I sank. My stomach dropped into a deep pit and I couldn’t catch my breath.
I remember sitting drooped at a table, feeling the weight of my head pull me down deeper to the counter, and there was no strength or willpower to even sit up straight.
And then came the sobbing – the uncontrollable sobbing. There was a conversation happening in my head, saying, “Pull yourself together, Jenn. This is ridiculous, stop being so dramatic.” I got angry at that voice and continued to sob pathetically.
Slowly, very slowly, the dark cloud subsided, and I began to see glimpses of meaning in the “new normal.” I took one day at a time, memories of the job played and replayed in my head. All the previous stages cycled slowly, then quickly, and then they faded over each day that passed. I began seeing a very loving therapist who walked me through the feelings and helped me to recognize the value in myself. Once the grief had passed, I was lifted by my new found freedom in being at home. I no longer felt isolated, but somehow safe in the fact that I actually had the freedom to start fresh with my family.
What I Couldn’t Hear
“It will be fine! You’re going to find something awesome…”
All speculation, grounded in good intentions, but lacked in genuine connection for what I just lost. I realize that these kinds of statements are a common and natural reaction to a hurting person, but more in a self-medicating way for the giver, not the receiver. It’s what people do when they want all the bad feelings to go away, like blowing dust off the table.
Some coworkers said nothing at all. Maybe the situation made them uncomfortable. Maybe they thought they weren’t supposed to comment. I honestly don’t know, but from human to human, it’s better to acknowledge a grief than to ignore it. It tells the person, “I see what is happening, and I see you.” It’s ok not to have answers to difficult things, but a little head nod and eye contact goes a long way.
What I Needed
The best thing someone could have done was to sit acknowledge the hurt, sit with me to listen or just in silence. This is exactly what one coworker did. She walked into my office, closed the door, hugged me, and cried with me. Then we carried my things to the car. Another wrote a heartfelt note to me expressing sadness and affirming me as the person she knew I was. At those moments I felt more love and consideration than any hopeful gesture could have communicated.
I gained so much from working because I believed that I had so much to contribute to the workforce, as an educated woman, a wife and mother – my life experience and savvy were going to help to change the world. But I soon came to learn that my employment did not validate my identity as much as a parking space validates a Corvette. Location and responsibility does not necessarily affect the influence that my life has on others, neither is my life’s purpose diminished by taking care of my home and family. My husband and I now have the emotional space and time to talk through our issues of trust and validation. Now that my focus is our home, we don’t find ourselves split between two lives where I was trying to do too much. I have never felt such peace as I do now, pouring the best of myself into my family.
In this new season, I found a joy and peace in time with my kids, so much so that I am considering homeschooling them in the near future. My priorities did a complete 180 through my time and attention, and sharing all of myself with them. I’ve learned to accept the past and learn from it, not to ignore my feelings, but to allow them to carry me to the next stage of life. I thought I had to set out to discover my new identity, but it was there all along. I had just made myself too busy to notice.