I’ve detailed in previous posts the many and myriad costs of being unemployed, the most obvious of which is lack of income and insurance. And of course the former of those leads to numerous other costs, such as a difficulty in paying bills, making purchases, and maintaining your home and family! There are other less material costs – the most notable to me being the loss of one’s professional self and with it lowered self-esteem and a sense of isolation as you are cut off from your network and the tasks that defined you for so many years. Long before I became a mother, since graduate school in fact, I was a professional – an archaeologist working in the environmental field – and my work was how I identified myself. Losing my job has left me floundering a bit in the area of self actualization!
On the whole I have to say that this situation isn’t one I’d wish on anyone. It’s hard, and fraught with uncertainty. I’m no Pollyanna, in fact I have something of a doomsday view of our time in history (I wonder if the coming decade will see the Urban Wars that J.D. Robb refers to in her “Death” mystery series), but I want to say that I have discovered some benefits to being unemployed. The absolute best thing about not working is the amount of free time you have! Mind you, initially you might waste that time returning to your bed after dropping the children at school, hiding under the covers despondent and depressed, or frantically searching the internet and newspapers for job ads and sending out applications for any relevant and a few irrelevant positions, or perhaps tending your crops in cyberspace and frittering away whatever severance pay you got on additional acres. I was spared these superfluous activities because we lost our home when I lost my job and we went directly into hard core survivor mode. I had no time to despair, and no internet connection. Once we got our trailer and ‘settled down’ I had the luxury of being able to settle into a depression and did for a while as I came to grips with our new reality. And I still revisit that state from time to time. But I also luxuriated in my ‘free’ time. I picked up the kids when school ended at 2:30 in the afternoon rather than delegating that task to a babysitter and took the opportunity to sign my older girls up for youth basketball and accompany them to all practices and games. All of a sudden there were no more long commutes in rush hour traffic or mad scrambles to get to the babysitter’s on time. Evenings didn’t have to be hurried micro waved dinners and harried and tense bouts of homework. We had plenty of time to snuggle up with a book and read bedtime stories at leisure. Some days we went straight to the beach from school, or took the dogs to the park to play.
Instead of seeing my children primarily on weekends we were suddenly spending a lot of time together all week long. This has been both blessing and curse as we feel our way into new roles in our constrained space. On the one hand my pre-teen confides in me more than she did before – after all it’s hard to keep much private in the trailer. So I hear about the boy she has a crush on, her worries about being ready for high school, and the bullying 8th grader who spread nasty text messages throughout middle school. And we talk. But my 9 year old on the cusp of puberty has nowhere to go to evade her pernicious brother who cannot or will not stay out of her belongings or her little sister who is the consummate button pusher. And I spend a lot more time in my role as disciplinarian and referee now that the option of sending a child to his/her room (or allowing them to retreat there) no longer exists!
My free time has also provided me the opportunity to consider in a thoughtful and deliberate way what I want the rest of my life to look like. And while I continue to diligently apply for jobs in my field, I am also reawakening old dreams of becoming a writer and exploring other possible paths that might allow more creative expression and an even deeper satisfaction than my old career. In some ways, in the best of ways, I consider this time as a forced sabbatical. And like a professor on a sabbatical I hope to emerge mentally rested and reinvigorated to face the challenges ahead of me.