Thoughts of the inadvertent SAHM


The other day, Rita Arens wrote a fantastic post over at her blog, Surrender, Dorothy, about her husband's unemployment. Go read it, then come back here, OK?

Wasn't that good? It made me think that maybe I should try to get a few of my feelings about my current unemployed status out there in bloggy format, too.

I got laid off. While on maternity leave. I'm not going to go into details, because going into professional details here would be dumb, but suffice it to say that yes, in this instance it was legal. What happened had absolutely nothing to do with me personally--it was a corporate rules issue that came from far above any of the team I worked with--but that didn't make it not sting, or make it not feel like I had been betrayed while I was vulnerable. I had fully intended to return to my position when Buzzy was eight weeks old, and, instead, I found out when he was three weeks old that I didn't have a job to which I could return.

Now he's almost sixteen weeks, and I still don't. I'm looking--sending the three queries or applications a week mandated by unemployment insurance and then some--but, so far, nothing has panned out. I haven't even had a real interview, though I have had a few phone interviews. Most of what I've applied for is stuff I haven't been all that excited about, but a few things sounded like great matches for my skill set, at which I would be really good, and none of them have called me back.

I am, oddly, not that upset about it. I'm sure long-time readers will recall that the last time I was unemployed, it made me a little bit nuts. Circumstances were better then, too, as far as not having just birthed a dependent. But this time, I feel very calm about it most of the time. I feel sure I'll find something else in good time, and in the meantime, I'm really enjoying the time this allows me to spend with Buzzy, which I would not have otherwise had. Yes, it's a strain financially, but when I add the amount of unemployment insurance I'm getting to the amount we're not paying in daycare, it's not that big a strain. It wouldn't add up long-term, of course (for one thing, UI is only for six months), but for now, it's working OK.

I am, however, bothered by not being more bothered. I don't think I realized, until I wasn't working, just how much of my self-definition is tied up in being employed. Not in what I do specifically, but in myself as a wage earner, as someone who gets up and goes to work every day. Even though I am in many ways busier and more engaged now, as the primary caregiver for an infant, than I have been in many (if not all) of my paid jobs, I still feel lazy. I feel like a leech on my partner, and on society. I feel guilty for not working. And even though I know I didn't do it "on purpose," I feel like I somehow chose not to work and that I am letting myself and perhaps all of womankind down by being, however unwillingly, a stay-at-home-mom.

I didn't expect to be in this position, obviously, but even if I had imagined it, this is not how I would have expected it to feel. I enjoy being home with my baby much more than I would have thought possible (though I suspect this would not hold true long term). I'm not bored. Though I look forward to going back to work, and especially to being an earner once again, I am not nearly so anxious as I expected I would be to slip into a non-mommy primary identity for 40 hours a week. While staying home for these first few months has not made me wish I could stay home long-term, it hasn't made me yearn to go back to work as soon as possible, either. I have been, and at this point remain, surprisingly content both with being home with Buzzy and with the idea that soon (hopefully!) I'll be leaving him in professional care and returning to work.

It has been helpful, in some way, not to have the responsibilities of a job complicating things as I've made the shift to this new identity as someone's mother. On the other hand, though, I worry that this ease comes at the price of sublimating my previous identities, including the wage earning identity that turns out to have been so important, to my new role. Obviously, all of the issues surrounding parenthood, and especially motherhood, and work are extremely complex and very controversial. I can't quite yet tease out how my perspective has been altered by this experience, but I sense that it has.

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October 2012

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