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I'd Never Been Happier to Be a Working Mom Than When My Husband Lost His Job

Working Mother logoWorking Mother 15/1/2019 Juliet Diamond-Ciro
a person standing in front of a laptop: Neither of us had lost our job since becoming parents. © iStock Neither of us had lost our job since becoming parents.

Had I been a stay-at-home parent, our family's well-being might've been in jeopardy.

“I'm being let go, FYI.”

That’s the IM I received from my pragmatic, straightforward husband, Matt, one Thursday afternoon, right before Christmas.

I turned off my breast pump. In case babies can get messages through milk, as some say they do, I didn't want mine to taste any hint of anxiety.

“Are you OK?” I typed back. “I'm so sorry. I love you,” I added.

Matt didn’t reply. My heart thumped behind my pumping bra, enough to gently jostle the bottles still attached to me. The milk shook just like the water in the cup from that scene in the original Jurassic Park. It was apt. I feared our first bout of unemployment with two children as intensely as the film's characters feared dinosaurs run amok.

I worried my new-to-joblessness spouse had harmed himself, not that he was prone to such a reaction. Then again, I had no way of predicting his response to losing a job, something he’d never experienced in his 15 years working—or growing up with a business owner father and homemaking mother. Twenty extra-long minutes later, he assured me he was OK. I assured him we all would be.

My father was frequently out of work when I was a child. My working mother wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but even when they were both gainfully employed, they could barely cover the expenses of raising two children in the New York City area. My dad’s unstable income meant my mom really, really had to work. Somehow, we kept our townhouse. We had food—plenty of it, always. We had clothes, albeit wardrobes peppered with neighbors’ and co-workers’ hand-me-downs. We even had central air, a luxury my parents insisted upon when they bought their first home.

If they were OK then, we would certainly be OK now.

I’m lucky I was able to take out loans to afford to go to college. I’m lucky my salary alone now is more than my parents ever made together. I’m lucky that Matt and I earned enough to establish an emergency fund. I’m lucky we could live below our means in a modest home and with one modest car. I’m incredibly lucky we are, at the moment, reasonably healthy and can get health insurance through my job.

And while luck has a lot to do with all of those things, choice comes into play for some. Most notably, I chose to work. With some belt-tightening, I could’ve stayed home with our children. But I wanted to work. I just didn’t realize how satisfied I’d be with that decision when this nearly inevitable moment of moderate crisis struck our family.

Of course I still freaked out because there was much to figure out, like whether we’d have to switch doctors under our new health insurance and whether we could afford to keep both kids in daycare so Matt could accept job interviews without securing last-minute care. But the situation would have been far more dire had I been a stay-at-home parent. There’d be no emergency fund from which to draw. I’d have the difficult task of rejoining the workforce after so many years out of it. Instead of living on one salary temporarily, we’d have to live solely on unemployment wages. And if they ran out before either of us were hired, then what?

I can only imagine how scary those words “I’m being let go” would be to a stay-at-home mom. How stressful looking for a job would be, knowing that if I didn't get it, we might not be able to make our mortgage payment. How tricky managing my interview schedule with my partner’s would be if childcare isn’t readily available—or affordable. How uncertain my family’s future would be.

So on those days a work deadline means I can’t make it to a special event at my kids’ school or a late meeting makes me miss bedtime, while I’ll still be sad, I’ll remind myself: Yes, this is hard, but not working could have made my family’s lives so much harder.

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