I was driving with my infant son in the backseat of my car, trying not to open the box of donut holes in the front seat that were supposed to be a treat for my coworkers. With only about a week of my maternity leave left, I wanted to say hi and settle my office a bit more. I felt blessed that my son would be able to come to work with me for a little while, but was nervous about the transition. I was feeling mom guilt over making him leave the comfort of home and eventually leaving him at daycare to work by myself.
I was ten feet from pulling into the parking lot when a call came through my car’s sound system. It was my executive director telling me that, due to budget constraints, they would be laying me off. I was dumbfounded as he continued to talk about how they hoped to hire me back if the budget was better at the beginning of the fiscal year and that I could apply for unemployment (duh).
Suddenly I felt so angry that my eyes started to well up with tears. I ended the conversation as quickly as I could and hung up. Really? After two years of hard work, I get let go right before my maternity leave is up? No parting check would be sent as my leave was unpaid. Why couldn’t they have told me this a few weeks ago? I could have been looking for work already. What were we going to do about our personal budget? To collect unemployment I have to be actively searching for work, but that could mean leaving my son sooner than I planned. Could I even find childcare sooner? Could we afford for me to just stay home with our son? How dare they? How dare they put me in this position? How dare they do it when they hired staff they knew they couldn’t afford? How dare they assault the joy that is the birth of my child?
After some tears and a lot of profanity (okay, and a strong margarita), I started to feel much calmer about the situation. Although still anxious about how we would make ends meet in the long term, I knew we would be okay. For the present moment, I could enjoy some more time with my little boy. Anger continued to subside and I realized how little I actually cared about not returning to my job. There would be a couple of coworkers I’d miss, but I wouldn’t actually miss working.
I spent long hours at my job to accomplish as much as possible for our clients with no overtime pay before my son was born. Working at a nonprofit meant that, although I wasn’t paid much, I was making a difference for people that needed it. I spent nights worrying about clients, wishing I had stayed to accomplish more, and feeling anxious.
Once my son came into the world, all of that faded away. I did not miss work. I did not feel like part of my life or routine was missing. In fact, my whole life finally seemed to have purpose and center. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing all along: mothering. Nevertheless, I did look forward to returning to work in other ways. I was told I was missed and needed. I would be financially contributing to my family again. I would be doing what I felt I should.
As hours passed after that uncomfortable phone call, I started to realize why I didn’t care. My job didn’t define me. Not now, and not before I became a mother. The difference was, now I knew that. I was lacking purpose in my life before my son was born and was desperately trying to fill that void with my career. Whether or not I admitted it then, it wasn’t working and I was still feeling empty. I thought I was supposed to define myself by what I did, because it seemed to me that’s what the majority of other people were doing. I felt broken for not feeling the same way.
After being forcibly cut loose from that expectation, the pieces actually seemed to fall in place. I am defined by my relationships, not my job status. I am a wife, I am a mother, I am a friend. Those are the things that give me purpose, not my job title or income, not even the actual work I am doing.
Sometimes our vocations aren’t our careers, but rather the other works and relationships in our lives. It is clear to me now that my vocation is that of a mother and that’s okay. Jobs are important, but are more important to some than others and that’s okay. Getting laid off from my job is a hit to my present; but it’s provided me with realizations that will make my future so much better.
Photo credit: Cathryn Lavery