I kind of had an inkling something was up on Monday evening when I got the e-mail to convene for breakfast at the Sears Tower, just a couple blocks from my office, for a mandatory meeting. It also concerned me that we weren’t all invited. And while expected them plying us with sweets was the precursor to bad news, I didn’t expect them to tell all 175 of us that we were being laid off. It wasn’t immediate – even the earliest layoffs aren’t occurring ‘til April – but damaging enough. And while I feel confident that I’ll land on my feet, especially since I was ready to move on from this job anyway, there are others I worry about.
One friend at work has a new baby at home. His wife quit her job on the previous Friday to stay at home with their son. Others have large families, many are the primary breadwinner. Some of us are fortunate that a number of jobs are open in our fields, while others have been here so long, their duties so diverse, that they’re even not really sure what they do. It’s great that there’s time for people to find new things, but it’s still devastating for many.
I’m sad to leave this place, however, because it’s the only place I’ve worked where not having kids didn’t matter. Maybe it’s because it’s downtown Chicago, where people are more open-minded and more likely to know others like me (or to also be childfree), but I don’t have people using the fact that I don’t have kids as a reason to make ME work the extra hours, or to have ME give up time. I’m asked to do it, but it’s never because my life doesn’t matter as much as others’.
That’s not to say it’s not stressful. I am not only the primary breadwinner, I am the sole breadwinner, plus my husband’s student loan debt is piling up. Ironically, I took this job (after freelancing full-time for a year) for the stability, so that I knew we'd have insurance and stable income while he was in school. SURPRISE! I feel like we need to apply for his loan for next year NOW, while I’m employed, just in case I can’t find anything. My father has been unemployed for nearly 6 months, the former VP of Engineering going from making that sort of salary to nothing, and my folks are facing the loss of their home because they can’t seem to sell it in this market. My brother, who FINALLY moved into his own apartment with his daughter and got a real, full-time job, just broke his hand severely and is faced with losing HIS job. It’s a very real possibility that I will be asked to help them out, and that terrifies me. Plus, we’re entering a recession that, if trends are the same as they were when recession hit in 2000/2001, will mean graphic design jobs will dry up completely and start paying much less. I don’t want to find a job in an employers’ market. I need a job NOW.
But, when it comes down to it, I know we’ll be fine. Our expenses are low enough, and we’ve been able to save enough over the last few years that we’ll be okay. I look at the situation and wonder how much it would change if we added a kid to the equation. We’d need so much more saved in an emergency fund, if it comes down to being unemployed the insurance would be so much higher. And then I wondered, would my husband have even been able to go back to school full-time, with me supporting us both?
His decision to go back to school is going to mean so many opportunities for us. It will open great doors for his career and is a necessary step for us to reach the goals we have. We’ve been together 5 years… what if, in that time, we’d had a child? We’d never be able to afford to take this risk, to go to one income, to incur a great deal of debt while risking our insurance and our livelihoods on my income. Would I have been able to move up as I have in my career, or to move up more where I can carry us both? Can you imagine the additional costs, childcare and more, that a child would add to the equation? I can’t. There’s a great potential that we would be stuck in that situation, with my career plateauing because of a newfound aversion to the risks that have taken me this far and will certainly take me further. It would take my husband years to finish school part-time, if he even found the motivation (he’s a full-time student kind of guy; it’s just his personality), it would take him years, and his degree wouldn’t mean as much as it does from the great program he’s in right now. It’s staggering.
It’s no surprise that a child doesn’t fit into our lifestyle at this point, but I look to the future and just can’t see us settling to a point where we would want to be parents. I know, even with this layoff and future layoffs that we’ll surely face in our careers, that we can provide for ourselves. I’m a big risk-taker, but a child’s effect on that aspect of my personality is an interesting paradox. Is a child too big a risk for me to handle, or do I simply not want to have a child because I’ll no longer want to be a risk-taker?