Out of Work

What it was like to tell my kids I lost my job: 'Aren't you important' Mom?

Alison Fischer and her two daughters
Photo courtesy Alison Fischer

This is part of CNBC Make It's Out of Work series, where real people tell their personal stories of what it's like to be underemployed during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the story of Alison Fischer, as told to Cat Clifford.

I was at my fiance's house on March 31, it was 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and I took a phone call from the owner of my company — the president and COO. He informed me that my position was being eliminated. 

Significant changes had to be made to the small, family-owned business I worked for due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Coming from leadership, I understand. I worked for O'Sullivan Communications, a publishing company in New Jersey, for over 15 years. I was senior vice president of operations, client services and account management. The majority of the clients I worked with were in the airline space, so Covid-19 had a huge impact on the area of the business I managed. 

Even though being let go is not a personal issue for me, when you get that call from your boss, it's quite a shock to the system. 

I love the people that I worked with. And I have never been unemployed.

This was a first for me, and I had to tell my kids.

I 'just sat with it' for 24 hours

The first person I told was my fiance. We went for a car ride because I just wanted to sit in silence. It's so overwhelming that you don't want to think about the "what ifs."

I cried when I told my fiance, but it wasn't sadness that I felt. I didn't feel a connection to my job title such that it was a loss of my sense of self. It was more, "Well, what am I going to do now?" Or maybe it was because you have to say those words: "I've been laid off." I never said those words before.

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But I didn't actually tell my two girls, who are 12 and 16, for almost a full 24 hours.

I just sat with it first. I was thinking, "How am I going to tell them that I have been laid off?" 

My girls have seen me get up and go to work their whole lives. I don't believe they tied me as a person to my job, but they do understand that my job provides money for us to live.

I was really trying to figure out, how do I tell them without scaring them? And how will I keep a level of composure?

When your kids ask, 'Aren't you important' Mom?

The next day I told them.

Schools in New Jersey were closed, so my daughters were homeschooling. I called them into the living room, sat down and told them that I had been let go from my position at work. I was crying initially.

They both sort of looked at me, and they said, "Well, what does that mean for us?"

How you handle yourself is everything when it comes to how they're going to respond, so I immediately composed myself.

"Well, we're probably going to have to make some changes initially, but as your mom, please let me focus on that. I don't want you to worry about that," I said.

My daughters got angry and frustrated at my employer: "Aren't you important? Don't they think you're valuable?" they asked.

"I am valuable," I said. "But my value has nothing to do with my job. I'm valuable for a lot of other reasons."

"I will find a job that makes me happier, a place to work that values me, a place where I want to be," I said.

The girls asked questions about money too. I have a mortgage to pay and bills. "Yeah, we're going to have to make some changes," I said.

I explained a little bit about unemployment insurance, but I think some of that went over their heads.

"I'm going to have to really work to get another job or figure out what my next move is," I said. 

Staying positive and moving forward

For now, we're good. My girls and I are stable and we're happy. 

We have made some changes. For instance, with food shopping, we are not particularly frivolous, but now we are much more careful.

Also, there is no "I need this article of clothing just because and I want to do online shopping" for me and my girls. They know they need to be conscientious about what they ask for. And they have been fantastic — without reminder.

Since being laid off, I'm also spending more time working with survivors of domestic abuse, offering free coaching to help them rebuild their lives, re-enter the workforce and to help them shed any misplaced guilt, shame and judgment they might feel. I've been doing this for maybe 18 months to two years, since I first shared my own story a while back. But I didn't have a lot of time to devote to it before.

I also hope to be able to spend some time supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners. I don't know if I ever felt that I had support as a leader. Just because you're at the top of your game does not mean that you don't need support. So I want to offer that support to others using my 20 years experience in corporate roles. 

And I have not stopped my job search, but I am not obsessing. 

Right now, everything is fine, but that won't last forever. So I am trying to determine what my new normal is going to be.

If I have to if I go back into a corporate position, what might that look like? Would I still be able to do coaching and consulting, which is where my heart is? Can I do both in this new journey, this new chapter of my life?

That would be ideal for me. And now is the time for anybody who's in a position like I am to really look at your life, take the reins, and rebuild.

See also: 

'It's never too late to start again:' Over 40s share life lessons for young people

Ray Dalio's advice to grads: Realize you know almost nothing about being successful out of school

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