September 18, 2019

Supporting My Spouse Through a Layoff

When Zach and I met, I was making more than him. Then, somewhere along the way, he surpassed me, eventually doubling, then tripling my salary. And, so, it seemed only natural that, once kids came, he would be the breadwinner.

This was never actually discussed though. And, looking back, it should’ve been. At the time, six years ago, right before Lilly was born, we moved from Los Angeles back to New York so Zach could accept a job promotion. The plan was for me to relocate with my job and, instead of being a full-time producer (for a TV show), I’d freelance. And, I did. For awhile. Ultimately, it wasn’t as fulfilling as being in the production meetings and on-set. I was only giving analytical feedback of what was and wasn’t working on the show. And, while I’m opinionated, love to weigh in and be a part of the process, I missed the creative element of dreaming up show ideas, writing scripts and producing segments immensely. I also missed a team to brainstorm and collaborate with. Plus, I had no childcare, which meant I had to cram my hours in when Lilly was napping and at night after she’d gone to bed. And, the last thing I wanted to do after returning from a long day of baby classes, play dates, walks in the park and errands was work. So I amicably parted ways with my previous employer.

I thought I’d eventually go back to the work force, but 3 months turned to 6, 6 turned to 9 and so on. And, while I wouldn’t say it was pure bliss, as I fought myself at the idea of being a SAHM and what it meant for my career (I later learned I was depressed.), it was still a really special time that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

While I was at home, Zach continued to excel at his job. And shortly after I ended my freelance gig, I started this blog (I can never sit still for long.). As many new “business owners” can attest, for years, I barely made any money. So, while I was feeling creatively fulfilled, the pressure to support our family was still squarely on him. And while he didn’t necessarily have his dream job or career, he’d become comfortable. He respected and had great relationship with his boss, had friends at the office, was well liked and made a good salary, with solid benefits.

Then, the election happened. Trump was sworn into office and all hell broke loose. Both in our country and our home. Not only could I not stop crying, but Zach worked for Fox. (Cue the dramatic music.) He worked on various entities within the brand, like Fox Business, but he was also responsible for generating ad revenue for Fox News Channel. As a Texan with some conservative values, working at a “fair and balanced” network, in the beginning, wasn’t too compromising to his liberal side.

But, as time went on, much like my experience with Us Weekly (which started as an entertainment magazine with a focus on film and TV and in-depth interviews with actors turned towards much more salacious headlines, gossip and gotcha angles), it was harder to reconcile.

The overdue and vital resurgence of the #MeToo movement, which was prompted by allegations of sexual assault by my former boss, Harvey Weinstein, followed by the rightful implosion of Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, was the final straw. Zach wanted out. And while there was a new regime brought in as the old boys club was ushered out (a.k.a. fired), it was too late. The writing was on the wall and it was time to move on.

So he did. He went to a publishing company to head up all of their revenue. This meant print sales (in addition to digital) as well as overseeing other departments, all areas he didn’t have experience in. It was a big job. The learning curve was steep and the stress was considerable, but he was up for the challenge. But, unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Without saying too much, since he signed an agreement, there was a difference of opinion and vision for where the company was headed and how they would get there.

While Zach didn’t think it would be a long term opportunity (there was a lot of restructuring and red tape), he didn’t believe his dismissal was imminent. He was wrong. And, so, one Thursday morning, he left for work at 7am and was on a train back home by 10am.

I was hosting an event at Serena & Lily and he called me right before I walked in the doors of the tony brick and mortar store. I was rattled, but forged on, did my job and then met my newly unemployed husband at a bar at noon. There’s perks to working for yourself! It was reminiscent of the time I was laid off from my magazine. I knew it was coming, things had soured and I basically asked for a package so we could part ways, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an emotional rollercoaster.

Zach met me at home that January day, seven years ago, prepared for tears. But, I rolled up in my convertible with the top down and music blaring. (It was California. That’s how we lived in winter, pre-kids.) That night we went out for margaritas and I was so relieved it was finally all over.

That feeling lasted two days. Then I hit a major slump. The next four months (I accepted a job in May, but didn’t start until September because: TV hiatuses.) were marred by emotional whiplash. One day, I’d feel free and light. The other, depressed and heavy.

I tell you this, not to make it about me, but to say how much I could empathize with my husband and best friend. It is TOUGH. Our identities are so tied up in our profession. And, especially as the main provider for our family, at least financially, Zach felt a particular burden. When I was laid off, it was before kids and we were renters. There was no mortgage or additional mouths to feed. This time, the pressures were amplified.

But, I have to say, and he agrees, that while it wasn’t necessarily his choice, it was such a gift. And that’s not even hindsight, we absolutely knew it just as much then as we do now.

It came at a time when our kids are young. Oliver is home and Lilly still wants her daddy to walk her to school. It was winter and we could hole up and make a mid-afternoon fire, go for coffee together and spend quality time with one another. And, perhaps most crucially, I was going through a mental health crisis. I tear up thinking about the universe was looking out for us. While the stress of what was next applied extra pressure and Zach’s mood was also sometimes low, which was hard for both of us, it was, overall, a much needed and appreciated break.

He was able to take a tremendous load off of me when I needed it the most. He was there when I went to therapy and was adjusting to my medication. He ran errands that, at the time, felt overwhelming to me. He’d do pickup and the playground when my social anxiety was at an all time high. And he’d make dinner and give baths, often the witching hour for all of us, which had previously caused major mommy meltdowns.

We had six months together. He picked me up while I was down and I like to think I did the same for him. It wasn’t always positive, it tested our marriage, but, ultimately, it made us stronger and more appreciative for what we do have. A major life event like this has a way of putting things quickly in perspective.

The interview process was not fun, for any of us. He’d get so excited about an opportunity, immerse himself in research, envision his career there, go through endless interviews and then, ultimately, not get the job or it was too junior, the pay wasn’t high enough, he didn’t like the package… It took its toll. The job he eventually accepted is a start up, which is always risky. Then again, his last job seemed stable, so, I guess, you never know, especially in this climate. There’s a large pay cut associated with these new ventures, but also a substantial stake in equity should they make it that far and do well. But, it feels fresh. He’s never been a part of something brand new. It’s up to him and his (few) colleagues how to build this brand. There’s nowhere near as many politics, literally and figuratively, and there hasn’t been enough time to develop baggage or drama yet.

He works with a bunch of laid back, smart San Franciscans focused on creating a forward-thinking, innovative company. And, so far, he’s really happy. And, therefore, so are we.

This latest development is just another reminder that none of us know what’s around the corner or where life will take us. But, often, even if stressful in the moment, it ends up being a blessing. 

Next week, in a special guest post, we’ll hear from Zach about his experience being laid off, the challenges and what he ultimately learned from it. Plus, his advice what to do- and not do- to help support your spouse through this transition.

For reasons of privacy, I’m not releasing the name of Zach’s new company.