Husband & Wife Articles


The Hidden Blessing of Unemployment

It can be a time of reflection, redirection and reconnecting

By Kathleen M. Gallagher


A job loss, especially for the primary breadwinner of a family, wreaks tremendous damage on family relationships: loss of income, benefits, pride, self-esteem. When my father lost his job suddenly back in the 1970s, it sent our family into a tailspin. He fell into a deep depression, refused to get out of bed in the morning, and required medication, therapy and eventual hospitalization. Our family fell behind on the bills, and my mother was forced back into the workforce. My brother and I were just self-absorbed teenagers at the time, and didn’t truly comprehend the gravity of the situation. We resented the upheaval in our house that didn’t seem to be invading the homes of our friends.

Yet maybe this experience helped me cope when twice during our marriage, my husband Joe lost his job. Joe is a radio broadcaster who has been in the business for more than four decades. Radio stations don’t give you a lot of notice when they change formats and say, “Oh, by the way, you don’t fit into the new line-up.” The first time it happened we had a newborn in the house. I will never forget the expression on Joe’s face each morning as I walked out the door to work – pain, sorrow, desperation – like he was somehow letting me down. More than once tears fell down my cheeks as I drove away from our apartment.

The second time unemployment struck, our boys were little, about 3 and 6 years old. Thank God I had a steady income with the added bonus of health care coverage! That 2-plus year period began with strife, apprehension and fear, but turned out to be one of the greatest blessings God has ever given our family.

First, with my husband at home, we had no worries about finding a responsible child care provider or what to do with the kids after school. Coupled with the money we were saving on day care, that was a tremendous stress reliever. Our children were in the best possible hands.

Second, Joe was able to be home with the boys during their very impressionable formative years. Most dads don’t get that opportunity – to watch cowboy movies together every Wednesday afternoon, toy guns in their holsters; to play ball in the backyard until darkness sets in; to study numbers and letters, read books (Mercer Mayer’s “Just Me and My Dad” was a big hit) and do homework together.

It sounds corny to say, but they truly “bonded.”  I remember realizing this one day when both Joe and I were at home and Joey fell off his bike. He came running into the house, crying hysterically, screaming for Daddy to bandage his scrapes. Bypassing Mommy stung a little bit, I admit, but it felt liberating to know that Joe and I were truly equal partners in parenting.

And to this day, the bond that they formed in those years remains. They’ll still call their Dad’s cell phone over mine for girlfriend advice, computer questions and just to shoot the breeze about the MLB or the NFL.  What a gift that is for Joe!

Most importantly, unemployment helped our family to focus on, well, family. The latest fashions, new toys, restaurant dinners, and material things just didn’t seem to matter, as long as we had each other.

As politicians argue over which jobs bill will help the millions of unemployed Americans, those folks may find that if they can let go of their anxieties and focus on what’s important, there will be room to let God and his blessings inside. That’s easier said than done, I know. So I pray, with fervor and confidence, that all those who are without jobs are able to discover God’s gifts during this challenging period in their lives.

Kathleen Gallagher is the Catholic Advocacy Network Director and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy organization of the New York state bishops. Her husband is a member of Knights of Columbus Council 272 in Geneva, N.Y.