Laid off again: Should I move with my 12-year-old?

I have a job offer in the Bible Belt, but my roots are in the Northeast


Cary Tennis
July 31, 2009 2:19PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I just don't know what to do. I am a never-married single mother. I have an awesome 12-year-old son. He is kind, well-behaved, and excels in school, especially science. He reads books on Darwin in his free time. He watches the Discovery Channel by the hour. In our highly competitive school system, he is among the cream of the crop. I study with him. I buy him books. I make sure we go on whale-watches and visit zoos because he has an extreme love of animals and nature. He attends a program at an organic farm every summer.

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I love movies and works of fiction. I am not a science girl. But I am so proud of who he is.

I live in the Northeast. My attempts to find a permanent job the past three years have been unsuccessful. I get one. I get laid off. Previously, I have always made my living doing some type of business writing. But now, I can't support us.

We could move in with my parents. My father is amazing, both wise and kind. My mother means well, but she is relentlessly domineering and can be mean at times. She doesn't understand my son's love of feeding chickens and shoveling manure. She will put people down and discourage people when they like anything she doesn't. So, I don't really want to live with her.

I have a great job offer in the Bible Belt. Great pay. Great benefits. The company is booming. The cost of living is much better. One of my dearest friends grew up there and lives there now. I would work with her at a military-type, high-tech company. She has been there a few years and is greatly successful. She is an English major, too, and we would be writing proposals.

I know people are kind and good there, as they are everywhere. But will my evolution-obsessed son fit in and thrive in the Bible Belt? He loves to classify species! He loves to figure what evolved from what! We are not religious. Even if his great love was math, instead of evolutionary science, I would be worried about relocating! Help!

I want to do the best thing for him. I don't know if it will be too traumatic to uproot him at his tender age. But I want and need to be able to support us.

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Undecided

Dear Undecided,

My concern is this: What if you move but the same thing keeps happening?

You do not indicate why this pattern of layoffs has persisted. I can think of three general possibilities: It is a pattern in the industries that have employed you; it is a pattern in the type of work you do; it is a pattern in your own relationships with employers. Will any of these things will be changed by your move? If not, then it is possible that your same pattern of frequent layoffs will continue, even at this great new company.

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If your general pattern does continue, and this wonderful new company lays you off, you will be in much worse economic shape than you would have been had you stayed where you are. It will have cost you a great deal to move, and you will have lost many of the informal but valuable sources of support that you now have.

On the other hand, you really need a job. I get that. You really need a job.

Or at least you need an income.

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Perhaps you have been laid off so frequently because businesses view your labor as a variable cost. When it comes time to save money, they look at what they can cut. Since they can still produce and sell their product without "business writing," perhaps it's one of the first things they look at to cut.

So to provide this service to companies, maybe you need to be on a business footing, rather than an employee footing. Maybe you need to be providing it to a core group of companies, whose needs vary. And perhaps you can also use your connection with your friend to provide them some of this work while remaining in your area. (Being able to provide this product at a distance would answer the one remaining question: What if your layoffs have been due to regional economic weakness?)

So what if you were to move in with your parents and focus on building a small business doing business writing? You could stay in your area, keep your kid in his school, and build something that is uniquely yours. Once on a business footing, in time you could branch out.

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Now, you probably wouldn't make much money at first. But you have many opportunities. All the companies that have laid you off, if you have good relationships with them, may be sources of work.

The costs to provide writing are very low. This I know. That's one thing that makes it a great business. And living with your parents keeps start-up costs low. Yes, it will be annoying. But look at the alternatives. Look at the terrible uncertainty and cost of moving to a new area, especially one so culturally different from what you are used to. Think about the culture at a Bible Belt defense contractor. It's not just your son who might have trouble adjusting.

Whereas, if you stay where you are, there are more things you can control.

When we feel threatened, and a source of rescue appears, sometimes its value can appear magnified; we imagine the relief of finally not having to worry about money. We imagine that all our problems will be solved. And we overlook the enormous costs involved. We overlook all that we are giving up.

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These sources of support are many, and they have a dollar value. Your parents provide support. What would childcare cost? Your son has many activities that he can engage in for free. What would it cost if you had to pay for his entertainment? He has been doing well in school. What if his grades drop due to stress and adjustment problems? Think of the costs both short- and long-term: cost of tutors, loss of future earning potential, loss of scholarships.

Plus there are many intangibles: He has friends. He has the confidence of living in an area he knows and can navigate. He knows where his grandparents are.

What dollar value could you put on having all these familiar and inexpensive sources of interest and entertainment for your son -- i.e., nature and the outdoors? In a new area, one often has to pay for things one found for free before -- because one knew where to look! Knowing your area is itself a cost-saver. Being in a new area has many unexpected costs.

So I'm leaning toward no. I'm leaning toward you stay where you are, you undertake to analyze the economic forces and patterns that have led to your consistent layoffs, you analyze your own skills and desires, and plot a new career path in your same area.

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Cary Tennis

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