Real life: The terrible toll self-employment stress took on my family

Stressed woman with calculator

Broadcaster Shevonne Hunt says family life was transformed when her photographer husband ditched freelancing for a full-time job.

A different reality

This year my life changed because my husband got a full-time job. Don’t get me wrong, my husband is not the type to lay on the lounge and do nothing. But when we first met he was self-employed and a passionate photographer.

I worked in radio and knew that while secure work would take time to find, my passion would outweigh any stress caused by insecurity.

In those early days we both believed in doing something we loved and pursuing that goal before any other, including financial gain. Then we had kids, and a different reality set in.

Read more about work and families:
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8 realities working mums know all too well
7 things mums don’t want to hear in the workplace

Self-employment was stressful for our family

While I’m sure that it works for some, what self-employment meant for our family was stress.

It meant not knowing whether we could pay our bills or the rent on time. It meant arguments, tears and constant worry. It was knowing that a sick day meant foregoing income we could not do without. It meant arguing over who took time off to look after sick kids.

Lyndall Strazdin, a clinical psychologist and Professor at National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, at Australian National University says this undercurrent of tension is a “silent cost” of self-employment.

“A lot of the benefits that over several hundred years of negotiations have transformed into sick leave, family leave, annual leave, they aren’t there in those jobs and often that’s not so obvious or visible until you actually need them,” she said.

I worried our marriage wouldn’t survive the strain

After my son was born I realised we couldn’t continue with the two of us in insecure work. I was planning an alternative, more secure career when my current job fell in my lap.

But my husband’s work remained uncertain. It’s difficult to admit, but there were times when I didn’t know if our marriage would survive the strain. And while there isn’t a lot of data to show this is happening to other families, Lyndall is certain that it’s only a matter of time before the figures come in.

“You can have an incredibly profitable business, but a society that’s not sustainable. That doesn’t work either. It’s trying to find that balance between supporting ways of working that keep us competitive but not at the price of people’s health and well-being.

“It’s becoming a problem that’s going to affect lots of people who otherwise might have thought they wouldn’t have to confront this. We have to join those dots together and work out how we keep a strong, competitive economy, while we keep a strong and healthy social fabric and family life because you can’t, and you shouldn’t, have one without the other.”

Sometimes a secure job is as good as a passionate ideal

I’m lucky. My husband was offered a full-time job at the end of last year. He’s now working in the building industry and thriving with the confidence that comes from having a regular income and continuous work.

When he signed the contract it lifted a weight off my shoulders that was starting to smother me.

Now if the car needs to be repaired, or we run out of the childcare rebate, I know we’ll be okay. If these things had happened previously I’d be in knots trying to work out how we would get by.

This year my life changed because for the first time since we met both my husband and I are in secure work.

It’s not how we imagined the future to look, but it’s made an incredible difference to our well-being.

This post was originally published on Kinderling Kids RadioDownload the Kinderling app for more great stories.

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