'I'm willing to work twice as hard as before to get back to where we were'

 

In the first of our Fix Your Life series, where our panel of experts advise people on improving different situations, meets RÓISÍN INGLEunemployed mother-of-three Siobháin Bunni, who needs help addressing problems in her career and family life

THE PROBLEM

Siobháin Bunni (42) is an interior architect and brand development expert who ran a successful business during the boom but is currently unemployed. Her husband Ross also had a successful career as an interior architect until the economic downturn left him without a job.

They have a “beautiful” house in north Co Dublin and three children. The youngest is just a year old and was, she says, “a bit of a surprise”. The next oldest child is nine years older.

The last few years have been difficult for the family. Her husband was unemployed for more than two years, which left them with financial problems. Last April, he managed to get a job but with a company based in Rotterdam. He had no choice but to leave Ireland as he couldn’t find employment here. Siobháin hasn’t been in employment since having her baby but is now starting to get some freelance consultancy work.

At the moment she is relying on financial hand-outs from her parents to “keep the family afloat”. Without this support, the couple could not afford to keep up with school fees – the older children are being educated privately. She considered removing them but decided against that because her eldest has learning difficulties and there was no place in the local school for her other child.

Her day-to-day life consists of juggling the demands of family life on her own with the bits of consultancy work she has managed to secure. She says unemployment has knocked her confidence, that she feels humiliated and wants to rebuild the lifestyle she had before.

“I know there are people who are living on the streets because of the recession and that in comparison to them my problems might look trivial,” she says.

“But I worked really hard for years to build up what we have. I know people might say ‘what’s your problem, you’ve a lovely big house on the hill and Mummy and Daddy will sort you out’. Well yes, they have been sorting us out and that is humiliating. I am willing to work twice as hard as I did before to get back to where we were.”

She finds the hunt for jobs stressful. “I find it really difficult dealing with recruitment agencies because either they don’t get back to you or they put you up for jobs that are totally inappropriate,” she explains.

She is concerned about her weight, as well as her mood swings and migraines, which have worsened over the past year. Being separated from her husband has caused tension in their relationship. She is also conscious of the impact of the enforced separation on their children, who have inevitably been affected by the family situation.

Siobháin’s main goal is to secure a permanent job so that she and her husband can stand on their own two feet without needing any help.

“I will definitely be taking Lisa’s advice and start making the effort to keep in touch with Ross as a partner, not just a fellow parent. One thing that struck me was her question about whether I measure my success as a mother as I do my career, and I have to reply that I do. Our issues are all fixable, and I want to put things right so that I can be fully focused on being a good mum.

“I appreciated Elsa’s nutritional reminder and while it was abrupt, Jane’s comment about my CV is brilliant. I am supposed to be the brand and communications expert after all – nothing like a dose of your own medicine to set things straight.

“Allison’s advice was welcome in that it reminds me there are others in my situation, but that it’s time to pick myself up, dust myself down and get on with it. It also makes me wonder if there wasn’t a recession, what would the ‘normal’ stresses of everyday life be? Lots to think about.”

The career coach

Jane Downes

Hang in there, Siobháin. I’ve seen your CV and details of your vast experience within brand management and, to put it mildly, you’re one impressive lady. What’s more, you don’t just have experience in one specialised area; your experience has a breadth that leaves you equipped with a brilliant repertoire of transferable skills.

And I have some more great news for you: your CV stinks! Why is this great news? Because it may very well explain why you’ve been struggling to get interviews. Your CV should be no longer than three pages. It needs to manage the story around you having been your own boss and the business closure with much more confidence and savvy.

You need to reassure any potential employer that you would be 100 per cent comfortable working for someone else. Get this right in your CV, and you will get a golden opportunity come interview time to reinforce the message further.

The priority in the coming weeks must be to reach a clear decision on what it is you want and, more specifically, who it is you want to work for. Don’t be afraid to aim high; believe me, you can afford to do so with your background. Do not on any account apologise for having been out of the workplace. Apart from anything else, you do have the perfect excuse of having had a baby.

Do make sure to get across to an employer that you have childcare organised. This will be taken as a crucial index of the availability, reliability and commitment you would bring to any new job. Your absence from the market this past while is only a liability if you let it become one.

Sorry to inflict an obnoxious cliche on you, but you need to re-launch Brand You. You need to meet the market with a fresh, exciting and excited attitude. This takes work and preparation. Not to scare you, but you really need to start allocating a minimum of 2 hours a day to your career planning. All too often, home life can take over, as I know only too well. But when the children go back to school, it may get a little easier.

Do this right, and I’m confident that you’ll land yourself a role you want and that things will fall into place.

- Jane Downes is owner of Clearview Coaching Group and author of The Career Book– Help for the Restless Realist.See clearviewcoachgroup.com

The relationship counsellor

Lisa O’Hara

This couple are what I call “everyday heroes” – they have built a successful life for themselves professionally and managed to have a family as well. They are now at a stage in their lives with a young family to support as well as doing their best to maintain the lifestyle they have built together, and it has come at a huge cost to them.

Unexpected pregnancy, regardless of age, can bring very mixed emotions, from the initial shock to a very genuine sense of feeling stuck or trapped by the responsibility of looking after a child for many years to come. To have that happen in your 40s, when you expect to have more freedom now that your other children are growing up and becoming more independent, can be a big setback.

Siobháin’s relationship with her husband has changed. They have become parents once again, they face unemployment and uncertainty about their careers. They are enduring forced separation because he is working abroad. Many of the day-to-day practicalities will have to be dealt with by her solely during his absence, but she may also miss the comfort of his physical presence. Their time together will be intense as it is only for a short period every two weeks and they may only be feeling settled together when he has to leave once again. Any differences between them may be kept under wraps as they try to make the most of the little time they have, or they may not quite settle at all because he is leaving once again and the pain of the separation would just be too hard to bear. Sex can become a distant memory as they are both exhausted and children also need time with both parents.

There is also the “re-entry syndrome” where one parent is doing both parents’ role and the other just drops in from time to time and “reclaims” their role, which can be confusing to all. Good communication is vital to avoid misunderstandings and upset.

There may be an element of couple jealousy here as well – she may see him having what she wanted and she’s feeling on the “back foot”. Yet, I wonder what value she is placing on her role as a mother – or does she only see success in terms of her career/lifestyle?

Both partners may be seeing the other one as having the “easier” side of things – while Siobháin has the burden of dealing with the day-to-day responsibilities, her husband is on his own and may feel very isolated.

It can become depressing and lonely for both when geographically, you are so far apart. Sadly, when it feels unbalanced, it can come out as criticism (“I always . . . you never . . .”), defensiveness (“It’s your problem, not mine”) and withdrawing (tuning out, or not wanting to spend time with each other), compounding the sense of separateness.

During such difficult times, it is important that couples make whatever effort they can to keep in touch, and to foster an appreciation of what each is doing.

Leave little notes, send texts and keep a corner of your lives, even if it is just 15 minutes in the morning, for your relationship.

- Lisa O’Hara is a therapist with Relationships Ireland (formerly the Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services) a counselling agency providing services to those with problems in their personal relationships. See relationshipsireland.com

The nutritionist

Elsa Jones

Siobháin, you need to make feeding and nourishing yourself a priority. I know it can be difficult when you are busy with the children but your physical and emotional health can suffer as a result of your eating habits.

Prolonged stress depletes so many vitamins and mineral from our bodies, which is why it is so important to eat regularly and well in order to replenish these stores.

At the moment, you skip breakfast and lunch and keep yourself going on sugar-laden tea and biscuits. This means your diet is seriously lacking in nutrients. Also, despite the fact that you eat very little, you are still two stone overweight, which proves that skipping meals is not the way to stay slim. I guarantee that if you start nourishing your body properly, you will notice a marked improvement in your energy and mood as well as your weight. Remember, even small changes can make a big difference.

Elsa Jones is a nutritional therapist and presenter of How Healthy are You?on TV3. See elsajonesnutrition.ie

The psychologist

Allison Keating

The recession has bitten very hard, and I sometimes feel that people lack compassion for people who “appear” to be doing very well. If we look to the suicide rates, the affluent areas of Dublin have been severely hit. It is as if they are not “allowed” to say “we are struggling”. Comparisons cause major psychological issues.

The personal events you describe above must have been very difficult for you and your husband. You need to stop worrying about other people and look at what is going on for you and what needs to happen to make the quality of your life more enjoyable. One question: you seem very intent on solving this problem and getting back to your original financial position. What is driving this? Perhaps there are areas of your life that may unfortunately have to be cut back. But it is causing you a lot of personal angst and humiliation.

Be grateful that your parents can help out; that is what families are for. We must support each other in good times and bad, just like a marriage. You can work at paying them back. But perhaps you could examine what it means to you to get back to the lifestyle from before. You say that your confidence has taken a major blow; I wonder have other circumstances impacted upon this as well. How does it feel when recruitment agencies put you forward for something that you feel does not fit your qualifications and experience? How do you feel in terms of control in your life?

Many assumptions perhaps have been blown out of the water. Perhaps your expectation of how family life should be is also under pressure. With your husband away, how has that experience been for you? Lonely, difficult? How has the last year been for you as a new mother again? In terms of the enforced separation, I would recommend Skype or Facetime if you have an iPhone.

Many families are experiencing these unfortunate situations, and I feel it is the day-to-day aspect of life that the couple and family miss out on. Don’t have a big Skype session once a week, because you and the kids will only tell the big news – it may seem trivial to talk about what happened in Maths class that day. To minimise the separation discomfort, have nightly Skype sessions, perhaps after dinner. The dinner table is the glue of families, this is where we tell our day-to-day experiences.

Best of luck and give yourself the breathing space to allow yourself to feel how you do at the moment, and recognise and put into action things that you can change.

Allison Keating is a registered psychologist of the Psychological Society of Ireland. She is director of the BWell Clinic in Malahide, Co Dublin. See bwell.ie

Siobháin’s reaction

“I will definitely be taking Lisa’s advice and start making the effort to keep in touch with Ross as a partner, not just a fellow parent. One thing that struck me was her question about whether I measure my success as a mother as I do my career, and I have to reply that I do. Our issues are
all fixable, and I want to put things right so that I can be fully focused on being a good mum.

“I appreciated Elsa’s nutritional reminder and while it was abrupt, Jane’s comment about my CV is brilliant. I am supposed to be the brand and communications expert after all – nothing like a dose of your own medicine to set things straight.

“Allison’s advice was welcome in that it reminds me there are others in my situation, but that it’s time to pick myself up, dust myself down and get on with it. It also makes me wonder if there wasn’t a recession, what would the ‘normal’ stresses of everyday life be? Lots to think about.”

Tips for all: jobseekers

Keep updating your CV: it should be a constant work-in-progress so ensure it is specifically tailored to roles you apply for.

Keep up-to-date with what is happening within the industries or organisations of interest.

Aim high, create your own list of top organizations or companies you would like to work for. Study job specs and learn both their language and what attributes and skills they typically seek so your are ready and armed when and if a role arises.

Upskill as much as possible as it will add to your self esteem and allow you meet other like-minded people in similar circumstances.

Keep the faith: put things in perspective and try to have some fun and recreation in your life.

Jane Downes

HAVE YOUR SAY:Do you have any advice for Siobháin? Send it to fixyourlife@irishtimes.com