AT HOME AFTER LOSING A JOB
Sound advice from guys who've been
Just a few weeks after Dave Richards was laid off as manager of
a yacht harbor in a small California coastal community, he found
himself driving through a poor section of town with his 11-year-old
son, Sam. Sam knew that his father was unemployed and that money
was a concern in their family. Stopped at a red light, they saw
a homeless man pushing a shopping cart down the street. "Dad,"
Sam asked, "is that going to be us? Are we going to get a shopping
Many fathers (and mothers) around the country are facing similar
questions or concerns from their worried children. Unemployment
is rising. Big layoffs at major companies dominate the headlines
and news broadcasts. Recession looms. Millions of people, even those
with jobs, are being affected by the economic slowdown.
Dadmag.com spoke to several fathers (whose names have been changed
for this article) about how losing a job can affect family life.
All have lost jobs at one time or another. Two were self-employed
and are currently experiencing a slow-down in their work due to
the economic slump. They spoke to us about how they're weathering
the hard times, what effect it has had on them and their families,
how they're coping emotionally and financially, and what advice
they have for other men who may be caught in a similar position.
Getting laid off is a shock to the system. All the men we
spoke to talked about the emotional impact of being laid off or
losing a job. Self-employed individuals or small business owners
feel it too. Work is slow (or non-existent), and it hurts. It affects
your self-esteem as a man and your position as a major (probably
the major) bread-winner in the family.
The initial disappointment is hard and there is no sense pretending
otherwise. There's no reason to sugarcoat what happens to a
guy after losing a job: It is like being slugged in the stomach
when you're not ready for it. You stagger and maybe even hit the
ground. It's disappointing, hugely disappointing. It may have been
unfair and you may have been humiliated in the process. You may
not have seen it coming and now you feel like an idiot. You may
have had high hopes that have now been dashed. You may have been
told that your job was safe, and you now feel angry and betrayed.
You may be feeling all these emotions, and more. The good news is
that the men we spoke to universally said that these feelings eventually
pass, and that you find ways to move ahead in your life.
If these feelings of failure persist, you may want to get some
help. Lavon Hughes worked for an insurance group. After being
laid off it took him nearly a year to find a new job. During this
time he started smoking, which actually helped him cope with the
emotional turmoil he was going through. But his sleep was affected.
He could only sleep for two hours at a stretch before waking up
to resume worrying. His doctor prescribed anti-depressants temporarily,
which eased his mind, and he maintained a regular exercise routine,
which helped him both mentally and physically. "None of this
solved my job problem of course," says Hughes. "But you
still have to take care of yourself."
Expect that you may not be at the top of your game emotionally
during this time. How difficult the adjustment is depends a
lot on who you are and the type of job you had prior to being laid
off. It can also depend on how much money you have in the bank and
the type of severance package you receive, if any. If you're a workaholic
who put in eighteen hours a day at the office, and now you suddenly
find yourself at home with time on your hands, the transition may
be rockier than someone who wasn't married to the job. Money will
obviously be a rising concern. Hughes remembers blowing up at his
teenage daughter after she lost a brand new jacket due to carelessness.
With his unemployment weighing heavily on his mind, he was worried
about money and took it out on her.
How much you tell your children about your financial situation
depends on their age, and even if they're older, you may want to
keep the information very basic.
Even if you wanted to, it would be difficult to hide your situation
from your children. They're going to know what's up simply because
you're around the house more. But the fathers we spoke to said they
didn't go into much detail with their kids. "I mean they're
only young once," says Sal Campisi, the father of two who owns
a small business. "I didn't want to worry them." Nevertheless,
children will worry anyway. Change is scary for them too. If you're
feeling sad, go ahead and share your emotions with them, within
reason. But don't put them in a position of having to comfort you.
Children are curious about what their fathers do and this may be
a chance to talk to them about what's going on in your lives. They
may need reassurance. When Sam Richards asked if they were going
to be homeless, it caught his father off guard. Dave wasn't sure
what to say. But he reassured his son that no, that was not going
to happen to them, they were going to be all right.
Your wife or partner can be your strongest ally in these times.
If you're unemployed you may not feel like telling the whole story
to your children-for good reason. But your wife or partner is a
different story. You need to be able to talk to her about important
things, and she needs to be able to do the same with you. Talking
may make you both feel better, even if there are no immediate answers
to your dilemma. "Guys like to give the impression that things
are under control, the leads are there, and that the path is clear,"
says Zack Barnes, an unemployed technical writer. "But underneath
it all we feel the pressure and worry about things a lot. There
are times when it feels like the walls are really closing in on
you." Your partner can provide emotional support when those
walls start pressing in. In addition, since many women now have
jobs outside the home, she may provide needed financial support
to the household as well.
It's possible, however, that your partner won't be as supportive
or understanding as she should be. Many women do not, in fact, understand
how deeply work is connected to a man's sense of self worth. When
a man isn't providing for his family and producing as he has in
the past, he feels like, well, not a man.
Plagued by feelings of worthlessness, a jobless man may drink more.
And since he's around the house more, there are more opportunities
for friction-and escalating conflict-with his wife and children.
If you feel your anger is out of control, get help. Many communities
have support groups and emergency hotlines.
Doing with less is not the end of the world for you or your
family. The obvious goal for men who have lost a job or who
are experiencing a slow-down in their business is to have it affect
the family as little as possible. This may not always be realistic.
You and your family may indeed have to get by with less for a period
of time, but there's a big difference between doing with less and
doing without. And don't forget that there are unexpected benefits
to being home at times of the day when you normally would be at
work. One unemployed father told us about the time his daughter
lost an election for secretary of her junior class in high school.
When she burst through the front door in tears Dad was the one who
was home to hold her and comfort her. He told her how he understood
what it felt like to be rejected because he had been rejected by
a number of potential employers himself. "You'll get a good
job eventually," his daughter told him, and she was right.
Things are going to be okay if you can somehow get over the
hump. Again, not to sound Pollyannish, because losing a job
sucks, but if you can manage to steer through the rocky times, you
and your family will be all right. Indeed, in the end you may actually
be better off. Losing a job often causes a dislocation in a person's
life. It can be painful. It can cause misery and hardship. But it
can also represent an opportunity to reevaluate and ultimately renew
your life. Your marriage, having been tested, may emerge stronger.
When you find another job (and you will find one) and your life
can become more balanced than before, perhaps with less of an all-out
emphasis on career and more time for family. "The fear of not
having an income wasn't good, but it forced me to change,""
says Dave Richards, who has now found a new job. "The change
was good and it caused me to reevaluate everything. I was in a rut.
But to be honest, losing that job was the best thing that could
have happened to me."
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