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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Family Communications

One of the hardest things to do after a job loss is face your family and explain what's happened. As hard as it is, however, most people find out that it's one of the more reassuring and healing steps that they can take. Appendix 3.4 gives you an opportunity to list the different people in your family who you might want to talk with about what's happened. It's best to be honest and uncomplicated in your message. A simple conversation might begin as follows:

    I'm no longer working for ABC Company as of (fill in the blank). I'm planning to continue my career as a (fill in the blank) by seeking a new employer who can use my services. I am feeling (fill in the blank) at this point and what I need from you is (fill in the blank). I think it's important that you also learn what your feelings are about this and what your needs are. I would like to talk with you about this on a regular basis as we move through this process.

Back in the first section of this chapter, you practiced identifying your feelings and identifying your needs. These are the people whom you share them with. If you don't fill in the blanks in the statement above, your family members will fill them in for you. They will project their own feelings onto you and they will project their own needs onto you.

You will find very quickly that it's you they love and not your job. They may not even have known much about what that was. They want you to be happy and secure and they want to know that they're taken care of, too. If they were dependent upon you in any way, they will need reassurance and ongoing honest status reports as to what's coming next.

Small children need to know that their relationship with you will stay about the same. They may even actually enjoy your period of unemployment because you'll have more time to spend with them. But, their needs are very simple and their flexibility is the highest. If you need to move or you need to change your schedule, they will adjust the quickest with the least amount of dissension. They are also the most intuitive. They sense immediately when you're sad or frustrated. They will internalize responsibility for your emotions unless you explain to them how it's not their fault. If you can give them some small task, like putting postage on resumes, to help them feel a part of your job search, they will feel empowered and happy to help.

School-age children will be a little more critical and will attempt negotiating to maintain their piece of the dwindling pie. Helping them to understand how conserving resources and holding up their part of the household chores would not be judged as child abuse. This helps them to take up an active role in the solution to the problem and teaches them a valuable life lesson. For instance, if they have to stop their piano lessons for a while, it doesn't mean that they can't keep practicing the skills they've already developed. If the family is doing without the regular Friday night pizza, they can help learn how to make pizza at home and be engaged in the process of solving problems with limited resources.

As a part of the problem-solving team, they will create less friction and be more resilient if big decisions, such as relocation to a new state, have to be made. They won't feel as much as though this is something terrible that you're doing to them, as much as it's a decision that the family has made together.

Remember that their feelings will be just as complicated and complex as yours. They may not be as willing to voluntarily share their frustrations and fears. It is your job as a parent to help them understand that those are very normal feelings and that it's okay to talk about them. They have the same, maybe even greater, powers of denial, and it's important not to let this current crisis fester for processing sometime in their adulthood. Let them work it through now with you, as a family, rather than hold onto it and have to deal with it as an adult the first time they lose a job. Both the emotional and financial lessons that can be learned in this experience will be invaluable to them as they approach their own adulthood as an emotionally and financially sound individual.

Spouses are another matter altogether. If your relationship with your spouse was complete and loving prior to the layoff, it will probably become even stronger during this challenge. If there were problems and stresses that hadn't been resolved prior to the layoff, this period of unemployment may be extremely difficult to deal with. Once again, it's hard to recommend counseling during a time when your income is lower, but I will suggest that the last thing that you want to pay for right now is a divorce, and it's very difficult to search for work when you're having marital problems.

There is very little to be gained from being secretive or by keeping ongoing progress away from family members. If you explain the results of interviews or application processes, they can be very clear as to what the energy is that you're spending and the activity that you're engaged in. Scheduling a regular meeting to update everyone at the same time on how it's going is probably the best solution. This way they won't bug you when you don't want to be bugged, and they'll know when they're going to get new information. If you're clear with them as to your current feelings and your current needs, then they can be part of the process and not deter you from your goal. If you're not clear, they can only guess and will possibly interrupt or aggravate the process. Extended family is another group in your life who will be eager to help, but won't quite know how close to get to the situation. You should have the same conversation that you had earlier in the chapter with those folks. The amount of the information or the extent of the needs may not be communicated the same, but they still need to hear that you're okay and that you're moving forward. They need to have a small piece of the picture so that they can help. If you want them to have nothing to do with it, then your needs would be communicated as, "I need you to know that I'm okay and that I don't need anything from you."

Just like the small children, you might find some little piece of it that they can take care of for you, which will let them feel involved and give them some sense that they have been there for you when you needed it. Something that they can do for you, which makes a tremendous amount of difference in many job searches, is to open up opportunities for you to apply or interview with companies that they know.

We'll talk later about family loans, but at this point it would be best to defer to a later date any conversations about financial challenges or assistance that extended family members might be able to offer. If they bring it up, your response can be that you haven't really sorted that all out yet, and you'll let them know how they can help when you do.

With your immediate family, however, this subject of the family's finances should be brought up immediately and continuously throughout your unemployment period. If you have a severance package or final payments that will continue your income for a period of time, then that can be communicated right up front. Send the message that you need to begin to prepare for a time when income might be lower. Gather ideas from the family as to how you might accomplish that. If the budget needs to be cut immediately, it's best not to come to the first conversation with an edict of what you've decided will be cut. If you ask for feedback first and reserve your edicts for later, you'll find that cooperation will be much greater.

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