This post first appeared here on 26 June, 2009
How To Maintain Family Harmony During Unemployment
Written by: Gilbert Goh
Unemployment is known to have hit the whole household hard and some families have disintegrated when the effects of joblessness are not handled properly. Finances remain the top-most concern of most families when the main breadwinner lost his job.
More men lost their jobs during the previous recession than women and this has severe implication at the home front. It is usually acceptable for women to lose their jobs and stay at home as housewives but the Asian husbands could not do the same when they are been laid off. Cultural stereotyping means that there are not many Asian husbands hanging around at home operating as house-dads.
Handling the fragile self-esteem of the unemployed is also crucial as many men felt that they have lost the respect of their family members and will feel particularly sensitive on this aspect. Husbands will also feel discouraged as they felt that they have let their family down and will try all ways to quickly get re-employed.
This is one main reason why many Singaporean men now do not mind a job posting overseas so that they can get back to providing for their family again even though they live separately from their family members.
Asian men are used to defining their main role as a provider within the family unit and failing to keep up with that sterotyped image has caused them to feel sidelined and unappreciated.
Our young children will also feel the side effects of our unemployment and are unable to articulate their grievances properly for fear of being reprimanded if they do so. Many are also not consulted before their parents implement cost-cutting measures within the family.
I remembered we have to lay off the maid when I was jobless and my daughter felt the loss as she is rather close to her. I felt bad but there was no way that we can hold on to the maid without suffering a financial crunch. It was a decision that haunted me for quite a while as I felt that I have let her down as a dad and provider.
Of course, unemployment has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for some families. Many families have shown their support and rally around someone who is jobless further strengthening their relationship. It is during a crisis that people treasure the love and concern of their loved ones.
*Wives – this is your best time to show love to your jobless husbands in a most practical manner and it does not come often!
I have also heard of many men, during their transitional period, spending more time with their family members as they do not have to work late and rush through deadlines and projects. I have also found that unemployment is a good time for many of us to re- evaluate our life goals and check if we are heading in the right direction. Many of us simply sail along in life without having the chance to do any stock-taking for ourselves and that’s probably why some leave the world in deep regret for not pursuing after life-long dreams.
Singaporeans are guilty of over working in many ways and that is the reason why some have chosen to migrate overseas for a more balanced lifestyle when they could not keep up with the frantic pace at work. It is also meaningless to place all our energy at work and missing out on building up a relationship with our loved ones.
Jobless Husband Lost Role As Provider
Many families have downgraded their homes when the breadwinner got laid off and could not keep up with their mortgage repayment. Many also became bankrupt and suffered financial ruin with devastating consequences.
It will take a very strong man to overcome such severe setback as we have commonly used our financial achievement to measure how successful we have been.
Home foreclosure is common during a recession and unfortunately can be a very traumatic event for the whole family. It is during this crucial period that many families start to crack under the financial stress. If the family manages to stay together during this awful period, there is every chance that they will make it for the long haul.
However, it is seen as an ultimate shame for the husband if he could not fulfill his basic primary role as a provider for his family. Losing the family’s shelter is also a deep stab to a man’s ego and many have subsequently leave the family in shame.
*Wives – show him the respect that he needs even though the world is collapsing all around
The family now needs to assure him of their support and show him the respect that he yearns as a man even though he may have stumble a little. He may have lose the house but he has never lose his home as his family is still encouraging him on.
The wife’s response is also crucial now as she is the key person who can help him turn his life around. Failing to do the right thing will certainly create deep rift within the relationship resulting in a marital melt down.
Consequences of Unemployment On Our Children
The uncertainty and desperation of unemployment must have drove many middle-aged PMETs to the brim of sanity and panic.
I remembered my only daughter would sit quietly in one corner whenever there was an argument with my wife over finances. However, her countenance betrayed her emotions and I realised later that she was suffering in silence.
She was only seven years old then.
Our children will feel the tension and frustration when a family member goes through joblessness. So, never think that your children are ignorant or apathetic to your situation even if they are silent. They may be suffering inside for all you know.
*Jobless dads – continue to maintain the relationship with your children as normally as possible
Do spend some time talking to your kids however difficult it is. I know that it will be tough to spend time with your children when you are feeling all torn up inside. However, our children can be the ones who will give us the impetus to live on meaningfully when everything is going awry around us. It is also a good distraction and help us not to focus on our miserable state.
I remembered spending many evenings going for a swim with my daughter as she was little. We have some fun time together and I treasured those time spent at the pool even though the familywas facing severe financial stress.
Sticking Together Through Thick and Thin
Of course, there are some families – especially those with high powered corporate wives – who simply neglected their jobless partners and never really respect them once they have lost their jobs. Some wives continued to take holidays with their children – without their unemployed husbands.
It will be wise to plan the finances together with their unemployed spouses even if it is based on the working wife’s sole income. This will ensure that the husband feels included and respected. If not, he will feel alienated and his self esteem will nosedive. A husband low on self-confidence will also find it difficult to get back into the work force.
*Wives – walk the marital talk through thick and thin!
Moreover, it is time now to walk the talk as in our marital vow we are urged to stay together through thick or thin. If family members do not stick together when the chips are down, I am afraid they won’t be intact for very long.
Singaporeans have also place too much emphasis on financial security and many families break up when the main breadwinner is being laid off. It is sad that many families only functions properly when things are going well. The uncertainty of life has ensured that families will not sail through life untroubled.
Personally, when I was jobless, I faced enormous pressure at home due to mounting financial debts from my house mortgage and credit card bills. I used up my credit lines to pay off monthly utilities and expenses. I also did not discuss my financial situation with my wife due to my huge ego.
I later decided to talk to my spouse about my situation when things were starting to get out of hand. It was a wise thing to do as the situation at home improved after that and I also flared out lesser. More importantly, we learned the precious lesson to stick together as a a couple despite life’s adversity.
*What kind of example would we have shown to our kids if we only share the good times with our loved ones but not the bad?
Unemployment, like any other form of life’s adversity, will test out one’s resolve and patience and will show the true colour of a person. Fortunately, the tough time will not last forever. It is also in the valley that we learn perseverance, determination and mental toughness. Many people have miss out on the golden opportunity to learn life’s real lessons during a tough period when they only see the negativity of the situation. They wish that the ordeal will end sooner and never really learn anything from their adversity.
Many great charities were started by people who walked through the storm themselves. They have managed to learn from their experiences and used them to benefit others caught in similar circumstances.
The worldwide charity - Jeans for Genes Day was originated in Dorset in the early 1990s. Two local brothers inspired a fundraising day that’s now one of the best known – and loved – charity events in the UK.
The brothers had chronic granulomatus disorder (CGD), a life-threatening condition which affects the body’s immune system.
So they started fundraising for the charity with an ‘auction of promises’ in their local area which raised £7,000.
Inspired by this initial success, the family came up with the idea of Jeans for Genes Day. The brothers have indeed used their adversity for a greater good.
After speaking personally to more than thirty over unemployed people, I am convinced that the support of family members is crucial to the well being of the unemployed. They not only help cushioned the crushing emotional blow of unemployment but also provide vital moral support for them to turn their lives around. When they are re- employed later on, I am sure that they will remember the support they have received from their family members and will cherish them even more.
There is nothing to fear but fear itself. Franklin Delano Roosevelt