As Leo Tolstoy put it in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” What about other family traits? Are families who are flexible all flexible in the same way? And are rigid families each set in their own ways?
Today, families are being shaken up in record numbers as financial turmoil hits home. With all the job-related uncertainties facing them, families must be able to make changes in order to adjust to the current economic climate. They may even need to adapt to role reversals when a husband experiences job loss. But how can they bend without breaking?
Even before the current recession, women made up 46% of the workforce. This percentage will likely increase since men held 82% of the over 3.25 million jobs that have already been lost since last November. With more and more companies faltering and failing, the jobless rate continues to rise, reaching the highest levels in over 25 years. As more men lose their jobs, the financial responsibilities of families are increasingly falling on the already burdened shoulders of women. When a woman becomes the sole breadwinner, the dynamics of the relationship change for everyone – husband/father, wife/mother and children. And as the family deals with the job loss, domestic stability may crumble and tensions climb. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can make adjustments at home that will help you all adapt to the turbulent changes in our society.
Here are six tips to help you combat the reorganization your family life may be facing as the economy continues to impact everyone.
1. Educate yourself about family finances. Get involved with the family budget as you seek out ways to reduce your expenses. Keep track of minor expenditures that can add up, like dinners out, entertainment and credit card interest rate costs. Think outside the box as you educate yourself on new possibilities open to you. They may involve dramatic changes like downsizing your home, selling possessions or even giving up plans for early retirement.
2. Expect a husband who has lost his job to have an emotional reaction. It’s normal to feel frustrated, tense and anxious at this time. But look for signs of more serious emotional changes such as depression, anger, or feelings of worthlessness. Stress can lead to dysfunctional responses like excess drinking, gambling or acting out. Acknowledging the common effects of job loss will help you avoid conflicts over minor issues.
3. Schedule family meetings to discuss changes you want to make. Get together to decide what needs to be done and who is best able to take on the responsibility of household chores. Involve your teenagers and emerging adult children so that they know what is expected of them. Take help from the family – everyone will feel better when they are doing their fair share. Present these challenges as a way to increase family resolve as you distinguish between wants and needs.
4. Let go of control. For many women, you are likely juggling work and parenting responsibilities already. Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that two-thirds of women with children under 18 work outside the home. Now is the time to prioritize and simplify. Don’t hesitate to ask your husband for more help with housework and the kids. Let go of how you did things before and allow your husband to do it his way. And have realistic expectations. It need not be perfect, as long as it gets done. Trust your family as you do yourself. Set reasonable standards, not ideal ones.
5. Take better care of yourself. Discover how to nourish yourself and set aside the essential time for this. Take a walk, stop to watch a beautiful sunset, listen to soothing music. Practice deep breathing to relax and positive imagery to improve your mood. Reach out to your friends for support. Draw on your spiritual connection for grounding as you find your center.
6. Stay optimistic and flexible. Redefine the crisis you are facing as a challenge and your fears as opportunities for change. Review how you have solved other major problems before. Focus on what you can do about solutions even though you didn’t create the problem itself. Remind yourself of all you are grateful for as you rebalance your life. Don’t give up when things don’t work out as you originally expected. Instead, put your Plan B in place.
There will be new perspectives and positives that come out of this ordeal for you and your whole family. Be proud of how you all are rising to the challenges. Recognize your strengths, assets, resources and the foundation of the family that will carry you through this transition. Change comes when you least expect it. The realities of the economy may eventually improve the careers of women even more than feminism alone did. In the meantime, your flexibility will serve you in good stead.
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