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Preparing Your Family for Hard Times

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Every family can put a plan in place for dealing with the unexpected with these important tips for surviving tough economic times.

Both sole breadwinner and dual career families are encouraged to be prepared for the possibility of job loss by developing a family plan for dealing with tough economic times.
If you have any employment or job search questions, please call Colleen at 314-539-5481 for assistance in connecting with a career center in the St. Louis Metropolitan area.

Duration: 6:59 Audio MP3
© 2010 St. Louis Community College
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The modern egalitarian marriage, in which both partners pledge to contribute equally to housekeeping, childcare and financial responsibilities, continues to look good on paper, but seems to fall short in execution. We often refer to marriage as a partnership, but in many cases, the role of each partner in reaching their mutual goals remains poorly defined. Events such as death, divorce, or job loss may create crises which lead to the partners being forced to take on roles and responsibilities by default, rather than by plan.

Have you had a discussion with your partner in which you deal with the question of how the two of you will produce $2 million in income over the next 20 years? While the specific numbers may vary from family to family, it seems that men remain primarily responsible for the instrumental dimensions of family life - making money, fixing the car, shoveling snow, and so on. Even many years after the rise of feminism, many women still divert their energies away from producing income, and toward nurturing, family intimacy and domestic concerns. These differences become more pronounced as men move up their career ladders and become more successful. Studies have shown that the higher a man's income, the less likely it is that his wife will work for pay outside the home.

Let me hasten to acknowledge that spouses of either gender who choose to devote their time and energy to domestic chores and child rearing, or who play the role of corporate spouse, are making a significant contribution to their families. It can truly be said that their spouse's success in a career might likely have been held back were it not for the crucial support the partner provided. It would be better, however, if these role decisions were made consciously and with full knowledge of the consequences. Furthermore, couples need to be prepared to deal with the effects of their plans going off track. What happens when a highly paid professional loses his job as a result of a merger, a general cutback, or even because of a personality clash with a senior executive?

The good corporate wife often feels betrayed. She's fulfilled her part of the bargain faithfully, but the corporation has reneged on its promise. She sometimes sees her husband as an agent of that betrayal, since his implied promise to take care of the family financially in return for her attention to domesticity has also been broken. Many marriages become arenas for discord as a result of financial setbacks. Statistically, more marriages break up during periods of economic instability than at any other time. Instead of dealing with a job loss as a problem to be solved, many couples turn to attacking each other for real or imagined shortcomings, and for not fulfilling their proper roles in the family.

While there are no easy solutions to the problems associated with job loss, the resulting family upset might be reduced by taking a few of the following precautions:

  1. Recognize the realities of the modern world by having both spouses prepared for a career outside the home. Even if one partner chooses to put an outside career on hold in order to raise children full time, or to pursue other interests, the option to return to work will still be there in case of financial need or when the children grow up and no longer need extensive care and supervision.
  2. Keep both career skills and domestic skills upgraded and current. Spouses not working outside the home should continue to read, get continuing education, and network in their career fields. Employed spouses should participate actively in domestic activities, especially childcare.
  3. Both partners need to keep their resumes up to date. Additional coursework, other continuing education, seminars, association memberships, consulting jobs, part time work of any kind, and volunteer activities should be tracked in a convenient file. This will make it much easier to retrieve the information if a new resume should prove necessary.
  4. Discussions about finances should be routine between spouses. At least once a year, couples ought to be reviewing their financial goals and making an assessment of their progress toward reaching their goals. Responsibilities of both partners should be agreed upon and clearly spelled out to everyone's satisfaction. Some of these discussions should include teenage children, so they will also recognize the importance of planning for the future. It should be clear to all family members that domestic and financial responsibilities are joint concerns. Contingency plans should be drawn up and updated periodically to deal with financial emergencies.

While there is no way of predicting the future, every family should have a plan for dealing with unexpected events. With the economy still in distress, and the world moving more and more toward global commerce, no job is safe. Families who are well prepared for the uncertainties of the job market will be in better shape to weather the storms yet to come.