Spaghetti boiled over and the steam scorched my hand. My children fought over a cheap restaurant toy while the cat meowed for attention. I glared at my son as he lectured me about kitchen safety, then I shooed the kids into the living room, and glanced at the clock. "6:30! She's late again!" An unemployed husband's work is never done.
There was a time I lived in paradise. I had my own luxurious office cubicle, steaming coffee, and a lightning fast Internet connection. My company was living high off the high-tech hog. I was the manly, primary wage earner while my wife, Paula, stayed at home and reared our children. We were living the "perfect" American, Leave-it-to-Beaver dream.
In 2001, I was laid off along with a couple million of my closest friends. After I recovered from the shock, I sprung into action. I scoured want ads, networked with acquaintances, and pounded the pavement until my feet ached.
And I had nothing to show for it. No job, no offers, no office cubicle.
Paula watched me struggle. "Don't worry, Kevin. You'll get another job," she reassured me.
I laughed. "Of course I will! Don't worry about me, Honey. I'll be out of your hair before you know it!"
In the meantime, a friend offered Paula a job at a local preschool. She didn't even type up a résumé! This job just fell into her lap while I'd been banging my head against the wall.
After we discussed it, Paula took the job while I stayed home and continued to look. Eventually, I found temporary work.
When the director of the preschool quit, Paula was promoted, which meant her job became more demanding. Soon she had to take college classes for state licensing purposes. She faced pressures at work while I felt pressure to find a permanent job and satisfy my male ego.
I never believed a layoff would happen to me. Yet experts say the average employee will change careers seven times in his or her working life. The fallout from the technology bust and September 11, 2001, continue to affect the economy.
It took me a year working at my temporary job to learn some important things about how to handle those clinchers that life throws you. And when Paula and I learned how to cope with them, we were able to keep our marriage intact and our sanity in check. Here's some help in case a pink slip ever comes your way.
Let your spouse cry. It's okay! When I was laid off, I didn't want my wife to weep. Sure, I'd worked for the same company for ten years. Sure, our world had turned upside down. Sure, I was going to be home a lot, but was that any reason to cry?
Paula was facing every wife's nightmare: a husband at home with time on his hands. I'd be there 24 hours a day; critiquing the children's snack choices, their playtime and television habits. I'd be whining over the crummy job market, threatening moves to Katmandu if the jobs were there. She wasn't supposed to experience this kind of trauma until I retired. The poor woman deserved to shed a few tears.
I wish I could cry. Paula's a professional crier. As hard as I tried, I couldn't get the tear ducts working. Therefore, she became our designated crier.
I, on the other hand, was the designated moper. I'd spend days sticking out my lower lip, slouching my shoulders, and shuffling as I walked. We each expressed our emotions and allowed each other to grieve before we moved on.
After Paula and I grieved, we allowed ourselves to laugh. We needed our sense of humor as we dealt with change and children. I found that out when my daughter came to me one day. She gazed at me with her puppy dog eyes and said, "Daddy, do you need my allowance?"
"No, Sweetheart. We're doing fine."
"Oh, okay," she said. "Then can you give me my allowance before you run out of money?"
Look for unexpected blessings
God blessed us in new and unexpected ways. I prayed detailed prayers about what I thought God should be doing. I'd explain to him where I should work, what I should wear that day, and what color the building should be. None of that worked out. Instead, God provided temporary work for me while I looked for something permanent. Is that what I wanted? No, but God is good. He has provided for and protected us.
Sometimes, we block God from doing the best for us. Initially, when Paula's friend offered her the position, I was against it.
"You can't do that, Paula!" I exclaimed. "We had it worked out so you could stay home with the kids."
"But, Kevin, maybe this is God's way of providing for us and getting me back in the workforce."
"But what about all the housework? Sure, I've been able to help, but you're the brains behind this household."
She surveyed my sexist stance. "You think you couldn't manage the house, or are you just accustomed to having your wife do it all for you?"
My flawless logic didn't work. She took the job and I balanced temporary work with the kitchen. Since Paula worked for a preschool, her new employment allowed our daughter to attend school while Mom worked. We couldn't have afforded the tuition if Paula stayed home. It's worked better than we could have planned, but not in the way we would have expected.
Lean on God and others
Cling to God. If you aren't used to praying and having devotions together, now's a good time to start. Over the years, Paula and I tried to have time with God together. But while I was unemployed, that time together took on a new sense of urgency. Before my layoff, we struggled with what to pray for. During it, we had no problem coming up with prayer requests. Our time together with God helped us acknowledge who was in control.
Cling to each other. During this time, Paula and I agreed that it was important to stay connected. Whenever we could, we'd go out without the kids and do something fun. During those times we made a pact not to talk about our troubles. That time was valuable. It allowed us some sense of normalcy during a tumultuous period. Whenever I felt down, I'd find some way to cheer up Paula's day. A card or a flower rekindled love during some tough times. It helped keep us allies in the battle.
Cling to friends. When I was laid off, I wanted to hide from everyone until this bad situation was fixed. But I soon discovered we needed our friends. Our church family was there for us in so many ways, from providing spiritual support to material support. I used to think it was a sign of weakness to accept help. After all, I reasoned, we're supposed to help others, not take it. But a friend took me aside one day.
"You're being selfish," he remarked.
"Wh-what do you mean?" I stammered, surprised.
"You don't want to accept gifts because you feel you should do it all. Who are you to turn away something God told me to give?"
I apologized to my friend. I didn't realize I was still trying to make it on my own power.
OUR SITUATION CONTINUES to change. I worked for more than a year as a temporary employee and I recently found a permanent job. While nothing compares to that stability, during the unstable times I learned to enjoy the ride.
Paula discovered the demands of her job were too much for her and our family. She was working long days without a break, so she's returned home full-time. She doesn't know what her next step will be, but we've prayed together for guidance and answers. In the midst of it all, we continue to be honest with our emotions, search for blessings in strange places, and cling to God, friends, and each other.
I wouldn't wish a job layoff on anybody, but I'm glad we've endured it. God's brought us closer to him, to our family, and our friends. And we're stronger because of it.
Kevin Spear, an illustrator, author, and designer, lives with his family in Indiana.
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.