When Job Loss Changes Family Roles

Reviewed Mar 31, 2015

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Summary

  • Layoffs can alter family roles, expectations and responsibilities.
  • Balancing work with chores and child care remains a significant issue.
  • Men and women respond differently to job loss.

Layoffs have always been a stress test for marriages and families. Roles and responsibilities will be adjusted, and relationships will face new emotional stresses.

Who does chores and child care?

The issue of work-life balance doesn’t go away when you lose a job. It just takes on a new form. When 1 of 2 spouses is laid off, the one still working outside the home may have to work longer hours or take on a second job to keep the family financially afloat. A stay-at-home mother may have to take a job and leave a much larger share of child care responsibility with the laid-off dad. Dealing with these changes requires flexibility and some sensitivity in the way wishes are communicated.

Deciding who does what may be the easiest part. Laid-off men, for instance, may be more than happy to take on new chores and get more time with the kids. “What I’m finding is that people are rather practical about roles,” says psychologist Mona Barbera, author of the relationship book Bring Yourself to Love.  “Guys figure, ‘I’m home, so I’ll do more work at home.’”

Another psychologist specializing in relationships, Karen Sherman, says men tend to be more involved with their children’s lives than in the past. “I don’t think it’s quite as difficult for men to step into that [child care] role as it would have been, say, 25 years ago,” says Sherman, author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make It Last.

Barbera says the real pitfall in household role-changing is “more in the communication around it.” Wives tend to be “instructive about how to do the housework,” she says. Their spouses may take this as lecturing or criticism and resent it. “Be very careful about how you impart information,” says Barbera. “If you can possibly be humorous, that can go miles.”

The new “job” of looking for work

How much time should the laid-off partner devote to job-hunting? That can be a touchy issue unless the couple talks it over and agrees on some reasonable expectations. Debra Holland, a psychologist and corporate crisis counselor, says both men and women will expect their spouses “to be actively looking for work.” But the job search is not likely to fill up the day.

Use that free time to do something useful. Men can “look for projects that have been put off—cleaning out that garage, building that patio,” Holland says. “Also, this is a good time to spend with the kids.” She says women looking for a job will probably be expected to do a larger share of household chores. “This is time to be aware of your expectations,” says Holland. “Unless you talk about it, you’re going to get resentful.” 

It was more than just a job

Men and women may think of themselves as equal partners in providing for a family, and the time is long past when it was thought odd that a wife would earn more than her husband. But that doesn’t mean the 2 sexes have the same sort of emotional attachment to their work. Psychologists say men still tend more than women to have the attitude of a breadwinner, if not the economic role of one. They also pin more of their identity and self-esteem on their work outside the home.

“Even though at the logical level he knows his wife has her own career and he’s grateful for that, the job is who he is,” says Holland. She adds that women “place equal value or greater value on being a mother. Their other connections and relations are equally important. They get their self-esteem from other areas.”

Not all men and women fit these molds, of course. But it helps for both men and women to know these common patterns to see if they are acting them out in their own behavior. Self-awareness, and awareness of what the other spouse is going through, can do a lot to lower the stress of running a household together after the loss of a job.

“It’s the economy, dear”

For either spouse, a layoff can be a blow to confidence and the sense of competence. Showing appreciation and holding back on criticism will help lift the spirits of the laid-off spouse who is taking on unfamiliar tasks. Also, says Sherman, it’s important to recognize that the layoff was caused by the recession, not subpar job performance. “You want to emphasize that it is the economy,” she says. “It has nothing to do with the way you work.”

By Tom Gray
Source: Mona Barbera, PhD; Debra Holland, PhD; Karen Sherman, PhD; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov

Summary

  • Layoffs can alter family roles, expectations and responsibilities.
  • Balancing work with chores and child care remains a significant issue.
  • Men and women respond differently to job loss.

Layoffs have always been a stress test for marriages and families. Roles and responsibilities will be adjusted, and relationships will face new emotional stresses.

Who does chores and child care?

The issue of work-life balance doesn’t go away when you lose a job. It just takes on a new form. When 1 of 2 spouses is laid off, the one still working outside the home may have to work longer hours or take on a second job to keep the family financially afloat. A stay-at-home mother may have to take a job and leave a much larger share of child care responsibility with the laid-off dad. Dealing with these changes requires flexibility and some sensitivity in the way wishes are communicated.

Deciding who does what may be the easiest part. Laid-off men, for instance, may be more than happy to take on new chores and get more time with the kids. “What I’m finding is that people are rather practical about roles,” says psychologist Mona Barbera, author of the relationship book Bring Yourself to Love.  “Guys figure, ‘I’m home, so I’ll do more work at home.’”

Another psychologist specializing in relationships, Karen Sherman, says men tend to be more involved with their children’s lives than in the past. “I don’t think it’s quite as difficult for men to step into that [child care] role as it would have been, say, 25 years ago,” says Sherman, author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make It Last.

Barbera says the real pitfall in household role-changing is “more in the communication around it.” Wives tend to be “instructive about how to do the housework,” she says. Their spouses may take this as lecturing or criticism and resent it. “Be very careful about how you impart information,” says Barbera. “If you can possibly be humorous, that can go miles.”

The new “job” of looking for work

How much time should the laid-off partner devote to job-hunting? That can be a touchy issue unless the couple talks it over and agrees on some reasonable expectations. Debra Holland, a psychologist and corporate crisis counselor, says both men and women will expect their spouses “to be actively looking for work.” But the job search is not likely to fill up the day.

Use that free time to do something useful. Men can “look for projects that have been put off—cleaning out that garage, building that patio,” Holland says. “Also, this is a good time to spend with the kids.” She says women looking for a job will probably be expected to do a larger share of household chores. “This is time to be aware of your expectations,” says Holland. “Unless you talk about it, you’re going to get resentful.” 

It was more than just a job

Men and women may think of themselves as equal partners in providing for a family, and the time is long past when it was thought odd that a wife would earn more than her husband. But that doesn’t mean the 2 sexes have the same sort of emotional attachment to their work. Psychologists say men still tend more than women to have the attitude of a breadwinner, if not the economic role of one. They also pin more of their identity and self-esteem on their work outside the home.

“Even though at the logical level he knows his wife has her own career and he’s grateful for that, the job is who he is,” says Holland. She adds that women “place equal value or greater value on being a mother. Their other connections and relations are equally important. They get their self-esteem from other areas.”

Not all men and women fit these molds, of course. But it helps for both men and women to know these common patterns to see if they are acting them out in their own behavior. Self-awareness, and awareness of what the other spouse is going through, can do a lot to lower the stress of running a household together after the loss of a job.

“It’s the economy, dear”

For either spouse, a layoff can be a blow to confidence and the sense of competence. Showing appreciation and holding back on criticism will help lift the spirits of the laid-off spouse who is taking on unfamiliar tasks. Also, says Sherman, it’s important to recognize that the layoff was caused by the recession, not subpar job performance. “You want to emphasize that it is the economy,” she says. “It has nothing to do with the way you work.”

By Tom Gray
Source: Mona Barbera, PhD; Debra Holland, PhD; Karen Sherman, PhD; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov

Summary

  • Layoffs can alter family roles, expectations and responsibilities.
  • Balancing work with chores and child care remains a significant issue.
  • Men and women respond differently to job loss.

Layoffs have always been a stress test for marriages and families. Roles and responsibilities will be adjusted, and relationships will face new emotional stresses.

Who does chores and child care?

The issue of work-life balance doesn’t go away when you lose a job. It just takes on a new form. When 1 of 2 spouses is laid off, the one still working outside the home may have to work longer hours or take on a second job to keep the family financially afloat. A stay-at-home mother may have to take a job and leave a much larger share of child care responsibility with the laid-off dad. Dealing with these changes requires flexibility and some sensitivity in the way wishes are communicated.

Deciding who does what may be the easiest part. Laid-off men, for instance, may be more than happy to take on new chores and get more time with the kids. “What I’m finding is that people are rather practical about roles,” says psychologist Mona Barbera, author of the relationship book Bring Yourself to Love.  “Guys figure, ‘I’m home, so I’ll do more work at home.’”

Another psychologist specializing in relationships, Karen Sherman, says men tend to be more involved with their children’s lives than in the past. “I don’t think it’s quite as difficult for men to step into that [child care] role as it would have been, say, 25 years ago,” says Sherman, author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make It Last.

Barbera says the real pitfall in household role-changing is “more in the communication around it.” Wives tend to be “instructive about how to do the housework,” she says. Their spouses may take this as lecturing or criticism and resent it. “Be very careful about how you impart information,” says Barbera. “If you can possibly be humorous, that can go miles.”

The new “job” of looking for work

How much time should the laid-off partner devote to job-hunting? That can be a touchy issue unless the couple talks it over and agrees on some reasonable expectations. Debra Holland, a psychologist and corporate crisis counselor, says both men and women will expect their spouses “to be actively looking for work.” But the job search is not likely to fill up the day.

Use that free time to do something useful. Men can “look for projects that have been put off—cleaning out that garage, building that patio,” Holland says. “Also, this is a good time to spend with the kids.” She says women looking for a job will probably be expected to do a larger share of household chores. “This is time to be aware of your expectations,” says Holland. “Unless you talk about it, you’re going to get resentful.” 

It was more than just a job

Men and women may think of themselves as equal partners in providing for a family, and the time is long past when it was thought odd that a wife would earn more than her husband. But that doesn’t mean the 2 sexes have the same sort of emotional attachment to their work. Psychologists say men still tend more than women to have the attitude of a breadwinner, if not the economic role of one. They also pin more of their identity and self-esteem on their work outside the home.

“Even though at the logical level he knows his wife has her own career and he’s grateful for that, the job is who he is,” says Holland. She adds that women “place equal value or greater value on being a mother. Their other connections and relations are equally important. They get their self-esteem from other areas.”

Not all men and women fit these molds, of course. But it helps for both men and women to know these common patterns to see if they are acting them out in their own behavior. Self-awareness, and awareness of what the other spouse is going through, can do a lot to lower the stress of running a household together after the loss of a job.

“It’s the economy, dear”

For either spouse, a layoff can be a blow to confidence and the sense of competence. Showing appreciation and holding back on criticism will help lift the spirits of the laid-off spouse who is taking on unfamiliar tasks. Also, says Sherman, it’s important to recognize that the layoff was caused by the recession, not subpar job performance. “You want to emphasize that it is the economy,” she says. “It has nothing to do with the way you work.”

By Tom Gray
Source: Mona Barbera, PhD; Debra Holland, PhD; Karen Sherman, PhD; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov

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