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Mr. Dad: Laid-off father can pitch in at home

Armin Brott

Dear Mr. Dad: Two months ago I was laid off from my factory job after six years there. It was a sudden decision by the owners to cut costs, so all of us who got the ax had no time beforehand to look for another job. Now that I’m at home more while job searching, how can I keep my wife and kids from thinking I’m a loser and dumping the housework on me?

A: Being unemployed is definitely no picnic. Besides putting a dent in the family budget, losing a steady income can take a toll on your self-esteem, too.

This may not help a lot, but it’s important to remember that you’re hardly alone. If your family has been paying any attention to what’s happening in the world, they should have more than a little sympathy for what you’re going through. Unless you’ve turned into a total couch potato, your wife and children will continue to view you as a breadwinner and co-head of household with your wife.

Housework is a separate but related issue. Ideally, the family members with more free time should take care of most of the household chores. After all, they’re at home while everyone else is at school or work.

But it can help to draw up a job list and distribute the tasks so that everyone in the family has to take on a few. Housework is a great way to teach responsibility to kids of all ages anyway. If your wife feels that you ought to do more because you’re currently not working outside the home, you may want to comply as much as possible while still leaving plenty of time (probably more than you think) for your job search.

When a family member is between jobs, it’s a good idea for couples to sit down and discuss budget adjustments, house and lawn work, shopping, carpools, child supervision, extracurricular activities, and other responsibilities that may need to be readjusted based on new schedules and income levels. Working through an issue like unemployment can bring families closer to each other through cooperation and shared understanding of changing roles.

If anyone in the family does let slip any negative comments about your current job situation, just explain the things you are doing to rectify the situation. You might even ask your wife for suggestions about where to seek employment.

Because economic security is important to many women (and everyone else in the family), it may help to reassure her that your jobless state is temporary and that you expect to return to work in the near future.

Armin Brott is an Oakland, Calif.-based author of six best-selling books on fatherhood. Find resources for fathers at www.mrdad.com.
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