Our Unemployment Survival Kit

Unemployment. It’s a word that sends chills down everyone’s back. Whenever the economy has lagged, leaving friends and neighbors out of work, my husband and I have always sympathized readily. But it wasn’t until my husband, Tom, was laid off—through no fault of his own—that we learned for ourselves the true impact of unemployment.

For the first few months, we managed quite well with odd jobs, our year’s supply of food, and a modest supply of finances easing the strain. But as the months passed with no visible hope of a steady job, the stress increased and we found our family preparedness lacking. Finally, we had to sit back reevaluate our situation.

We concluded that we needed to rebuild our “unemployment survival kit.” We determined that we needed to consider eight essential areas, some of which we could improve right away; others would have to wait until we were financially solvent again.

1. Home Storage. Our family’s food supply became our first concern, one that couldn’t be neglected. How much food did we have? How long could we survive on it? Fortunately, we had been gathering our supply for some time. But replenishing it had been difficult lately because money was scarce. Replacing goods every chance you get is vital to peace of mind in times of crisis, we discovered. It’s amazing how calm you can be just knowing that, if all else fails, your family is not going to starve.

2. Finances. The most important aspect of any financial plan is paying a full tithing. The Lord has promised to bless those who obey his commandments.

“Bring ye all the tithes into storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Mal. 3:10.)

We were also grateful that we had put away some money in our savings while we had work. When money got scarce following Tom’s unemployment, we had something for emergencies.

3. Self-esteem. Dealing with our temporal needs has actually been much easier than coping with spiritual and emotional deficits. It has been the less tangible items in our survival kit that we have to work hardest to replenish. Unemployment can be extremely demoralizing. When we first faced the fact that we were unable to provide a good living for our family, my husband and I both began to feel that we weren’t of much worth. Building self-esteem became a high priority for us. We found these suggestions helpful:

• Remember that you are not being punished or singled out. Economic uncertainty affects all of us to some degree.

• Perform some service for someone. Unemployment is no excuse for feeling, or being, useless. Giving help where it is needed will give you a sense of accomplishment, which in turn raises your self-esteem.

• Stay active in community affairs. Your opinion is just as valid when you are unemployed as it is at any other time.

• Write a resume, even if you’re not applying for a job. List all your talents. It does us all good to say something nice about ourselves.

• Take time for yourself. Do something that you really enjoy, regardless of the hundred other tasks you have to do. I find that a few minutes to myself every day helps me get my other responsibilities done much faster and in a more relaxed mood.

• List your blessings. Sometimes the good things in life can be overshadowed by our troubles. Listing who we have and what we have brings our problems into better perspective and gives us a more realistic view of our circumstances.

4. Time with Spouse. Often unemployment poses a real threat to marital happiness. The tension that comes with being jobless can make minor irritations seem more important than ever. When emotions run high, it’s easy to place blame.

I was talking on the phone one afternoon when Tom came in from getting the mail. He looked with disgust at the pile of dishes on the counter. “Better get off the phone and get your work done!” he snapped.

“Well, if you’d leave me alone and get a job, maybe I could get my work finished!” I retorted. This exchange made us both feel terrible, and it didn’t help him get a job or me get my work done.

Tom had been frustrated by yet another rejection letter, and I had been upset at all the unfinished work that was piling up. We weren’t really mad at each other, but each had put the blame where it fit easiest.

Spend time together doing something other than worrying about your problems. This can bind you closer and help you get through those really tough days. Many activities cost little or nothing at all. Read the scriptures, attend the temple, go for a walk, or just sit and talk about pleasant times.

Once when we really needed a break, we got a babysitter and went out for dinner—at my sister’s! We weren’t alone, but the company was wonderful and it only cost us the price of the babysitter. Someday we will return the favor and give my sister and her husband a night out.

Keeping love in our marriage lessens the stress of unemployment and gives us a refuge from the rejection and worry we experience in the world.

5. Family Security. I was shocked one day to hear my son tell one of his small friends, “I can’t play. My mom and dad are mad at me because we’re poor.” In reality, we had sent him to his room for being too noisy while we were trying to talk about finances. He had interpreted our outburst as a continuation of our discussion and concluded that he was the source of our problems. It’s easy for frustrated parents to take it out on the children, but extra parental attention and love can create a sense of peace and security in the home.

We found that, in addition to our family home evenings, we needed another night to spend together. So we began having a weekly family fun night—making modeling clay, drawing pictures, riding bikes, going to the park. The Family Home Evening Resource Book is a storehouse of ideas for these evenings.

Staying close to the extended family is also important. I don’t know what we would do without the love and support of both our families. We are thankful for the garden produce, financial help, and all the goodies that grandpas and grandmas have given at just the right times.

6. Accepting Help. I have found that the toughest part of being unemployed is admitting the necessity to accept help. Everyone likes to be self-sufficient. But we all need to learn to receive gracefully.

Last Christmas the members of our ward gave so freely and lovingly that we were filled with great joy. It wasn’t joy at the fact that we now had more groceries in the pantry or presents under the tree, but the joy that comes when one person cares for another. One friend, a plumber, helped us with a plugged drain and accepted some elk meat as payment. He did us a real service and left our dignity intact.

We learned to receive gracefully and gratefully and vowed to remember the kindness shown to us and pass it on to those in need.

7. Patience. Accepting things as they are and trying to live as well as we can is essential to peace of mind. Self-pity does nothing but pull us into darkness: We have learned to find joy in simple things. We must have patience with ourselves and our families.

Occasionally, we have needed extra patience with other people. Most everyone is wonderfully supportive, but a few, upon hearing that Tom is unemployed, immediately try to find out what is “wrong” with us. We have come to realize that some people feel uncomfortable with situations they have not experienced.

8. The Lord. Every emergency kit has a few basic, indispensable staples. A strong relationship with the Lord is the most basic requirement for overall preparedness. Our attitude toward everything else depends on our closeness to the Lord.

Once I found myself slipping into a deep depression. My outlook on life was bleak. I felt that there was no hope and no one cared, so why try? I was irritated to see my husband so at peace every night after reading his scriptures. How could he be calm? Our life was a disaster!

Finally I began to follow his example. I started to read the scriptures, to pay attention at Relief Society, and to pray constantly, not just at bedtime. Miraculously, in the midst of trouble came a peace that I had not thought possible. Our efforts to stay close to the Lord can’t be put on hold until times are better. We need him always!

With the gospel to guide us, our year of unemployment has been an enlightening time when our love and our testimonies have grown. We still have worries, and we are eager for the time when things will be better, but we take great comfort from the gospel and from the support of family and friends.

“If ye are prepared,” said the Lord, “ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30.) We are no longer afraid of unemployment. How thankful we are that “we believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.” (A of F 1:13.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Ondre Pettingill

Faye B. Woolley, mother of five, serves as junior Primary pianist in her Raymond, Alberta, ward.