E and I are really horrible at asking for help. This has become especially apparent in the last year when we’ve really, really needed help at times but didn’t want to bother our friends and family with our struggles. In doing this, though, the pain of feeing acutely alone and forgotten has been added on to the already tremendous burden of not having a job, and we’ve made the emotional aspect of this whole experience even more difficult for ourselves.
So, in an effort to help others who struggle with trying to build a support system of their own, I’m offering advice to those around them. These are ways you can help the family going through a period of joblessness, especially long-term.
1. Don’t limit your contact to questions about the job search.
Mentioning to them that you’re thinking of them or praying for them to be able to find something soon is a wonderful way to let them know that they’re on your mind and you are very aware of their situation. On the flipside, don’t repeatedly ask how the job search is going, if they have any interviews coming up, whether they ever heard back from “that one place,” or things along those lines. We had one well-meaning relative send a text message every single day asking if we had heard from a specific job until I had to ask them to stop.
These questions are never meant in an unkind way, but when you’re deep in the middle of not being able to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, it’s so discouraging to have to say “no” to any or all of those questions. It’s usually safe to assume, in this case, that no news means there’s no good news and when the time does finally come when they have something good to share, you’ll hear about it without having to ask.
When you do talk to them, introduce other topics as well. Shoot the breeze. Sometimes just talking about mundane things like football or a book you read or something else “normal” people talk about is enough to lift their spirits just by getting their mind off the situation for a while.
2. If you’re able to, offer to spend time with them.
Offer to meet them for coffee or take them to a movie. Doing things with them to help them get their mind off the situation but that also let them know that you really want to spend time with them are some of the best ways to help. Keep doing things with them that you may have done with them before it all happened. Help them to know that you don’t think any less of them and that you haven’t forgotten about them.
I’ve had one amazing friend meet me for lunch once a month for the last year and I have absolutely treasured these meetings. It’s been a time for me to not only get a break from being a mom, but she puts absolutely no pressure on me in terms of what we talk about. So if I want to be Debbie Downer, I feel safe enough with her to do so. If I’d rather talk about anything else in the entire world (which has been the case more often than not lately), she’s okay with that too. She lets me know that she’s thinking of me and we move on from there.
3. Know that while it can be gratefully accepted, money doesn’t fix everything.
Offering them money can be a godsend, something very much needed, and something they are overwhelmingly thankful for (as well as a wonderful way to let them know that you care about them). This can help them be able to focus on finding a good job rather than any job just to pay the bills (which introduces a whole slew of problems of its own). However, this doesn’t automatically fix all of their problems. It can help relieve the stress of paying bills and buying food (no small feat), but does not fill in the emotional gaps nor help them on a personal level.
Thanks to savings, a very generous severance, stock options that we cashed in, and contract work for both of us over the last year, we’ve been in the unique (and very thankful!) position of not having to worry about money. While we’ve definitely lived much, much more frugally than we would have otherwise, we haven’t had to worry about how to pay our bills. I think some people have not known how else to help us and have even assumed we were fine because we’re able to pay our bills. This is not true. It’s been really awful at times even without the stress of money worries.
4. Give them grace.
Know that they’re probably going to be crappy friends/family members/whatever while this is going on and don’t take it personally. That’s just how it is. When they wake up each day wondering how they can make their resume or cover letter better or why they’re not getting any calls, not knowing how long this is going to last, where they’re going to be living in a month, let alone a year, and trying to calculate how long the money will hold out, they aren’t really able to focus on those outside of themselves and their immediate family.
Keep that in mind if any interactions with them seem short or rude or distracted. Remember that if a birthday or anniversary (or several weeks without posting on their blog….ahem) goes by and you didn’t hear from them, they aren’t trying to be mean, they’re just not able to reach outside of themselves during this time.
I’m sure there are more, but these are the main ones I’ve learned in the last year. If you have more to add from your own experience or can relate to any of these (or feel I’m completely wrong ), feel free to leave a comment!