A time to work together

Fmilies affected by layoffs need to plan, give support to each other

Fmilies affected by layoffs need to plan, give support to each other

July 29, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

Like many grandmothers, Virginia Shawyer loves to spoil her grandchildren.

If she was in the store with Kinsey-Labri, 4, or Maekayla, 2, and they wanted a Barbie doll, she would just buy it for them.

She took them shopping for outfits and let them play in her fenced-in backyard on Madison Avenue.

All that changed Jan. 30, 2004, when Shawyer was laid off from GST AutoLeather near Williamsport.

It's difficult for Shawyer not to cry when talking about explaining to two toddlers why she can't buy them a toy.

"It's 'Nanny doesn't have the money right now. Nanny's not working,'" said Shawyer, 44. "It's pretty hard. You just want to sit down and cry. It's been pretty stressful for me right now."


Having a family member who is laid off can be stressful for everyone in the family so it's important to set a family plan, maintain family closeness and have someone to talk to for support, according to a local clinical social worker and a reverend.

"The reality is, in today's economy, really no one's job is secure at any one time," said Stacey Black, a clinical social worker with the employee assistance program of Washington County Hospital's Behavioral Health Services. "It's a real issue in our community."

Shawyer was among 158 people who were laid off in early 2004 when GST AutoLeather closed its cutting plant. Hundreds more were laid off this year with the closing of Phoenix Color Corp. and Fleetwood Travel Trailers of Maryland plants in Washington County.

In June, GST AutoLeather officials announced about 445 more workers would be laid off by the end of September.

Family plan based on honesty

Couples should work together, setting a family plan to determine how to handle the loss of wages and how to discuss with children the effects of losing a job, Black said.

Shawyer had hoped to keep her family home but lost it to foreclosure. Her husband of 27 years, Dennis, still works and their son moved in, with his daughter, to help pay the bills at the house they are renting, she said.

Black and the Rev. Allan Weatherholt who serves St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hancock, said it's important to be truthful with children about what's happening without frightening them.

"Ultimately, it's the parents' responsibility to provide for the family so you don't want to scare the children, but be as honest with them as you can," Black said.

One way to be reassuring, Weatherholt said, is to tell the children, "Although this is a difficult time, this happens to many families. We'll get through it by staying together and holding onto the closeness we have as a family and asking God to be with us at this time."

Parents can make children feel invested in improving the family's situation by getting them involved in money-saving efforts, Black said.

Younger children can be reminded to turn the lights off in a room when they leave to help bring electric costs down, she said. Another thing the children can help with is not wasting food, such as leaving a half-eaten bowl of cereal.

Weatherholt said some teens can even help out with part-time jobs after school that alleviate the family's financial stresses.

"There are a lot of kids in our area that have part-time jobs anyway. If there are any financial stresses in the family, the kids contribute," he said.

Support under pressure

In addition to planning ways to handle the bills, families need to deal with the inevitable stress or pressure on one or both parents, Black and Weatherholt said.

"It's a big pressure on the employee because they feel they can no longer provide for their family. It's a big stresser on the remaining spouse, if working. 'Whoa, all that responsibility is on me,'" Black said.

It's also scary for a spouse who is a stay-at-home mom or dad and might now need to get a temporary or part-time job to tide the family over, Black said.

Black said a financial planner told her a family should have four to six months of cash saved to pay bills in case of a layoff or illness, but few families have that much saved.

The pressure and anxiety can lead to arguments and fights, even domestic violence in some cases, said Weatherholt, who has counseled a number of local residents who have been laid off.

"I tell them that it's understandable that they feel stress, but attacking each other is not the answer," he said. They need to support each other.

He also encourages them to find someone to talk to before the pressure gets too great and has a negative effect on their relationships.

"Just having someone to talk it out with is important, other than someone in the house," Weatherholt said.

That could be a family member, a neighbor, a friend or a clergyman.

While losing a job could make it difficult to pay for professional counseling, Black said there are ways to get counseling for free or at a reduced price.

Some companies have extended their employee assistance program benefits to help employees they've laid off, Black said.

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