Tag Archives: acclimating

Merry-Go-Rounds and (my) Marriage

May 18th marks 28 years of marriage for my wife and me – although we’re doing a combo-celebration this week in San Antonio, where my wife is attending an advanced practice nursing conference.

If I were to rephrase a famous line of Charles Dickens’ as I look back on 28 years it might read, “It’s been the best of times, it’s sometimes been the most difficult of times.”

Like parenting, there’s no foolproof and surefire way to remain married or committed to the one you started out loving (or to the one you grow to love via an arranged marriage).

What follows is a common sense idea, which evidently is uncommonly observed by too many couples, yet one that has helped our marriage.

Years ago I came across an author’s use of centrifugal and centripetal forces in the context of marriage, which stuck with me, and thus, my appropriation of the merry-go-round analogy.

MGR

It’s a simple axiom:

A marriage/relationship – like a person riding a merry-go-round – will only hold together if inward pulling forces (centripetal) match or exceed outward pulling ones (centrifugal).

We’ve all experienced or seen what happens on merry-go-rounds when a combination of speed and duration of spinning combine – bodies fall or fly off.

fallingMGR

I could list any number of centrifugal and centripetal forces that work for or against a marriage, but for this blog, I’ll illustrate with a few of my own.

For almost three years, mid-2010 to the present, my family has been in a re-acclimate-back-to-USA-from-years-in-South Africa mode.

I chose to resign from a non-profit, HIV/AIDS children’s psychosocial research and training job in a country and among people we loved, and relocate back to Texas in order to be nearer an aging and ailing parent. An agreed upon condition of our choiceso that our three school age girls didn’t become latchkey kids – was that I would assume primary “home management” duties, while my wife accepted and enrolled in a three-year graduate nursing program at UT-Austin.

I jokingly share that you know roles have reversed when you wake up in the morning and one of the first thoughts on your mind is: What do I need to take out of the freezer for dinner tonight?

Actually, there’s been a lot of role reversals with my new family responsibility, including: taking the girls to medical appointments; washing/drying and folding laundry, including women’s slips, brassieres, panties and camisoles; mopping up on my hands and knees bedside and bathroom vomit; all the while doing any and everything else necessary to keep our family functionally (versus dysfunctional) operational while my wife gives total focus and effort to full-time studies, plus off-setting financial need by working PRN at Hospice Austin.

Upon our return from South Africa we could have done what we see too many American couples doing – burning life’s candles at both ends.

Both of us either working or studying full-time, plus accommodating every which child’s academic and extra-curricular activities – all for the purpose of either making necessary ends meet, or more commonly it seems, maintaining an accustomed lifestyle.

Upon our arrival in Texas, one of the first – yet constant – outward pulling forces we felt personally was economic, or the proverbially, “keeping up with the Jones'”.

Returning with no job prospect, no medical insurance, and certain future graduate study debt of $30k+, we knew our already too meagre retirement savings would take a huge wallop for at least a 2 to 5 year period.

Seeing and sharing life alongside so many friends, acquaintances, and family, many of whom live in near million-dollar homes, have 2nd (even 3rd) vacation homes, drive near-new vehicles and possess recreational vehicles, take once or twice-yearly family vacations, frequently eat out, give generous allowances and newest tech accessories to their kids, cover multiple summer camp/trip costs, et cetera, took its toll on our family – as parents, as kids, as a family, and on me as traditional “provider.”

It’s made us frequently wonder to ourselves now – somewhat shamefully (since we didn’t often give thought to the feelings of those who weren’t privileged with the means to enjoy such pleasures) – what our many African friends and acquaintances must have felt each time they entered our home, or heard I was going on a week-long hiking trip, or that we were traveling to the coast or the Drakensberg mountains for a family vacation.

Of necessity we’ve had many mini-family conferences since relocating to Austin, during which we speak plainly with each another, helping counter the outward pulling-away-from happiness forces, verbalizing what we (should) most value in and from life – life, health, relationships, et cetera (the centripetal forces).

Our family, including newly grafted son-in-law

Our family, including newly grafted son-in-law

Such candid talks and times together help counter our many individually felt Berstein Bears’ jealous “Green-Eyed Monsters,” and put into perspective, say, why we’re living within our means for an undetermined period of time with donated 15-year-old and discounted 10-year-old sedans.

A final example.

The Atlantic‘s July/August, 2010 cover story was titled “The End of Men: How Women Are Taking Control of Everything.” For me, it marked the first in many articles chronicling present-day changing work and relational dynamics between the sexes, and specifically, identity and relational adjustments many men are confronted with these days.

That’s where my wife and I find ourselves, today.

Despite our choice of resigning and returning to the States. Despite my choice to assume temporary home management duties while my wife studies, it’s simply and presently a gnarly period of life (gnarly = difficult; a first-time usage I heard last night from one of my wife’s nursing colleagues).

Outward, pulling-away-from marital commitment feelings occur semi-regularly these days. Most of them, I suppose, associated with a reconfiguration of my traditional and culturally sculpted male identity.

How can my wife and I be close when we no longer share work relationships, commonalities and experiences? What will I do with the very real possibility that she’ll out-earn, “out-prestige” me for all future years?

Plus, as an advanced practice nurse the sky’s the limit for her, while each day at home and not “working” I feel like a white, male endangered species, this despite my postgraduate degree and overseas work credentials. The fearful and unknown future “what ifs” of life and their possible effects on marriage and primary relationships are sometimes near overwhelming.

Despite it all, here I sit at a Starbucks in San Antonio celebrating and enjoying time away with my wife. Despite the many centrifugal forces pulling outward and against family and marriage, we’ve managed to keep a proportionately higher balance of inward-pulling forces to outward-pulling ones. For this, we’re grateful to God and hopeful for the future. I wish the same for you and yours.

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20 Do’s and Don’ts of Assisting the Jobless

Do you care enough to help the jobless?  If so, at what level are you willing to help – Maze Help or Mentoring Help?

Let me explain how I view the difference.

Finding work, or helping someone find work, is often likened to simple navigation of a maze, consuming as little as 15-minutes of your time, but certainly less than a few hours at best.  This short expenditure of time and effort I call “maze help,” aka –  charity help.

jobmaze

If you intend to contribute meaningful help to someone seeking re-employment, then the analogy of mentoring a visitor or immigrant in acclimatizing to his or her new environment is more apropos, I believe.  The reason being that joblessness is frequently a seismic crisis, precipitating significant life adjustments.  Helping someone through and beyond job loss could possibly consume tens of hours of your time spread across days, weeks, and in a recessionary climate, even extending to months.

I have experienced both analogies.

As job seeker, I have been the recipient of well-intentioned friends or acquaintances, who offer “maze help.”  Regrettably maze help is most common, and I define it as snippets of time and energy, requiring minimal personal inconvenience, and often assumes the form of verbal or written statements such as – “I really don’t know of anything at present, but I will certainly let you know if I do hear of a position that might be suitable for you.”

“Maze helpers” seem to view the act of helping as simply an act of charity, as Jon Picoult notes in his article “The Jobless Won’t Forget Your Help.”  Promises of help are made by well-intentioned individuals, who either don’t want to be troubled beyond the time and energy it takes to write a reply email or make a phone call, or who feel insecure and ill-suited to help you for whatever unknown reason.

helpinghand

An example of “Mentoring Help” occurred in 2008, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.  A local non-profit I worked with gladly accepted the offer of an unpaid, six-month German intern.  As national director of a newly funded USAID training project, I was not charged with orienting this intern, nor did I feel I had the time to do so due to project compliance requirements.  Nevertheless, shortly after this intern’s arrival it was apparent that we had not done enough in helping him acclimate to our city and country.  I could have simply offered him “maze help” in the form of an email or phone call or a quick cup of coffee, sharing condolences about his struggles but little else, yet I knew this wouldn’t suffice, nor was it the right and decent thing to do.

He needed mentoring/orienting help.  So for the next few weeks, plus periodically, then, over the next four months, I invested time and effort in helping him make a positive transition through the attending acclimating-to-South-Africa crisis.  I picked him up and took him to the bank, helping him transact money.  I drove him to town where he bought an A/C adaptor for his laptop, as well as groceries.  I invited him for several meals, and facilitated a doctor’s appointment when he became ill.  I informed him of “safety tips” (turn your cell phone off during taxi rides, so you don’t advertise it to would-be-muggers), and acted as his sounding board when he was lonely, frustrated, and processing more information and newfound experiences than his single brain could manage.

howcanihelp

After reading this blog I hope you still want to help!  Jobless people need your help, yet not if they feel your help is merely acts of charity. “Charity help” merely accentuates your fortuitousness of economics, life, education, inheritance, et cetera, and makes people in need feel correspondingly more shameful (=failure).

Below are 20 suggested Do’s and Don’ts on providing practical assistance to jobless individuals. Please feel free to contribute additional ideas, or to add commentary to those listed.

DON’TS:

1.  Don’t assume anything.

  • Don’t assume a person doesn’t want help simply because they haven’t asked for it.  If you have an interest in helping, don’t wait for the jobless to ask you. Take the initiative.  Risk investing 30-minutes to an hour of your time and the price of two cups of coffee (Yes, be sensitive to their curtailing of expenditures and buy them a cup of coffee!).  Your initiative will be appreciated and remembered.
  • Don’t assume the jobless will tell you exactly what they need.  After all, they, like you, have self-respect.  They feel awful being in need already; don’t make them beg for your assistance if you’re already willing or in a position to help.  Rather, ask if and how you might be of help.  Cite specifics within the parameter of your kindness and willingness to help:  e.g., tuition assistance for continuing studies or merely meeting once monthly for coffee. 
  • Don’t assume a person’s joblessness is due to laziness, ineptness, or any other self-made mistake.  Think the best of a person until fact proves otherwise.

2.  Don’t assume every job seeker’s reason for unemployment is the same.  I list this separately because it is purported that, despite the illegality of discrimination against job applicants for a status of “unemployed,” it is still widely practiced.

3.  Don’t “false promise.”  Offer help only if you will keep your promise.  Otherwise, candor is preferred – e.g., “I’m sorry.  I would like to help, but I don’t feel I’m in a position to do so at this time.”

4.  Once committed to helping, don’t disengage without informing the person, preferably with an explanation and in person.  Disengagement without explanation, leaves open the question of “why,” and risks further adding to a job seeker’s unwarranted, yet shameful sense of not measuring up, or of somehow being deserving of one’s predicament.

DO’S:

5.  Assess your motive for helping prior to offering help.  If you don’t, it’s possible you will communicate a patronizing (=treat with an apparent kindness that betrays a feeling of superiority) versus compassionate attitude.

6.  Think sensitively before asking questions, because the questions might merely transfer additional anxieties on to the job seeker.  Examples: “Did you manage to secure any job interviews last month?  No? Really!”

7.  Allow individuals to vocalize frustrations and struggles without correcting or criticizing them.  Strive to provide a “safe place” (a figurative place of trust that is free from ridicule) where the jobless can air any and all feelings of insecurity and struggle. Listen. Affirm their feelings. Occasionally offer their words of struggle back in the form of a question – e.g., “So, what I hear you saying is that you’re struggling with the reality that your wife will ‘better you’ in terms of pay and position?”  Talking is cathartic.  Often time answers to problems and a willingness to re-engage life arise from those emotional outbursts.

8.  Offer the jobless unused air miles for airfare purchase toward job-related trips.

9.  Offer to help offset expenses related to continuing education or skills training.

10.  Offer gift vouchers to coffee shops or restaurants, which they can use toward job search purposes, such as informational interviews.

11.  Offer or help them find a temporary work opportunity, even if it’s a more volunteer than paid type situation, which will help mitigate discrimination as an “unemployed” candidate when submitting job applications.

12.  Offer to review resumes, cover letters, and provide input on job search strategy.

13.  Invite and accompany them as your guest to Rotary and such meetings.

14.  Offer to be their elevator pitch recipient.

15.  Offer to role-play the interviewer.

16.  Write them a LinkedIn recommendation and/or endorse their skills.

17.  Offer to assist with expenses of enlisting a top-recruitment firm.

18.  Assist and affirm them in identifying their transferable skills.

19.  Offer to teach them basic skill sets of yours (e.g., Excel, web page development).

20.  Offer to child-sit for job interviews, or merely to provide a self-care outing.

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