When a Parent Loses His Job

EXPERT ADVICE>FAMILY FINANCE

By Ma. Salve Duplito

“Nanay, what does Papa do at work?” my eight-year-old son asks.  Hmm. I reach inside for words. How do I explain an information security guy’s job to a little person who thinks computers are upscale televisions-on-demand, where Ben Ten magically appears outside of Cartoon Network programming schedules, a grown-up’s toy?

He’s like a security guard for computers,” I reply, with a chuckle in my throat that threatens to turn into the kind of laughter that leaves you gasping for breath.

Despite the laughter, I’m aware there’s pride in my voice. My guy (the big one who sometimes plays like the eight-year-old one) is a geek, true. But the bank depends on him to keep its information assets secure. I could sense there’s silent pride in him, too, though he acts like it’s no biggie.

Lately, the financial crisis hovers over our conversations like a thundercloud. One night, two friends are suddenly handed the pink slip. Then hundreds more at Accenture Manila. The next day Intel announces a total shutdown of its Philippine plants. Labor Secretary Marianito Roque says 60,000 people will likely lose their jobs this year and that people are getting axed every day.

The figures are staggering; the money worries even more so. These could be parents and each one represents a family with needs, dreams, children who have visions of sugarplums in their heads. The dynamics of parenting can shift so quickly and so treacherously when parents (or at least one of them) lose their jobs.

By now, the lessons of personal finance should be familiar for these situations. Spend less; save more. Tune down that lifestyle as well as the silent screams of want in our heads. Guard that emergency fund worth three to six months of expenses like a hawk guards his chicks. Keep the children in the loop without transferring your fears to them. When the going gets tough, marriages need to stay tougher. The paycheck is not as important as the spouse.

Even if you don’t think you will be asked to go on “early retirement,” the mantra is the same. Spend less; save more. Be more aggressive in fattening that emergency fund. Naked wants have no place in a crazy economy. If the neighbor has a new car, keep driving your old car until it drops. This is the time to stay even closer to the spouse. You get the idea.

But what of the spilled pools of pride? Getting axed is not something you boast of to a child. In our world, a person’s worth is often measured in peso terms, sign-on bonuses, and spiffy car plans. What we often don’t realize is that how we define ourselves can speak volumes to a child just learning how grown-ups think. It can imprint lifetime notions in his sponge-like mind about what a parent is worth—and about his own worth someday.

The thing with parenting is that nobody has the time for fatherhood strategic planning sessions, nor do we spend time to make motherhood PowerPoint presentations or SWOT analyses. Mostly, we merely try to get by everyday because there are “more pressing” things to look into. It’s not that it’s less important. It’s just that 24 hours in a day seems too short for all the other things we need to send to the boss.

Yet preconceived notions about money, life, and work are cooked in this little pot called home, and before we know it our casual remarks and attitudes have already created a blueprint in someone’s head. It’s difficult to quantify how much of our own biases, worries, and unresolved fears are rubbed on our children—and when they are, it would take more than years of seeing a shrink to unravel.

The high finance of parenting requires so much more than how much a paycheck weighs, and whether Dad can afford a vacation, a new bike, or that trendy toy. Perhaps if we don’t value these things so much, our children won’t too. Perhaps all of us will learn to laugh in the face of plant closures, layoffs, and many more series of unfortunate events. Perhaps we will learn that the value of attending PTA meetings can be more than having the money for a lavish birthday party.

I quietly resolve to define myself and my husband with yardsticks that really matter. Like how he remembers to rub my shoulders when he knows it’s one of those days when I feel depleted of energy. Like how he remembers to listen first to the children before judging. Like how he can bring rolling laughter to the dinner table.

Those are things no paycheck can buy.

[PULL QUOTE]

“The high finance of parenting requires so much more than how much a paycheck weighs, and whether Dad can afford a vacation, a new bike, or that trendy toy.”

[PROFILE]

Ma. Salve Duplito is a financial journalist writing about personal finance for more than 10 years. She is editor of INQUIRER.net and writes a blog called MoneySmarts (blogs.inquirer.net/moneysmarts), one of the most-read blog in the INQUIRER.net network. She is also co-editor of the best-selling books Pwede Na: The Pinoy Guide to Personal Finance and Pwede Na2: The Pinoy Guide to Estate and Retirement Planning. More importantly, she is a mother of three, has been married for more than 10 years, and has been through a lot of the struggles in family finance. E-mail her at lightdream@gmail.com.

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