Financial problems are one of the most common issues that cause stress in a marriage. But when it’s not only a matter of a stretched budget but losing your job altogether, a marriage can be in real jeopardy. In these precarious times, losing a job seems to be an all-too-common occurrence.
Because author and speaker Mary Kaarto has survived two separate, two-year layoffs as a single mom many years ago, she is passionate about writing, listening to, speaking to, and encouraging anyone who is laid off. Her first book, HELP for the LAID OFF (2009) was followed in 2015 by HOPE for the LAID OFF – Devotionals. She is now working on a third book, targeted specifically towards married couples trying to successfully navigate the pressures of a layoff. I am privileged to interview Mary about her books and ministry.
Linda: Mary, tell us why you write books for the laid off.
I want to help people find freedom, hope, strength and encouragement from the numerous burdens layoffs cast on people, whether they are married or single.
After my first book was published, I met many of my readers who endured divorces, separations, homelessness, families having to move in with other families, and children being separated and farmed out to various family members because the parents could no longer afford even an apartment. I’ve met face to face with grown men who’ve crumbled before me, heartbroken, because their wives don’t understand that they ARE looking for work. Most of these men were professionals, IT managers, HR directors, oil & gas executives, etc.
I’ve met women in their 50s frightened out of their minds. Sadly many of them were estranged from their families for years and, unfortunately, too proud to “call home”.
Having been laid off myself, I know what it feels like to be frightened, hopeless, exhausted on every level and humiliated from having to ask for help over and over again. I know how hard it is, worrying about your children and how this layoff is affecting them.
I know how emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually draining it is to keep smiling and always have the ‘happy tone’ in your voice when answering the phone, and instead of an interview or job offer, it’s someone asking, “Have you had any luck yet?”
I remember what it’s like to have $1.31 in your checking account for weeks at a time after your unemployment benefits have expired. I also know what it feels like to be told, ‘You’re not poor enough to qualify for financial aid’ from a local food pantry when you finally humble yourself to ask for help. I cried all the way home, wondering how they could say I was – in essence – making too much money when I had $1.31 to my name, had exhausted my 401K, IRA, savings account, unemployment benefits, and had sold many of my belongings. Where did they think I was getting this money – and – where WAS, this money?!
Linda: Wow! That sounds heartbreaking! Tell me a little about your own time of being laid off. I understand you went through two separate two-year layoffs during a 20-year period when you were a single mom. Please share the circumstances surrounding your first layoff.
Mary: As an administrative assistant in October 1992, my colleagues and I had already seen at least a dozen or so co-workers being laid off. The majority of them were engineers and designers who were laid off once their projects ended and there were no new projects in sight.
My boss explained that my job responsibilities were being added to those of a more senior admin assistant within the department, so my job was being eliminated in order to save the company money.
First Steps When a Layoff Happens
Linda: What were some of the first steps you took soon after?
Mary: The first thing I did when I got home was have a good cry and call my family and friends in order to process the shock and awe of it while my daughter was still at school. It was important to me that I be honest with her on a level she could understand, but maintain a sense of composure and normalcy.
After filing for unemployment benefits, I set up several job searches on Monster.com, the only such search engine I was aware of at the time. I strategically bought two three-ring binders: one for secretarial/administrative assistant positions and the other, for writing/editing/proofreading positions.
Linda: Why two binders?
Mary: I realized this layoff was an opportunity for me to try and fulfill my life-long dream – to travel, write and edit for a living. The problem was, I didn’t have a college degree, any formal training of any type, no mentor or ‘foot in the door’. It was a dream that would not die, and I realized I had nothing to lose by trying to follow it now that I’d lost my job.
Linda: Two years is a long time! Describe some of the challenges you faced in your day-to-day living while trying to find work during that time.
Mary: During my first layoff, cell phones were just coming on the market so I was terrified to leave the apartment, worried that the minute I left, someone would call for an interview. If I weren’t there, I was sure they’d go onto the next candidate. I felt like a prisoner in my own home.
Over time, my family and friends called less often: what could they say that they hadn’t already said 100 times?
The loneliness and depression began playing tricks in my mind. I believed my family and friends were judging and condemning me, assuming I had given up looking for work because no one (especially myself) could understand why it was taking so long to find a job – ANY job.
My doctor recognized I was clinically depressed, cut the cost of my office visits in half and generously gave me regular samples of anti-depressants.
For the first time in many years, my daughter and I began attending church, where I experienced the unconditional love, understanding, compassion and generosity of God through complete strangers. Suddenly we were being provided for through such miraculous ways that I could only exclaim to my daughter in such surprise, “Emilie, LOOK at how God is taking care of us!”
Linda: What finally led you to getting your next job?
Mary: Shortly before I was laid off, I had this radical idea to contact an editor of the Houston Chronicle, introduce myself, pitch a story idea and ask permission to write and send an article to her for her opinion. “If you don’t like it, you are under no obligation to print it, more than anything I just would like someone to tell me if I have any talent whatsoever.” She agreed, and after publishing it, she immediately gave me a second one, and a 10+ year working relationship began.
Although I was pleased to receive one or two assignments every month or two, it still wasn’t enough to live on, but it encouraged me to pursue my writing dream. Eventually, I contacted oil & gas publications, inquiring about freelance writing opportunities. One editor spoke with me at length and asked me to send him a resume and some clips, even though they didn’t use freelancers. One year later a full-time editorial position became open at the company he worked for. I applied for the job and my dream came true. I knew God was opening doors no one could shut, and I refused to give up on myself or cave into my doubts and fears.
Lessons Learned and Helpful Hints
Linda: How was your second two-year layoff as a single mom, years later, different from the first? What, if anything, did you learn new in terms of getting your needs met? What challenges did you face this time?
Mary: Although completely shocked by the second layoff, my initial response surprised even me: “Oh, it’s OK, it just means God has something better for me to do, I just don’t know what it is yet!”
Three weeks later I had an accident that broke my leg and injured my knee. Upon asking God why He allowed these things to happen, His response was to write a book about trusting Him during a layoff. After several months of doubt and fear, I began and finished writing my first book, HELP for the LAID OFF.
Linda: I assume your book has some helpful hints for those who are laid off.
Mary: Yes, included in this book are ways I saved money and got my needs met, including the following:
- Bartering for services with my hairdresser, who cut, colored and styled my hair (before job interviews) in exchange for me babysitting her baby;
- Cancel newspaper, magazine and cable TV/Internet subscriptions and take advantage of libraries, which offer these things for free (except cable TV), in addition to borrowing books and DVDs for entertainment.
- My daughter and I volunteered as ticket takers for arts & musical festivals and The Alley Theater, in exchange for free admission to the festivals and live theatre productions.
- I signed an agreement with a reputable debt consolidation company called Abundant Life Christian Credit Counseling Service, which got my interest rates significantly reduced and allowed me to have to pay only one check each month to satisfy my creditors.
- Volunteering somewhere on a regular basis, attending church each Sunday, exercising and attending a local unemployment ministry support group helped me feel better on every level: emotionally, physically, relationally and spiritually.
Linda: Tell me more about the bartering.
After I had the accident, I negotiated an arrangement with an orthopedic surgeon by writing an article about his practice for a local paper in exchange for him treating my knee with an X-ray and office visit. A different ortho surgeon provided knee surgery and charged $500 and arranged for the hospital to only charge me 1/2-day rate and work out a payment plan with me. I took my friend’s mom to/from doctor and physical therapy appointments in exchange for her paying some of my utilities.
Linda: I’ve heard you say, “A layoff can be one of the best things that ever happens to someone, it all depends upon their response.” What do you mean by that?
Mary: My layoffs taught my daughter and I many lessons that others can learn, the first one being there’s no better time than adversity to begin seeking God and learning how trustworthy He is. WHO BETTER to go to than the One Who created you for a specific purpose, with unique skills and who will lead you to your next job or career change?
We learned the difference between “need” and “want”, the value of a dollar, how to create and stick to a budget, and to stop defining ourselves by where we lived, what we wore, etc. I learned that humility is a gift, there is no shame in asking for and accepting help, and that people are not mind readers. You must ask for what you need, and most people are very happy to help. When I gave my pain to God and asked Him not to waste it, He gave me the ministry I have today: helping the unemployed by giving hope and encouragement.
Linda: What advice do you have for parents who are laid off during the upcoming holidays?
Mary: Based on an extremely painful personal experience one Christmas, I highly recommend they make clear what should be perfectly obvious to their family members and friends, that they (the laid off parent) does not have any extra money to buy their nieces and nephews any gifts “this year”. Ask them to either explain this to their children on a level they can understand, or better yet (if they can afford it), buy their children a small gift “from Aunt Mary”.
For their own children, shopping at Goodwill and garage sales can save money on purchasing gently used items. The best gifts are love and time from their parents.
Linda: I understand you are presently writing another book for the laid off, which would probably be of particular interest to my audience on Heart Talk.
Mary: Yes, LOVE for the LAID OFF – Staying Together is my latest project. The sole purpose of this book is to encourage married couples to draw closer to God and each other during a layoff and allow it to strengthen their marriage rather than allow the weight and pressure of it to lead to divorce.
Linda: Where can readers find out more about your books and ministry?
Mary: I encourage your readers to visit my website at http://MaryKaarto.com. If they order HOPE for the LAID OFF – Devotionals from my website, I will also send them HELP for the LAID OFF for free. And I’m always available by email if someone wants to contact me at MaryKaarto@MaryKaarto.com