Over the years, I have received this question many times. It’s a sticky survival situation in which family and friends inform us they will just come to our house when disaster strikes. Here’s the most recent example of this question from a reader on Facebook:
I prep for my family of four (I stockpile, coupon, can, and garden) and am considerate that we have extended family who may need our help if things really hit the fan one day, but I’m stuck trying to figure out how to get the message across to friends and family that they really need to think about taking care of themselves.
I hear the teasing (but not really) statement “oh we’re just going to come here if there’s ever a _______ (insert your choice of disaster)” I’d never dream of turning someone away, but at what point and how do you say ‘no’?
They see me doing it and they don’t think it’s stupid but they don’t want to invest the time,effort and/or money to do it themselves. How do I tell them that I’m taking care of mine – they need to take care of theirs? That it’s not my responsibility because they’re too lazy. (Sorry – this sounds more like a rant than a question). I just don’t know how to delicately say “get yourself together.”
A couple of years ago I created this video to address part of this question:
Since this is such a common question, but one that is very pressing to many people, I turned to other bloggers and experts in the prepper and survival niche and asked for their advice. Here is a continuation of those responses. You can read Part 1 here.
Talking to Acquaintances and Those Who Simply Refuse to Understand
By Heather Harris of The Homesteading Hippy:
What I would say is, “Sure, you can always come over, but what happens if you CAN’T make it to my house? Or, what do we do if that disaster hits and takes out all that I have prepared? I am not just prepping food and supplies, I am also prepping by learning skills to survive. A tornado, hurricane, earthquake, etc. can happen at any time. What will you do if you can’t get to me and you are on your own?
Do mention the most likely disaster scenarios in your area:
For someone you don’t know well or who clearly doesn’t want to understand, this might be a good stopping point and a short conversation may be all that is warranted. Your conscience can be clear that you have tried.
Offer some help, not a hand-out
Try writing a letter to members of the extended family (as well as close friends, perhaps) who have indicated, even jokingly, that they plan to head to your place in the event of a major disaster. This letter should stress:
- You are setting aside only enough supplies for your own immediate family.
- Anything given out later will only shorten the length of time you will be able to provide for your spouse and children.
- You simply cannot financially afford to stock enough food for x-number of people any more than you could buy the regular groceries for them all.
- Finally, and this isn’t an easy thing to do, explain that you WILL turn people away, by force if need be, to protect your immediate family. (If you say something less precise like “loved ones”, some people might decide that includes them.)
Then, make a sincere offer to help them help themselves. There are two potential options.
- They can invest a given amount of money (weekly, monthly, lump sum, whatever) and you will purchase goods on their behalf, either storing them at your home or giving it to them to keep at their place.
- You can give them a list of what you feel they should purchase and let them do it on their own. Offer to help them find good deals and select products that are best suited for their needs.
Approaching the issue from this standpoint serves a couple of different purposes.
- You just might get them to “buy in” to prepping.
- You will have a clear conscience later, if they show up and you need to turn them away.
Jim Cobb’s recent book, Countdown to Preparedness, covers this in more detail.
Give clear, unambiguous responses to this sticky survival situation
By Chris Ruiz of The Bug Out Bag Guide
First off, congratulations for taking action to prep your family of four. This takes courage and foresight that not everyone is willing to embrace. It sounds like your friends and relatives are starting to cause you stress with their nonchalant reliance on your hard work! You are once again showing your proactive nature by trying to address the situation before it causes tension in your relationships.
In order to preserve these relationships it is important to structure your approach carefully:
- Make sure no matter what you say that it is evident that it comes from a place of love and genuine concern.
- Don’t attack, judge, or lecture, this will only alienate them
- Offer to help by sharing information and skills rather than your carefully prepared resources
- Treat them like a partner rather than a student, they will invest more mentally if they see they have a stake in the endeavor
- Try to not use phrases like “you do/don’t”. These can sound like an accusation.
Let’s take a closer look at the root of the issues you are having and see if we can come up with a response for the next time the subject comes up.
From your question:
“I hear the teasing (but not really) statement, “Oh, we’re just going to come here if there’s ever a _______ (insert your choice of disaster)” And I’d never dream of turning someone away but at what point and how do you say “no’? “
- They do not take the threats that you perceive seriously.
- They are assuming you will have enough resources to care for everyone.
“They see me doing it and they don’t think it’s stupid but they don’t want to invest the time, effort and/or money to do it themselves.”
- They think these efforts waste of time/money/energy.
“How do I tell them that I’m taking care of mine – they need to take care of theirs? That it’s not my responsibility because they’re too lazy. (sorry this sounds more like a rant than a question). I just don’t know how to delicately say “get yourself together”?
- Their different assessment of risks and reliance on your hard work is causing you stress.
- You want to address this with them without causing hurt feelings but are at a loss for words.
- They have thought about prepping but have numerous excuses.
I would have a sit down meeting with the head of the family that is causing you the most grief. This doesn’t have to be as formal as a “Family Meeting” but you want a time when the two (or 3-4 depending on the inclusion of spouses) of you can sit down away from distractions and have a quick chat. Make sure everyone is of clear mind and no one was about to head home when you sit down to allow for ample time.
One suggestion for keeping things informal is to wait until the next time you hear a “If anything ever happens we would just come here” remark. Let it pass as it normally does and at the first opportunity approach the person and ask if you can have a word. Consider ahead of time if you want to involve spouses as well, and it is best to separate yourselves from the kids for the conversation to reduce emotional responses and distractions.
Framing it as a question sets the tone as less confrontational than immediately stating that you have an issue with their attitude:
“Hey, I just wanted to ask you about your comment a little while ago about “If there is ever a disaster we will just come here.” You know that we prep and that we would always help out family any way we could. The thing is that we are really only set up to support 4 people. Would you want to work together so that we could all be safer? It is a labor of love but if we worked together it would be easy and more cost effective. I would be happy to share my knowledge with you and help any way I could. What do you think?”
Additional points to phrase as you see fit:
- My home may not even be safe depending on the type and location of the disaster. If both of our households were prepared all of us would have an alternate safe location to shelter in.
- Working together on this project would make our families even closer.
- I understand that you may not see the threat of X in the same way as I do but being prepared never hurts.
- You are all family and I will be there to support you no matter what, working together just ensures we will all be cared for in a disaster.
- It is really not as expensive/time consuming/physically hard as you think and I am happy to show you how
There are 3 likely responses here. Yes, Maybe, and No. You need to prepare yourself and your spouse for all of them so that you can best react to whatever the result is.
Good work! You got them on board. The important thing here is to hold them accountable. If you get a yes, move on to a specific date when you will get together to get started. Have an easy project or task ready to tackle as a team the next weekend. Time is the enemy of the “Yes” response. You want to engage your new partners and get started working together before they get lazy and lose motivation. Have your first step together be easy and achievable so they can see results. Move up in difficulty from there.
They may be caught off guard and be uncomfortable with the new ideas you are presenting. This is OK and would be a good time to try to address any concerns they may have with the Additional Points that I listed above. You know these people best, so try to brainstorm their potential concerns before the conversation so you can be prepared to address them.
You can take a similar approach as the “Yes” response and offer to set up a trial project or event to do together so they can see what it is like without committing. Try to get them to commit to a specific date to either do this trial project or have a follow up conversation.
This is a tough one but you have to prepare for the possibility of “No” if you are going to address any issue with any person ever. They may be offended or scared by what you say. Sticking to the approach I outlined above (coming from a place of concern, not being judgmental or confrontational, etc) should help to minimize this but it is always a possibility.
If you get a “No” you can again try to respond with the Additional Points I listed as well as any responses that you have brainstormed. Try to end the conversation on a positive note but do not back down. That will only leave them with the expectation that they can rely on your hard work and resources.
You can attempt to close with something along the lines of:
“Like I said, you are family but the idea of supporting X-number of people on the stockpile we have was a challenge I wanted to ask for your help with. If you aren’t comfortable with that now I am happy to talk about it with you at another time.”
This is a tough situation and I wish you the best of luck with your sticky conversation. Remember that you are coming from a place of family love and genuine concern and hopefully they will come around to being a strong partner on your preparedness journey.
Plant seeds now, hope for the right fruit later
By Melissa Willis of Evergrowing Farm