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  • Writer's pictureCarol L Hornbeck, LMFT

When Unemployment Hits Home

Updated: Apr 25, 2020

How can parents deal with their own concerns about unemployment while still attending to the needs of their children?

Article originally featured in: Indy’s Child-November 2013

Written by Sarah McCosham, Featuring Carol Hornbeck

Our jobs – what we do with our days, how we earn a living and provide for our families – are an essential part of our identities. A career often defines who we are. As a result, losing a job can be devastating. In fact, job loss is one of the most stressful events an adult can experience. If you are a parent who has lost a job, these feelings can be compounded because of the effect unemployment has on the family’s well-being. How can moms and dads deal with their own concerns while still attending to the needs and questions their children have about their situation?

Talking to your kids

While your first instinct may be to protect your kids by not telling them of a job loss, it’s important to include them in the news in age appropriate ways. Kids are intuitive and can feel when something is wrong, so it makes sense to address their concerns. Plus, not telling your kids about your job loss suggests there’s something wrong with a person who loses a job – when the fact of the matter is that unemployment is a part of many people’s lives.

When you do discuss the situation with your kids, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Center Point Counseling Carol Hornbeck says parents must be “calm and reassuring” when talking to their children and make the discussion appropriate for their child’s age.

“Younger children need to be reassured that sometimes this happens to families, and that usually people find another job before long,”

says Hornbeck. She suggests parents emphasize the temporary nature of the situation, and that the family will cope with this change together.

Older kids will likely worry about what the income change will mean for them and the things they want. Parents can choose to share some information with them so they know what to expect, says Hornbeck. “For example, if they ask for something expensive, parents can say, ‘I know you really want this, but we need to wait until I find another job. Let’s start a wish list so that when things get easier, we will remember what everyone is waiting for and can put those things into the budget.'”

Keeping calm and carrying on

“When parents experience a job loss they typically feel a sense of panic. Worry over their ability to meet the family’s needs is accompanied by the feelings common to grief: shock, denial, anger, sadness and sometimes depression,” says Hornbeck. “The loss of identity connected with the job may also impact a person’s self-esteem.”

The way to combat these feelings is to stay busy and actively work to find a new job. Treat this process like you would any other job, says Hornbeck: have a daily plan that includes a to-do list, such as letters to write, websites to visit, follow-up phone calls to make, etc. “When everything on the list is completed, the parent must stop ‘work’ and spend time with their family, just as they would in a normal work day. This will help the person stay focused, increase the chances of actually finding work and reduce the whole family’s stress level.”

Try to embrace your time as a stay-at-home parent by taking advantage of the extra time this affords being with your children. “Think of fun activities that are inexpensive but will enable parents and children to feel closer – walks in the park, bike rides and family movie nights are examples of inexpensive activities parents and kids can enjoy.”

Above all, the most important thing a parent can do is stay positive and set a good example. How we respond to tough situations as parents teaches our kids one of the most important lessons of all – how to handle the tough situations life dishes out. “Remember that your children will be watching you to see how you survive and manage adversity,” says Hornbeck. Reassuring them, and yourself, that you will overcome this situation keeps everyone in the right mindset to weather this storm together.

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