Losing a job affects all members of the family. Adults frequently become so preoccupied they forget unemployment has an emotional, as well as financial, impact on their children. Children depend on their parents for emotional security. When parents are tense, upset and inattentive, much of this security is gone.
Unemployment can mean sudden lifestyle changes for the entire family. There's less money to spend, so decisions must be made on how to spend what's there. It may mean other family members must find jobs. It may mean there is less family time while looking for a job.
Unemployment can mean a parent is home more, which might call for adjusting schedules and space. It may involve moving. Whatever change unemployment brings, the family system and all its members feel the impact. Discussing these feelings and concerns is important.
Communication has two parts -- talking and listening. Each must occur for communication to be successful.
As people undergo changes in their lives, they need to talk about it. This includes adults and children. Harvard psychologist Gerald Kaplan says people who are not ashamed to express fears, anxieties, sorrows and seek help from others deal with crisis most successfully. Children who learn this at a young age will be more likely to be able to cope with stress as adults.
Being able to discuss and vent angry feelings can help keep those feelings from creating more severe problems, such as emotional problems, family violence or alcohol abuse.
Listening is as important as talking. Everyone needs someone to listen to them -- someone who supports them and allows them to openly express feelings. Sometimes a person can find a solution or discover the sources of stress just by talking.
The listener should not feel obligated to advise, analyze or have all the answers. Listening and responding with concern and understanding may be all the help needed.
Open communication within the family is vital to good relationships. During stress, we frequently need people outside the family willing to listen when we need to vent our feelings. In some families, listening is difficult because we want to help but have strong feelings and opinions. Also, family members are sometimes too busy or preoccupied to listen well. Taking the extra effort to actively listen is important.
An example might be:
"I feel angry when I get home and find the dishes undone because it makes the place look so messy. Would you please put the dishes in the dishwasher in the future?"
If older children can find jobs to supplement family income, decide together how their money will be used. Decide whether it will cover their clothing and recreation expenses or whether they will contribute to food, shelter and other expenses. Help them to help the family by contributing to a portion of the family's income.
Attitudes and family communication have a great impact on how your family deals with unemployment. The members' thoughts and feelings influence their behaviors.
No matter what your children's ages, there are things they can do to help at home when a parent is unemployed.
Here are some suggestions you can give to children to help relieve stress and tension at home.
Brooks, J. B. The Process of Parenting. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1987.
Ginott, H. Between Parent and Child. New York: Avon, 1965.
Pitzer, Ronald L. "Family Communication in Times of Stress." University of Minnesota. 1984.
Texas Agricultural Extension Service. "Coping with Unemployment," 1986.
Adapted from: Krueger, C. M. "Managing Between Jobs: Helping Children Cope." University of Wisconsin-Extension. B3459-15. Krueger, C. M. "Managing Between Jobs: How You Can Help When Mom or Dad is Unemployed." University of Wisconsin-Extension. B3459-13.
Families Taking Charge is a multi-part series for individuals and families experiencing financial stress as a result of difficult economic times.
Reviewed by Novella Ruffin, Extension Specialist, Virginia State University
Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.
May 1, 2009