One of the most difficult things you’ll do as a parent is tell your kids you’ve lost your job.
Whether the change in circumstances was your choice or not, you need to decide what to share with them. You’ll get lots of advice on what to say and what not to say but most experts agree that we should avoid the temptation to say nothing at all. In the absence of facts, kids will usually fill in the blanks for themselves, often resulting in unnecessary worry and stress.
If your kids are like mine, they don’t miss much. Despite appearing generally clueless and in their own little worlds, my girls are remarkably attuned to the rhythms, ebbs and flows, and moods of the household.
They can’t hear me when I’m sitting next to them and say “turn off the TV,” but a hushed conversation between my husband and I from the other side of the house? Suddenly they’ve acquired super-sonic hearing and are demanding to know what we’re whispering about.
Growing up, my father was chronically unemployed, and I could tell within seconds of stepping in the house after school if he’d lost or quit another job. I remember whispers, tense conversations that stopped when I entered the room, and arguments behind closed doors, all of which contributed to my fear and anxiety because, until I got used to the pattern, I didn’t know what was happening. I just knew it was bad.
Job changes can be an incredibly stressful time for families. If you lost your job, you’re dealing with your own emotions, wounded pride, and financial fears while also having to guide your kids through the transition.
Even if the choice to leave was yours, you’re probably dealing with some uncertainty and anxiety, wondering if you made the right decision, worried how this will impact your family. When you’re out of work and don’t have a plan for what’s next, regardless of how it came about, it can feel a lot like flying a plane by feel, without the benefit of maps or instruments. Just a wing and a prayer.
Even little kids understand that their parents’ jobs mean security, so we shouldn’t leave them to interpret, worry, and process this major change all on their own.
If you’re willing to share some information with your kids, here’s what most experts agree you can do to minimize stress and confusion:
Tips for Telling Your Kids You Lost Your Job:
- Start by making sure you and your partner are on the same page about a go-forward plan and what you’re going to say to the kids.
- Even if you don’t have all the answers (why? what’s next?), tell them what you do know.
- Explain in basic terms how this isn’t just mom or dad’s issue, but something that will affect the entire family, and be specific about what lifestyle changes, if any, you’re undertaking in the short-term, like cutting back on expenses.
- Discuss the fact that mom will be home more, or how this will impact the family routine, so kids are prepared for the changes in their daily lives.
- Unless you have another job lined up, try to avoid putting a time-frame on how long you’ll be out of work.
- Understand that a parent’s unemployment can be stressful for kids, even if they don’t seem to “get it” or to be outwardly worried. Older kids may be thinking about having to move houses, even homelessness, so be attuned to what they may be thinking but afraid to ask you.
- Share some information about how you plan to find another job or what you’re doing next so they know there’s a plan.
- It’s a child’s nature to wonder, first and foremost, how this will impact them. While hockey camp might not be high on your list of immediate worries, it might be very important to your child. Be patient and try to avoid making promises you can’t keep. It’s okay to say “We’re still planning to send you to camp. If that changes, we’ll talk about it at that time.”
- Remember that completely changing the family routine might stress and destabilize kids even as they seem to be enjoying some of the benefits of a parent’s unemployment situation. (Home for lunch every day! Yay!) Keeping things as normal as possible will reassure your kids that you expect the situation to be temporary.
It’s almost impossible not to have our own stress spill over onto our kids, especially if unemployment is unexpected and prolonged. Simple, honest, age-appropriate conversations and explanations can help everyone get through it together. And while it’s never fun, it is an opportunity to demonstrate problem solving and resilience; to reassure your kids that while some things might be out of your control you will always do everything you can to look after them.