We Don’t Have Money for That: Parents Talk with Kids about Their Family’s Tough Times (page 3)
When I lost my job, it hard to explain to my kids,” says Gina Jackson, a Fremont mother of five. “I did not want them to worry. But they overheard me talking to the unemployment office, and they wanted to know what ‘laid off’ meant.”
“Parents often want to put a barrier between kids and hard times,” says Nancy Lim Yee, program director for the San Francisco Chinatown Child Development Center. “But we’ve found talking with kids makes them less stressed. Kids can sense something is not right. They may think it’s their fault and wonder, ‘Why can’t I solve the problem?’” she adds.
Parents and parent educators offer tips for talking with kids when your family is going through tough times.
Talk about how things will change
“We don’t think about the impact that finances have on children,” says Angelina Woodberry, mother of three from Sacramento and community organizer for Child Action, “(but) it’s the little things that matter.” When her husband lost his job, their financial situation changed dramatically. But a big transition for her kids was her husband taking them to school because he started going to a nearby college. “It took months for my six-year-old to stop asking if Mommy could take her to school,” she recalls. She would talk with them about how they were feeling, using “toys and play as a gateway to open discussions,” she says.
“Don’t underestimate kids’ need to know what’s happening,” says Loretta Jones with Healthy African American Families in Southern California. “Be ready for them to ask questions. Get out a sack of pennies and tell them this is the (family’s income) and pull away pennies—this is for gas, bills, food, etc. Kids will see there isn’t enough money for certain things.”
Be honest, but “highlight the positive”
When Jo Gledhill’s husband lost his job, her son was in junior high. It was hard for her son, she says, but the “best way (was) to be honest and work it out, so there’s no additional stress at home. Kids just want to know how it will impact them personally. Will I lose TV? Can I play football?” adds Gledhill, now a family advocate with the Kern River Valley Family Resource Center.
Susan Reams, a single mother from Clovis, lost her job a couple years ago after a back injury. The family moved across town from a rental house to an apartment and her son changed schools. They also sold the car and started taking the bus. “I had to talk to him about me losing my job because so much was changing for him,” she says. “He misses the car. But I talked about how we would save money by not having a car and having to fix it, how (the bus) is better for the environment.”
“Positive thinking goes a long way,” adds Jackson, “because kids are very perceptive. You can say things are all right, but if you have a knot in your stomach they’re going to pick up on that. (It’s) a challenge when you’re getting insufficient funds notices—but keep in the back of your mind that this is only a temporary situation and it’s going to get better.”
Spend more time together
Jackson says that not having a job has “meant more time to spend with my children but less money. I pumped them up when I was working, ‘You want to have a lot of nice things, well then, Mommy has to work’. But when times changed, I had to deal with that demon I created. I had to tell them ‘Mommy’s not working right now, and we don’t have money to do things we usually do.’ When their birthdays rolled around, I usually had huge themed parties, but this year we just had cake and ice cream. I explained we’re going to focus on what’s really important, like getting to know each other better, doing things together, like making clay objects, sewing and knitting.”
Melinda McCall Fleming, a Novato mother of five, says very little has remained the same for her since she lost her job last month and divorced her husband of 16 years. Fleming moved to an apartment, applied for food stamps and job assistance, and then her car was repossessed. “We have had to really change the way we live,” she says. Fleming says her family plans game nights, she scrapbooks with her daughters, and she encourages her kids to play sports rather than going to the movies or the mall.
The Flemings have a dinnertime routine where everyone writes wishes and puts them into a jar. “We keep the wishes simple,” says Fleming, “time alone with Mommy, a trip for ice-cream, a ‘get out of cleaning my room’ card.” One night, 14-year-old Demaurea, pulled out a wish to go out to dinner. But instead of expecting to go out, Demaurea offered to make dinner for the family. “I didn’t say a word to him, he just knew we didn’t have the money to go out and was OK with that.”
Get help when needed
Last year, Dawn Baxter lost her house and her job. She and her kids moved in with a friend, but she had to hide food in the bushes so it wouldn’t get eaten. Then she sent two kids to live with relatives. “(That) was a very, very emotional conversation,” she recalls. “I told them it was just something we had to do. It was the toughest on my middle son, who has special needs, because he had to fly alone to Oregon to stay with my dad. We emailed, sent pictures, and talked on the phone. He’d ask, ‘Did you get a house? Did you get a job?’ and I couldn’t tell him yes yet. When he got back, we had to really deal with his anger issues.”
When Baxter got connected with a local family resource center, they helped her rent a house, find a job, and bring her family together. “When we moved in, the kids kept asking, ‘Is this still our house?’ I’d show them our lease.”
“Call support services, ask for help, advocate for yourself,” she advises. “Today, I’m an entirely different person. I know resources are available.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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