Layoffs, we must remember, are a family affair. And facing the painful reality of job loss as a family is necessary. This doesn’t mean that your four-year-old needs to know the details of your household budget, or that your pre-teen needs to worry about moving to a new (unfamiliar) school. But it does mean approaching conversations, and any problems you have, in a clear and age-appropriate way. In this piece, the author offers advice on what to say (and not say) when you break the news to your children as well as practical strategies to help your family deal with job loss together.
We all know that getting fired is hard. They create stress, anxiety, and financial instability, not to mention sadness at the job you love, or colleagues you miss. Unfortunately, omissions are common. In the US, almost 40 percent of Americans have been laid off at least once in their career. You don’t have to be fired to worry about it; Just knowing you could be next, or saying goodbye to colleagues can spark removal anxiety.
If this is you, you’re probably worried about a lot of things: your mortgage or rent, grocery bills, and finding a job, among other things. And the stress only increases when we realize that it affects not only our own life but every member of our family. The stakes are extremely high when it comes to your children. How will your removal affect them? Maybe you’re suddenly worried about paying for soccer registration—and maybe the orthodontist bill, too.
Layoffs, we must remember, are a family affair. And facing the painful reality of job loss as a family is necessary. This doesn’t mean that your four-year-old needs to know the details of your household budget, or that your pre-teen needs to worry about moving to a new (unfamiliar) school. But it does mean approaching conversations, and any problems you have, in a clear and age-appropriate way. Here are seven things you can do to help your family get through unemployment together.
Prepare for the Conversation
You need to tell your family that you’ve lost your job, and probably quickly. Your emotions are likely to be raw, and you probably still feel anxious about what happened. This is a very difficult time to talk about what happened because the conversation can easily turn in a direction you did not intend. This is especially true when kids throw curveball statements that you didn’t expect or ask a question that you can’t answer.
The best thing to do is to decide in advance what your goals are for the conversation, what you want to share, and what is better not to say. (You and your spouse can play this game.) For example, while you have real concerns about paying off your mortgage, there’s no reason to state the possibility of selling the house if it’s not true. Think about what is useful to say to the family without causing unnecessary stress.
May be Age Appropriate
A conversation with a four-year-old is obviously very different than one with a teenager. With young children, terminology is very important. Try to speak in terms they understand — like “Mom won’t be at the office for a while.” And try to avoid certain phrases. Ellen Galinsky, president and founder of the Families and Work Institute in New York, warns that kids might hear “I’m fired” and think of guns. He also points out that “removal” means nothing to most young children.
Older children, however, have a more nuanced understanding of the implications of job loss. And don’t be surprised if they have a lot of follow-up questions about how they are affected. At the same time, know that it may take some time for their questions to come out. Assure them that their questions will be answered at any time.
Your instinct may be to hide your feelings in an effort to protect children, but it’s actually healthy for them to talk about real emotions. As explained by clinical psychologist Dr. Julie Futrell, they know when what you’re telling them doesn’t match the emotions they’re feeling.
When parents model honest emotions, children have the opportunity to see mom and dad as people and witness resilience and healthy coping mechanisms. you must share how you feel, why, and how you manage those feelings. So you can say, “Dad is very sad today. And it’s okay to be sad. But I will be fine and I will do what it takes to bring happiness back.
Just a quick word of caution: Don’t look to children for emotional support. That is not their role. Maintain a strict boundary and instead surround yourself with trusted adults who can provide emotional support.
Create a Family Mantra
Getting fired can be a teachable moment. Consider together what defines you and how you deal with difficult times. Make that a positive affirmation about who you are as a family. For example, “We are Colemans and we can do hard things together.”
Studies shows that these positive affirmations change neural pathways and light up the brain’s reward center. It also gives your children a sense of stability and teamwork. You are with it. You will understand it.
Children thrive with a stable family routine. Even if changes are needed, keeping the week as “normal” as possible will add to the feeling of safety and security.
Making Necessary Changes as a Family
While consistency is a goal, some lifestyle changes may be necessary. Take the opportunity to involve children in brainstorming and developing budget proposals. Suitable topics might be thinking through the grocery budget, Christmas spending, weekend activities, or clothing allowance. This is an opportunity for everyone to think outside the box. What fun meals can you put together on a budget? Create a list of unique wallet-friendly activities. A quick internet search turns up countless creative ideas. Getting everyone involved gives the whole family a sense of control while also teaching the kids financial skills they will use in the future.
Research shows that service to others helps participants see beyond their own situations and pain, so finding ways to volunteer together can be of great benefit. (And again, it’s free!) When done as a family, the experience offers quality time together, creates memories, and teaches kids valuable lessons about altruism and compassion. It has also been shown to make people happy.
Strength Training for the Long Haul
Remember, omissions are common. Maybe it’s your first time handling one, or maybe you’ve been here before. Think back to your childhood: Do you remember one of your parents getting fired? If you do, you probably remember how your family handled it. Now consider your own children: How will they remember this experience? While no one expects to look back on a layoff happily, this time doesn’t have to sink an individual or tear a family apart. But in reality, the experience can be used to bind your family closer and teach valuable lessons.
This is an opportunity to model strength, resilience, positivity, and perseverance. Modeling these behaviors can make you feel better about yourself, and that can even help you get your next job.