When a parent loses a job

When a parent loses a job, it can throw off the whole family dynamic. Here's how to keep your family together.

By Christine Langlois

Talking to kids about job loss

When Mom or Dad loses a job, it can throw off the whole balance of the family. It's not just the effect of having a parent home all day, but the uncertainty over money, awareness that the family might have to move, and the need for everyone in the family to accommodate a new job search. Many parents greet the loss of a job by vowing it will not affect the children. But school-age children know their parents' jobs support them and your family life together. They'll worry about the future even as you reassure them that nothing will change.

Open up to your children
People who counsel families during job loss recommend that you and your partner talk privately first about how to tell the children and what reason to give for the loss of a job. In today's climate of downsizings and mass layoffs, you may not even know why you were fired. But the children will ask, so give them an explanation appropriate to their age and one that you're prepared to have them broadcast around the neighbourhood and the school yard. Your children shouldn't be asked to keep it quiet. Losing a job no longer has the stigma it once had. Nor is it a bad thing for everyone around you to know you're looking for new work -- the public knowledge just means that you have more eyes and ears looking for job leads. Notify the children's teachers that one parent is unemployed, not just because of any change in child-care arrangements but because the stress the family undergoes may show up in the children's school work.

You may be surprised at the strength of your children's reaction to a job loss. Some will be compassionate, as was the seven-year-old who asked her mother, "Are you sad you're not going to work today, Mommy?" Some will be angry at the company who dared to fire the person they admire most in life. Others may direct their anger at the jobless parent: "You mean you missed my concert, and you came home late all last summer because of that job, and you still got fired?" Still others will just put forward their own concerns: "Does this mean I'll have to give up camp this year?"

Children may seem to absorb the information, then forget about it. You and your partner must take the time to deal with your own emotions, but don't become so preoccupied that you cannot see your children's reactions. Be alert for signs that they are worrying about the effects of unemployment on your family. If your son spends a lot more time alone or appears to avoid coming home, he may be upset by the level of tension in the home.

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