Helping Your Family Deal with Stress
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 3, May-June 2000, pp. 100-103
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
My husband recently lost his job and we are facing some very difficult financial decisions. I will probably need to go back to work, at least part-time, and my husband will probably need to work more than one shift to pay our bills. We are not only facing the immediate changes of needing to find child care and spending less time together, but we are also dealing with an incredible amount of stress, which I know our 14-month-old son is sensing. What can we do to help him during this transition?
When my husband lost his job, I remember feeling as if my world was caving in. While we had dealt with little lay-offs here and there for years, nothing prepared me for the position of his job being completely eliminated. I was pregnant with our second child, so the feelings of vulnerability and helplessness were magnified.
It is an awful time and you know that your toddler must feel your stress. Recognizing and accepting your feelings, ranging from self pity to anger, is the first step. This is a situation that is out of your control and has to be dealt with. The hardest part is being there for your family when you are feeling afraid for the future. This is a time to be extra patient and good to yourself. Your family needs you now more than ever. Losing a job is devastating on so many levels. Keep the lines of communication open and realize that your husband is also worried about providing for his family. Then, together, you can present a united front for your son. Taking lots of walks together, getting movies from the library, and having family time while forgoing any additional expenses will keep you all busy and happy.
Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Another thing that helped me was listing the pros and cons of me working. Seeing the list in black and white made it easier to make the tough decisions that lay ahead.
If you do end up going to work part-time, keep in mind that this may be temporary. Take one day at a time. Perhaps you and your husband can work opposite shifts so your son will always be with one of you. Don't rule out help from the county or state. My pride kept me from going to social service agencies for a long time, but what a relief when I finally sought help. That is why these agencies are there in the first place-for the times when life throws us those curve balls.
While this is a difficult time for everyone, don't forget to keep your faith strong. By paying attention to the things you can control, such as attending to your son's needs and the house, you will start to feel better about the situation. After all these years, I rarely think about the lack of money or late bills when my husband lost his job. What I remember most is all the extra time he got to spend with our new daughter and me. Our time together was a priceless gift that I could have never dared hope for.
Niagara Falls NY USA
I'm sorry to hear your family is suddenly facing serious financial challenges. That is hard on any family, but can be especially poignant with very young, preverbal children.
Before your straits turn dire, you might find it helpful to avoid debilitating debt and damaged credit by seeking free credit counseling right away. You may find local sources online or in the phone book.
Explore your local social services (such as unemployment and food stamps) before you might need them. Call utility companies or other services to inquire when they consider a bill to be overdue. Everyone I called was so happy to hear from me preventively and all cheerfully offered to work with me whenever I might find myself in a bind.
Put any windfall money toward paying off your highest interest debt first. Set aside 10 percent of every paycheck for periodic or unexpected expenses, such as taxes, insurance, and car repairs. You'll be surprised how even small amounts of money add up and provide a cushion!
Cutting expenses to the bone helps relieve a lot of stress. The Tightwad Gazette is filled with tips and suggestions for thrifty living. Some services can be cut back without much hardship--cable television, telephone perks beyond basic service, home care services (such as lawn care and snow plowing), packaged and convenience foods, and other luxuries. Sometimes housing costs can be shared by a boarder or by temporarily living with friends or family.
Even though this sudden change of circumstances has come as a shock to you, you have lots of company. Many perfectly happy families operate on limited budgets. There is no shame in that. Don't consider yourself or your family as victims to be pitied. It can help to focus on what you do have-one another, your health, your friends and family, any and all sources of support, education, and encouragement. Remember all the challenges you have faced in life already and realize you can get through this, as well. Draw upon your courage, your commitment, your faith, and your partnership, strengthening all elements periodically. Notice, appreciate, and celebrate any and all resources, advantages, and simple delights every day as you face and overcome this temporary setback.
My children were raised proudly on limited money, but they remember their childhood as being full, joyful, and nourishing. I know of people who had far greater resources but felt more deprived than we ever did.
Susan Johnson Blake
Valrico FL USA
If you are unable to do some type of work from home, you can make the most of the time you have together as a family and keep some routines that your son is familiar with.
While your son adjusts to day care and time away from you, allow him to take a familiar item along, such as a blanket or favorite stuffed animal. It can comfort him in his new environment. Sometimes, a family photo is a good idea, too.
Of course, you can't show your child enough how much you love him. It's so hard to explain things logically to a toddler, but they always understand hugs and kisses. Hugs and kisses between mother and dad at home are important, too. It can help your baby feel a sense of stability during such an intense period. I'm sure you'll find something that works for you!
Roswell NM USA
First of all, take the time to do the math and be sure that your costs for child care are not equal to or greater than the money you expect to earn. Include all of your work-related expenses, and add a few extra dollars for emergencies such as extra doctor visits, convenience items (for example, take-out food), work wardrobe, and gas and extra car maintenance. You may find that you can save more money than you could earn, depending on the type of work you do. Also, go over your current expenses to see what can be eliminated.
One way to minimize stress is to carefully develop a spending plan. There are numerous books regarding this subject, and one of the simplest and most effective is Financial Peace Revisited by Christian author, Dave Ramsey. Just knowing how much money you expect to take home compared to how much is needed in payments is a real eye-opener! Sometimes, there is enough money, but you don't realize how much you're spending on little items, such as movies, late fees, and eating out. Also, try to have discussions with your husband about work and bills while your son is asleep.
Above all, let your son know how much his mommy and daddy love him. Remember to plan some fun activities together, even if it's just a peanut butter and jelly sandwich picnic on the living room floor!
Pittsburgh PA USA
Changes in job situations are so stressful. There are some things you can do to make this time easier for you and your family. Remind yourself that this is only a stage.
Remember that the people in your life are more important than material things. Pay close attention to your son when you are with him. Try not to think about bills or budgets when you are together.
During times when I stress out and start feeling as though my house isn't as nice as I'd like it to be, or when I can't afford to take my children to the same great vacations that their friends go on, I remind myself that there are many people who have a lot less than we do. I try to focus on what we do have, instead of focusing on what we don't have. It really is a mind-set. Good luck to your family.
Denver CO USA
Your son is lucky to have a mother who puts his needs at the top of her priority list. With an attitude like that, the three of you will make it through anything, and grow in love and strength as well. Life does not always happen the way we planned or hoped it would. I am sure you have heard the saying "children are resilient" many times, but it is true. They can make it through many situations, the most important element is having you there as his support system.
It seems to me that a few things will be very important: the effort you put into reconnecting with your child after coming home from work; the person you choose as a child care provider; and your attitude toward the time you spend apart-you have the ability to set the tone for the way he views this new "adventure."
My children have been through my returning to work; my quitting my job; three moves including an international one; hospital stays for me and for them; full-time school at three years old; as well as other challenges. Through it all, my husband and I assured them of our love for them, I nursed whenever we could, kept a positive frame of mind, and cut out any extra activities in order to spend more time with together. They also had the benefit of making a lifelong friend or two in an extra-special child-care provider, a friend from school, and time spent with grandma one-on-one.
You have begun to handle your new situation well by thinking of your baby's well-being. Continue along the same lines and you will all get through this.
Davenport IA USA
Transitions are a time when children may feel unsure about what is going on. Our job as parents is to help maintain a strong connection with our children throughout the transition and to support and reassure them. I have found that implementing what we call "special time" works well. "Special time" is a period of time each day that my child has my complete and loving attention. I also let him decide what he wants to do during our "special time," whether it be read books, do puzzles, or play.
Children connect with their parents beautifully through their play. Try your best to go along with your child during this time. This is a great opportunity to help your child process change and act out anxiety. One of the best parenting books I've read is Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohen. I highly recommend you get a copy before the upcoming transition. In the book, Dr. Cohen talks about connecting through play as well as implementing special time in your home. Playful Parenting is a must-read for any family, but I think you will find it especially helpful as you make your way through this transition.
Cumberland ME USA