How does losing a job or housing affect parenting and what would you do to keep it together?”
This was the question that came up in a Parent Café I was in this past winter. We were talking about the Protective Factor, Concrete Support in Times of Need.
It came at the right time because it was my situation throughout the summer. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have the security of a full time job, benefits, and all of the self-esteem and confidence that come with it.
I remember how if affected me as a person…who was a parent. It made me very nervous. It made me very scared. It made me feel inadequate. It made me look at my friends’ profiles on Facebook, specifically any pictures of their kitchens and wonder, what the heck did I do wrong? Why didn’t my kitchens have granite countertops, nice fixtures, and those really cool silver appliances—maybe even an island with a stove on it? My kitchen is old and in desperate need of a remodel. And clearly anyone with a nice kitchen must be incredibly successful with a great paying job with security, while I’m still starting from scratch.
And things seem to compound when you don’t have a job. For us, one of our cars broke down and it was too expensive to fix. My wife was on the verge of finishing school and we didn’t want her to come off track—so her getting a job in between was an option we didn’t want to explore immediately. And of course, if you have the luxury of having insurance through your job, you’re going to lose it or pay a high price through Cobra. And this isn’t an option for me because my wife has a major heart condition and a collection of prescriptions and I don’t want to think about my son not having the ability to be covered, even though that’s a reality for many. In any case, if you’ve had the experience, you know what I’m talking about.
So what did I do to keep it together?
For me, the biggest challenge was staying positive. I can’t say that enough. Staying positive. Staying positive. Staying positive. Is that enough?
Although I was un-employed I was working towards getting employed every day. I had the opportunity to help start a new organization and get it on its feet. So I had the benefit of keeping my mind sharp and working towards something, which was helpful while I was also looking for other opportunities (as there are no guarantees, right?). I also started taking advantage of some resources available for me like Unemployment benefits. I knew I had to have healthcare for my wife and son, but I had some time to sign up for Cobra, so I held back until I explored some other options, namely in Illinois, the All Kids program which provides health coverage to children and adults. I knew there were cuts to these programs, so I didn’t expect to receive them for myself, but I was banking on these being available for my son. What I learned is that you need to wait 30 days of being unemployed to even apply. Why? They were reviewing my job history so if I didn’t wait, they’d be basing their decisions off of my previous employment status and salary. So I waited before applying at the earliest opportunity and it took 6 weeks for the application to be reviewed and approved for my son. So ultimately, I did have to pay for COBRA, but it was a finite expense.
Bills and debts? I started contacting them to let them know about my issues and to see if I could get support. I was able to defer my student loan payments just by proving I was on unemployment. And some of my credit card companies helped ease payments while I was transitioning (but that wasn’t easy). What helped was just being honest about the situation and continuing to make payments best I could. But any opportunity to lower my monthly payments helped a lot.
There are a lot more services to access…I’m sure of it. But, I didn’t pursue them to the extent of which I probably should have. The problem was I didn’t exactly know where to go. Does anyone reading this have ideas? (Please comment!)
How did it affect my parenting?
As I reflect back on it, it was one of the best summers of my adult life. It’s ironic that with all of the outside stressors, I can’t remember a more stress free summer. I spent so much time with my son taking advantage of whatever I could do with him that was free. Mostly this meant, going to the parks and being together outside, swimming in the pool or throwing a ball. Going to Lincoln Park Zoo was fun. Spending time at the library also worked well; lots of books, DVDs to rent for free, and (although they could have used more) some activities for parents and kids. And where I think I was most successful was that my son didn’t know the difference. We just got to enjoy each other.
It reminded me of my own experience growing up. My father used to be between jobs at times. It was the nature of his business. So I have memories of visiting his offices in downtown Chicago and I can also remember those periods when he was home all day churning away in the basement to drum up freelance work or look for a steady gig. What exactly he was doing, I don’t know. But I remember coming home from school every day and finding a nicely arranged plate of little cut up sausages, cheese and crackers or fruits or whatever snack it was that day for me and my brother. Everything was okay and he had something for us to munch on when we got there. And it didn’t make a difference what he was doing or where he was working. That’s what sticks in my mind.
I wish I could tell you that I was expert on what kids need and what the best things to do as a parent are. I’m not. I’m in it, like you. I guess from my perspective, kids have enough time to worry about bills and other stressors when they get older. My goal is to do my best not to transfer those onto my son. I just want my boy to know his Mom and Pop will be there every day with a smile… and maybe some sausages. He’s my granite countertop.