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How Is Financial Stress
Impacting Your Family?

Posted Nov 14 2009 10:00pm

Why are our identities so mixed up with our work? Is it just the financial stress, or is it something deeper?

Regardless, American families are being turned upside down by the continuing scourge of unemployment. Some families are faring better than others, reports The New York Times. In many cases, children take the brunt of spousal strife, parental depression or parental anxiety.

As one dad tells the Times:

“I’ve heard a lot of people who are out of work say it’s kind of been a blessing, that you have more time to spend with your family. I love my family and my family comes first, and my family means more than anything to me, but it hasn’t been that way for me.”

I know what this dad means. For me, the stress is more about having enough funds to pay the bills than about not working. I get ample satisfaction from being a work-at-home dad and would be happy to call “dad” my career.

But not all parents feel this way, writes one commenter on the Times story:

Thank you for making clear a central fact of unemployment: that a job provides more than just money with which to raise a family.

It also provides a sense of identity and self-worth for the parent. Lacking these two attributes, it’s much difficult to consider oneself an adequate role model.

Unemployment hits in more places than just your bank account.

I agree with the commenter, but stress about money does impact my parenting. Simply put, I’m not at my best when I’m forced to hunt for work or I’m worrying if my wife’s job will suddenly vanish. She’s already endured a pay cut and a couple work furloughs.

We’re not starving or anything; I have three steady hours of freelance work each day to supplement our income. But clearly, I’m more irritable and less patient than I would be in a more stable financial situation.

Because of my own experience, it is very easy for me to understand how stressed some families in worse situations must be. Writes one commenter on the Times’ story:

I work in the mental health field and I can tell you that the families we see are more numerous and their problems more severe. It’s not just the folks who are unemployed who have these problems; it cuts across our population as a whole. Worrying if you are going to lose the job you have or if your business is going under are problems that are on the periphery of the unemployment crisis.

One difference between me and the parents mentioned in the Times is this: I freely explain to my kids what is happening to our family and the American public at large. This way, my kids at least understand why I say “no” to buying a new toy or taking them to an event.

Here’s one suggestion:

If this man (from the story) could not face the reality of job loss himself, no wonder his children couldn’t deal with it well. This kind of story should be a wake-up call to parents to learn to face their own reality squarely and talk openly and sincerely with their children and reassure them so that they can lessen the inevitable stress. Pretending that everything is fine never works all that well. I feel sorry for this family but many many people are like this, they think that ignoring what is going on is the best way to cope. It isn’t!

Another way to look at this article is what it reveals about our culture. Are we really teaching children to measure emotional self-worth by financial self-worth? I hope not, but this commenter certainly thinks so:

This most recent crisis illustrates several things wrong not just with the economy but also with the way we chose our spouses, spend our money and raise our children. If a man’s earning power is one of the main measures by which we judge his worthiness, then the loss of his job will have significant impacts on his ego, his family’s welfare and his wife’s perspective of him.

So what should we do? Continues the commenter:

We should teach our sons that their is more to being a man than just earning a salary, that there is more to being a husband than just paying the bills, that our daughters should date the sweet sensitive guy rather than the one with the car. Despite the stresses and losses experienced by these families, they are still far more fortunate than 90% of this planet. People should be grateful for what they have and use these times to re-evaluate all the things they deemed important in the past.

So what about you? Has unemployment had an impact on your family? If so, how?

Note: Some of the commenters’ grammar and spelling have been corrected.

Additional

This story reveals the much more measurable damage unemployment causes children.

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