Edward Murphy, PsyD, Director, BMR Psychology Associates
The difficult economic realities of the past several years have impacted families across the nation and the world. The loss of jobs in every community, the increase in foreclosures on homes, and the lack of finances in many families to pay for basic necessities have caused undue stress on the family unit. The widespread nature of this recession as well as its duration have resulted in the grim awareness that this is a reality that needs to be managed and changes need to be made in order to sustain one’s family in uncertain circumstances.
The principles for managing stress at this time are no different from those commonly used by family therapists for helping families cope through other types of traumatic events. The best path to resolution is developing a broader understanding of the problem and its impact on each member of the family. It is only with insights developed and created by open discussions with family members that the path for solutions will become evident. It is also the process by which families become stronger by seeing how working together leads to lessening of tensions and awareness of sacrifices each has made.
The first step in the process is having a family meeting to discuss the reality of needing to make changes to meet necessary obligations. Parents and children should be included to give everyone an understanding of the challenges ahead. The difficult task of telling children they may have to move or change schools because there is not enough income should come from both parents. There is often a desire to shield children from unpleasant events. Some families will continue to borrow money in the desperate hope the situation will rectify itself. Children in the long run are hurt by this approach. This only serves to make them less capable in their teenage and adult years to cope with changes. They become self centered and narcissistic. Children who are not taught strategies in life to cope with problems become adults who are susceptible to depression and anxiety when significant life changing events happen.
There are many excellent lessons children learn from watching their parents overcome struggles by making sound decisions and developing solutions to problems. Children will understand over their life not to fear in times of trouble, but rather find ways to resolve their strife by making the necessary changes. They also will learn all decisions have an effect on each family member. There will be times when others needs also have to be considered. It teaches a strong lesson for sharing of resources and love. All children know they are protected and cared for by their parents. They will learn the hard task parents go through to make necessary choices.
This article comes from my insights obtained from my therapy with a middle class family. Both parents had lost employment early in the recession. They were able to subsequently find work which was less financially rewarding. This forced them to sell their home and move their three children out of private schools. Their home did not sell for nearly one year and the financial crisis became severe. The family relied on assistance from other family members to get them through these times. Over the past year life has begun to stabilize. In their own opinion they are a far stronger and closer family today. The vacations they could no longer afford were spent locally doing activities together. There were less available funds to go to movies or restaurants so they began making meals together. They developed new hobbies such as hiking and fishing that brought much happiness to all of them. They also returned to church and found comfort in developing spiritually.
This family sees this traumatic life event as something positive that resulted in helping change the course and direction of each of their lives. How often do we look back on our own lives and see some of our happiest moments in life occurred when we had nothing financially? Our joys in life are truly based on the strength of our relationships. Learning to move forward through adversity is a challenge to us all. As parents we need to help teach these skills to our children.
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