Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Speaking of the recession, with Katie Couric

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This morning I dropped CC off at daycare for what turns out to be her last day.

It's not that her daycare wasn't great -- it was. She was able to interact with other children, which is particularly important for an only child, and she was able to have a kind of structure in her life that only a teacher and school environment can provide. It's hard to have circle time with just mommy.

But in this economy, and with my recent layoff, it just stopped making sense. I'm at home every day, and now it seems frivolous to pay a fair amount of money just so I can have a break a few days a week.

We're lucky, though. Many families in this country are experiencing far worse after a layoff or months of sustained unemployment. In my Silicon Valley Moms Group-arranged conference call with Katie Couric yesterday, piggybacking on her CBS series "Children of the Recession," I learned several startling facts: More kids are living with other families temporarily, as their parents can no longer afford to care for them; some don't have health insurance anymore to pay for things like dental checkups or antibiotics; and, most devastating, some are even being abused.

In addition, a CBS Poll finds that 38% of parents say their children's lives have been affected by the recession in some way, and when asked whether the recession has affected their families overall -- and not just their children -- four in five parents say they and their families have been impacted. Not only that, but 20% of U.S. families are forgoing medical care in some way.

This is a stressful time. The whole country -- heck, the whole world -- is feeling it. I know what it's like to want to provide for your child, and questioning whether you can do it well is scary. Everyone wants the best for their kids, but you start asking yourself, What will I settle for? What will I allow my child to settle for? And, God forbid, what if this temporary inconvenience only gets worse?

I'll admit that my nerves have been frayed. I find myself tensing up a lot more and raising my voice. My patience, something I always prided myself on, seems to be shrinking. And I hate that for my daughter. (Granted, I'm right in the thick of the terrible twos, which occasionally makes me pine for even teendom.)

In Katie's series, which touches on several aspects of children and the recession, one of the things her team addresses is how to talk to your kids. Obviously, this is for kids who are old enough to understand and join in the conversation. And their reporting has found that kids DO want to join in. They want to be told what's going on, and often they also want to help.

For a 2-year-old, though, that's not exactly practical. I wish I could tell CC that we're going through a tough time and to just hold tight. But she wouldn't understand. And maybe that's a good thing. Maybe this is something she won't even remember. She's already a happy, active, enthusiastic child. And, in the day-to-day, as long as she knows her parents are by her side and everything will be OK, that's all that matters.

Child psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein told The Early Show's Maggie Rodriguez just that:

"A 4-year-old is not going to be able to take in the same information as a 14-year-old."

You shouldn’t make your children feel responsible in any way, Hartstein said.

"You need to reassure them that they are OK. Your job as their parent is to make sure that they are OK, and (that) you’ll do the best you can by them."

I'm happy that Katie and her network-wide team (including The Early Show and Sunday Morning) are covering this for a national audience, because I think people feel fractured, ashamed and often alone. And there are resources out there. Schools are helping. Local groups are helping. Religious organizations are helping.

In the meantime, for help on managing a home life, here are some things I learned from Dr. Hartstein via the CBS News website that I'd like to pass on.
  • Be open with your kids if the recession is affecting your household.
  • Be receptive to questions from your children and reassure them.
  • Leave the conversation open-ended so kids can ask questions later.
Hartstein also said, "It’s an opportunity to [be a] role model. How do you handle stress? How do you handle frustration? People are going to be fearful, and when people are fearful, their terror and their anxiety is at a high, and they may not act the right way. So it’s a way to teach how to modulate that for your kids. It’s great timing."

Here's a link for ways that you can help, too. Because, in the end, we're all in this together.


Pat Saperstein said...

Interesting. Time to check out co-op preschools, I guess.

Kim Tracy Prince said...

This is a great personal story and focus on the emotional fallout of the recession. I am really looking forward to the different perspectives each of us took away from that conference call. Thank you for sharing your self with us.

Little Gray Pixel said...

FWIW, I think you're Supermom.

L.A. Story said...

Thanks for the kind words, ladies. Definitely looking forward to reading everyone's take on this.

Courtney said...

thanks so much for sharing your school. I am so sorry to hear about your lay-off and your little one had to leave school. Its been tough and more so for some...


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