Important conversations to have with yourself, your child, and possibly your ex
Back in my 20s, I was laid off from my first job out of college. It was a scary experience that left me anxious and nervous about losing other jobs. One of the benefits of being married was knowing that, with two incomes, we’d be fine if one of us lost our job. But now I’m a Solo Mom, and like many other Solo Moms, I have no backup. I’m currently between jobs, and it’s been a struggle to maintain my peace of mind and keep my worry from impacting my son. Handling job loss as a Solo Mom is vastly different from handling it when you’re part of a couple.
Take care of your mental health
Solo Moms already carry a lot on their shoulders, and adding job loss can weigh you down even more. Studies have shown that losing your job and hunting for a new one take a toll on your mental health, specifically causing higher levels of anxiety, frustration, and depression. You’ve lost your daily routine, the friends you may have had at work, and the security of a regular paycheck.
Psychologists believe there are stages of mental health during a period of unemployment: initial hope and optimism, pessimism and active distress as unemployment progresses, and then fatalism and an unenthusiastic acceptance. Being aware of these stages will help you manage your mental health if you’re unemployed for a long period of time.
As a Solo Mom, you need to manage your mental health for yourself and for your child’s sake. If you’ve been in therapy, keep it up. Talk to your therapist about implementing a sliding-scale fee while you’re unemployed, or ask at the unemployment office about job-loss support groups. It’s also been shown that maintaining a normal routine helps unemployed people manage their mental health. I still wake up at the same time, walk to the same coffee shop, and go to yoga class, and I have developed a routine and structure to my days even though I’m not going into an office. Whatever self-care looks like for you, prioritize it in your schedule.
Handling your job loss with your child
Before I lost my job, I could afford the occasional random Lego kit, we ate out more, and I didn’t worry about the grocery bill. I’ve cut back on almost everything “extra” these past few months, and I’ve explained why to my son. Children will notice that you’re not dressing up or leaving for work, or they’ll pick up on other cues. Let them ask questions and give age-appropriate answers. Keep any anger over the situation, whether it’s toward your former company or former coworkers, to yourself. Explain the changes to your lifestyle and budget that will have to be made ahead of time rather than springing them on your child all at once.
It’s important not to give your child an anxious view of money. If my son asks, I tell him that although there may not be enough in the bank account to buy a new toy, more money is coming soon. If he mentions that I don’t have a job, for instance, when asking me to pick him up early from school, I casually state, “But I will again soon.”
It’s also helpful to remind kids that it’s not their job to worry about your unemployment or reduced financial circumstances. Children absorb stress and worry. No matter how well you’re managing your mental health while unemployed, there’s likely to be some stress that your child picks up on. If your child is acting out, mentioning your unemployment often, or talking about money more than normal, remind her that it’s your job to worry about that stuff, and it’s her job to be a kid.
Handling your job loss with your ex
Unfortunately, depending on which expenses for your child you incur, you may have to talk about your job loss with your ex. If you’re the parent who is responsible for your child’s health insurance, you will continue to be responsible for it through COBRA (or Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), which allows employees a temporary extension of health benefits. If your ex has access to health insurance for your child, see if you can work out something between you in which your ex adds your child to his or her plan, as it is likely to be far less expensive.
If you pay your ex child support, it doesn’t stop when you are unemployed. Inform the unemployment office of the outstanding child-support order, and arrange for the office to deduct that amount from your checks. Laws and situations vary by state, but if you’re ineligible for unemployment payments, the office may suspend child-support payment. You will have to document your ongoing job search during that time and be prepared to make up any back payments once you are employed again.
Talking about your job loss with your friends and getting support
Being out of work can be both embarrassing and isolating. Make plans to meet with friends for cheap or free activities, such as a walk in the park or a trip to the farmers’ market, to get out of the house and socialize. Because you likely don’t have a spouse or another adult in the household to lean on, lean on your friends and family. Ask a close friend if you can vent. Share your worries with a sibling. If friends or relatives offer to help in a tangible way, whether it’s by sending over a food delivery or takeout, don’t be embarrassed to take them up on it. You can repay them at a later date, or you’ve probably done the same for them at one point.
Experiencing a job loss as a Solo Mom has been quite different from first job-loss experience (that is, when I had no one else dependent on me). The upside has been spending more time with my son exploring public parks and playing outside. It’s tough, but keeping a positive attitude helps both you and your child in the long run.
Dena Landon is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, the Washington Post, Salon, Parent Co., and more. She blogs about being a Solo Mom at Femme Feminism.
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