Unemployment and job searching are hard enough. Adding small children to the mix makes things even more stressful. But the problem is getting increasingly common. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the number of children with an unemployed parent doubled between 2007 and 2010: Up to 7.5 million children have at least one unemployed parent, as of 2010. 2.8 million of those children are under the age of 5. That works out to one in every nine American children.
But parents of young children have expenses that won’t go away: Those pesky little devils still seem to expect to eat every day, it seems. And no matter how much I ply them with coffee to stunt their growth, they’re constantly growing out of those clothes.
Managing Health Benefits When You Lose Your Job
It’s imperative that you get a handle on your family health benefits. If you were the medical and dental insurance carrier, verify the end date of your coverage. If your coverage is going to remain in force for a while, great! Refill all your prescriptions on the last day of coverage, and make your family medical appointments and schedule treatments before the coverage ends.
While you’re doing that, speak with your human resources representative to see how much COBRA costs. But shop around – if you and your family members are in good health, COBRA is rarely the low-cost option. You may consider electing a high-deductible plan on the individual market. You can also apply for a short-term medical plan – typically up to 12 months in duration, depending on the market. These plans are frequently stripped down to keep premiums affordable to people in between jobs, or taking temporary absences from the work force. If you or a family member has health challenges, then COBRA may be your best bet. But if you can’t afford COBRA premiums, then call your state’s Department of Human Services to determine if your children are eligible for one or more state assistance programs or Medicaid programs.
Remember: Don’t let coverage lapse! If you have more than 63 days’ break in credible coverage, under the terms of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), it will get much tougher to get coverage for an adult’s pre-existing conditions when you do get insurance again!
Make Time for Job Hunting
This is a toughie. Between depression, laziness, and the pressures of raising young children, it’s easy to get taken off task. Before you know it, half a day is gone. Then half a week. Then half a month. But the clock is running, and you can’t be without an income forever. You need time alone to make phone calls, set up appointments, and focus on nothing but the job search. When people offer childcare, accept it. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t want to help. If the guilt kicks in, counter-offer with a barter.
Stick To Your Schedule
Your routine is your lifeline. Sticking to a regular, disciplined schedule is imperative for both you and your children. Kids thrive on routine. Even though it might be a different routine, predictability in scheduling will help them maintain a sense of stability. This is even more important for you; now is not the time to spend all day in pajamas watching daytime television, mourning the loss of your past life. It’s a bad example for the kids and a bad habit to establish.
Keep Up Your Network
It’s easy for those with young children to get bogged down in the day to day activities of child-rearing. But don’t lose contact with your former co-workers and business associates! Email isn’t enough. Strive for regular personal contact is better. Coffee and the occasional lunch may cost a few dollars but are well worth the investment. Sustaining these ties keeps you abreast of recent developments and it keeps your name on people’s lips.
Expand your network on both a personal and professional level. Remember that neighbor who wanted to get together for coffee? The parent of your kid’s friend at pre-school who wanted to set up a play date? Now is the time to do it, not only since you have the time but also because these people may be treasure troves of information and assistance. Join professional, civic, and charitable organizations that align with your interests, talents, and abilities. It is time to widen your net; don’t be shy about it.
Helping Children Cope
Attitude is everything. Children are incredibly perceptive; little sponges that pick up your every mood. Stressed? Your children feel it. Sad? They feel it. Frustrated? They feel it, too. They know something is up, so level with them. They don’t need to know every detail, but they do need to know what changes they might expect that might concern them.
Don’t dismiss their fears and anxieties. Remember – you’re their whole world. Four year olds don’t have much perspective yet. Meanwhile, Keep the doom and gloom out of the house and maintain a realistic optimism. Bear in mind that children are much more adaptable to change than we are as adults.
Since you will be (more than likely) spending much more time with your children, take some lessons from them and apply it to the job search. Look at how easy it is for your kids to go out and make friends on the playground! Take risks, ask questions, and get yourself out there. Relearning some of these skills as an adult may help lead to your success.
P.S., I want to publicly thank Ms. Sally Davidson-Parker, for lending her valuable insights to this column. She’s been through the job-hunt with small-children wringer herself, recently, and her insights were invaluable.