Even as some states are reopening, many parents face telling their children that things they were looking forward to are effectively still canceled for them — because they can no longer afford them.
Economic distress from the pandemic is widespread, and many experts expect it will be long-lasting. The Labor Department reported on Friday that more than 20.5 million people in the United States lost their jobs in April, and the unemployment rate went to 14.7 percent.
As a psychologist and author of parenting books living in Los Angeles, many of the clients I counsel are terrified. (Many work in the entertainment industry, and are uncertain of their future; nearly all production except animation is shut down indefinitely.) Parents can try to hide fears about having enough money for rent and food, but children’s eyes and ears are sharp.
This is going to require some very difficult family conversations, to help children set new expectations in this new world. Even if camps and restaurants reopen, it could be that your children don’t go to camp and your family can’t go out to eat.
How you have these conversations will vary, of course, depending on the age and temperament of the children and on your new economic situation. But I don’t have to tell you that our responsibility, now as always, is to be truthful with our children without scaring them. We have to be cautious about promising children that things are going to get better, instead offering hope that things might get better.
I know that one challenge for parents is to find the right language and tone to honestly tell children about the family’s troubles, without burdening them with the responsibility for shoring up the adults. Here’s my advice on how to handle this.
Consider your pain and worry first
Do not underestimate the unprecedented situation you and the rest of the world are in, and the psychological impact of economic uncertainty.
In our consumer economy and cultural moment of competitive self-branding, meeting the basic challenge of stretching the budget and separating what we want (or have been accustomed to) from what we need is hard. When it’s complicated by the psychological loss of a job title and status as a provider, it’s harder. Treat yourself with dignity and respect by noting that you remain a devoted and attentive parent even in this wildly uncharted environment.