Losing your home for any reason is heart-wrenching. Many families describe the feeling as “the rug being pulled out from under you” or “losing your moorings.”
Money issues are one of the top sources of stress for families these days, and the number of families who have lost their homes due to foreclosure is increasing. Losing your home to a natural disaster such as the recent California fires and Midwest floods also throws families into major life detours. Even though the causes of these losses differ, families often respond in similar ways. When we watch on television families sifting through their house debris or holding up their foreclosure statements, most of the adults say something like: “At least we have each other.” Or “It’s just things, but I wish the family photos hadn’t been destroyed.”
These reactions are not signs of denial. Instead, they are good signs of family strength. Researchers have long known that supportive social networks are amongst the best “medicine” for dealing with loss of any kind. The loss is more than the home. It is the loss of familiar surroundings, friends, comfort zones and expectations of their “usual” activities.
The BIGGEST loss, however, is in the parents’ and children’s life view assumptions about the goodness and safety of life in general and about their being “good and deserving” people. When bad things happen to us, we tend to assume that we did something wrong or that it “means” we deserved to be punished. Parents—and children—didn’t expect their families to face the ripple effect of life changes that this housing crisis has provoked.
The parents’ reactions to this loss greatly affect the stress levels in the children. Some parents get ineffectively belligerent and rail at the heavens; others get anxious and bury their anxiety in maladaptive behaviors such as substance abuse, or domestic violence. Domestic violence has increased since with the rise in foreclosures, for example.
However, most people get so overwhelmed that soon a sense of helplessness sets in. The smallest task now feels so enormous that often parents can’t even think straight.
What can parents do to ease their stress and the reactions of their children?
One of the first things parents can do is draw from their own and their children’s inner strength and experience with loss in the past. It might seem strange, but even little children experience everyday losses. They lose a best friend or pet; they get a new teacher; they have family move away; Mommy or Daddy changes her or his work schedule and isn’t home as much; their favorite school program closes. True, these are most definitely not catastrophic losses, but they do help a child build resilience. Parents can tap this budding resilience by reminding their children about how well they handled a particular event.
Similarly, parents can remind themselves how they managed to get through these hard times.
Even if a child has not experienced any losses, the key factor in children’s adjustment is feeling that their parents can cope and help. A parent should always acknowledge the sadness of losing a home or a pet, and they should never minimize it. However, a parent should also let the child know that the parent will be there in the child’s life. Families that stick together can survive amazing events.
Parents can have good bye ceremonies, much like funerals, where they say good bye to the house or pet. The parents need to hug and reassure children that things will change—and bring other good things in life. Parents should remind children—and each other--that no one was bad or did anything wrong.
In addition, parents should try to maintain all established rituals in the family such as birthday celebrations. You don’t have to stage an elaborate party, but make sure you do some form of affordable celebration.
One way, for example, for parents to get over the slump of helplessness is to call a helping agency IN FRONT OF THEIR CHILDREN. Let them see that the parent is calling the credit union, realtor, newspaper, etc. (Of course, parents should prepare a “script” in their minds so that they are not crying or putting their worst foot forward.)
Parents should also seek out supportive community agencies that offer programs or help for all members of the family. These organizations include the YMCA, religious groups and your town’s free activities. Parents need to push themselves to meet other families at these events so they can forge new friendships for their children. Parents can say to themselves, “I’m not usually this assertive, but I need to do it for my kids.”
Finally, parents and children should make a list of all the good things they do have such as good health and each other.
Dr.LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, MSS, MA
Nationally noted Psychologist and Social Worker, Lic. as Clinical Social Worker, SW 7132 FL; 3941 MA; 2850 MD.
Be a part of the Strong Women and Love Research Project.
I am a psychologist and social worker, nationally recognized for my work with women's relationship and career issues and my work with soldiers and their families. I invite you to participate in my research by taking the survey, which you can find on my website, www.lovevictory.com. Click on the upper right Research Box to learn more. I will draw at random the names of three women who will win a free one-hour counseling phone session with me and a copy of the book when it is released.
You can also follow the love adventures of my cartoon character Almost Smart Cookie. You can access her adventures through my website. Just click on the link under Cookie’s face.
My work as the Clinical Director as the New England Institute of Family Relations, the first Masters and Johnson-based sexual dysfunction clinic in New England, and my research-based book, Incest, Work and Women (with my name as LeslieBeth Berger), earned me national recognition and honor as a pioneer in sexual dysfunction and women's love and career issues. My book uncovered the connection between women's childhood abuse and their career problems.
That research sparked my next ground-breaking project on the relationship problems of today’s strong, capable women, age 20-40+. I am writing this next book, Strong Women and Love to help women get over their mistrust, fears and unhappy, unhealthy dating patterns and learn to date and love smart!
I am a regular feature contributor to major self-help sites such as helpstartshere.org, the award-winning consumer site for the National Association of Social Workers; w2wlink the premier web community for professional women, networkabundance, a multimedia community and selfgrowth, Yahoo and Google's number one self improvement site, where I am the family expert.
My expert advice is frequently quoted in many major newspapers, magazines and websites such as The Washington Post, USA Today, Women's Health, US Weekly, More, VivMag, Better Homes and Gardens, Woman’s Day ,For the Bride. I am a speaker for non-profit, corporate and university organizations. I offer sound, research-based relationship advice that makes sense -- specializing in issues such as smart dating, women's relationship advice, career coaching, families, post-traumatic stress, sexual dysfunction, and leadership training.
University of Massachusetts, Doctorate in Adult Developmental Psychology; Bryn Mawr College, Master in Clinical Social Service; Georgetown University Medical School: The Family Center, three years-post graduate training in marriage and family with the internationally esteemed Dr. Murray Bowen; Ohio University, Masters in English; Carnegie-Mellon University, Bachelor in History and English.
Additional Resources covering Family can be found at: