Motherhood is tough. It's tough even in the best of times, when the school-job-homework-dinner-bath-bedtime juggle is at its absolute smoothest (which, face it, is rarely all that smooth). But throw in a financial setback-you or your partner lose a job or your house gets foreclosed on or a salary cut forces you to cancel a much-needed family vacation-and the whole house of cards threatens to collapse. Moms need ways to cope when tough economic times strike their family, including what they can do for themselves and their kids to learn to bounce back from adversity.
Yes, our tanking economy yields plenty of opportunities for mothers to break down, says leadership expert Jamie Woolf. Not a lot can be done about that. But what is important is that we have the resilience to snap back.
"Every mother falls apart sometimes," says Woolf, author of Mom-in-Chief: How Wisdom from the Workplace Can Save Your Family from Chaos. "The question is how do we rebound and find the resources to deal with whatever life throws our way?"
She points to a recent online survey conducted by Working Mother, which found that an astounding 91 percent of the respondents suffered some symptoms of depression. The magazine's editor-in-chief, Suzanne Riss, speaking to CNN about the trend, noted how surprising it was that so many women find themselves anxious and depressed years after the expected post-partum blues should have passed.
"I think this survey illuminates the stress and difficulty of working motherhood," says Woolf. "It's the nature of the beast. Working mothers rarely get a break, and we're really hard on ourselves. Add economic hardship to the mix, and it can be easy to spiral downward to a very dark place. When you have resilience, you can stop that spiral and even reverse it."
And here's the other issue, she adds: Your children count on you to teach them the life skills they're going to need-and resilience in uncertain times is one of the most important.
"The most successful leaders and family members can help people not only survive crises but also turn them into opportunities to grow," says Woolf. In Mom-in-Chief, Woolf teaches mothers how to use "best practices" from the workplace to make family life run more smoothly.
What moms can do for themselves
Here, adapted from the principles in her book, are her business-inspired coping strategies for what mothers can do for themselves and their kids to boost resilience during the economic downturn:
- Clarify your big picture goal or purpose: With their desired result clearly in sight, leaders focus on what they can control to move them closer to their goals. Decide what your goal is-staying out of the poorhouse? Reducing stress at home while you experience extra stress at work due to staff cutbacks? Making your kids feel emotionally secure while you're financially insecure? Identifying your goal will help you stay on course to achieve it.
- Convene your support team: Don't suffer in silence. Talk to your friends, extended family, therapist, minister, or rabbi to express your feelings and worries. But be selective: Don't call up doom-and-gloom downers and glass-half-empty cynics. Whom do you know who maintains a healthy attitude in the face of misfortune? These are the people to reach out to in challenging times.
- Prioritize the challenge into small and manageable steps: Focus on what you have control over and leave the forces outside your control alone. Figure out what you can cut back on. Create a budget and stick to it. If your goal is reducing your debt, commit to paying $10 more per month on each credit card, stop using credit cards for anything but absolute necessities, or, if you want to really remove temptation, cut them up. Find actions that yield quick, high-impact results.
- Transform crisis into opportunity: Getting your family to work as a team to get through the downturn can help take the load off you and can bring everyone closer together. The silver lining of having less disposable income to spend on going out is that you spend more time at home. Maximize that newfound family time by getting entertained the old-fashioned way: by playing board games, reading books, and watching TV together. Come up with creative ideas for outings that cost very little: hikes, picnics, walks on the beach. Deprogramming your kids from addictive consumerism is a gift that will last a lifetime.
What moms can do for their kids
- Develop caring connections: Display kindness, empathy, and compassion for your kids. If you're feeling extra vulnerable these days, your kids may be, too. So make an effort to make them feel loved and secure at home. Be careful not to take your frustrations out on them-it's a trap that even the most loving mother can fall into, especially in tough times.
- Create motivating conditions: Express your faith that things will get better and help your kids shift from discouragement to optimism. When you cancel a planned family ski trip or vacation, assure them that they'll be able to go next year, when the economy is in better shape.
- Set an example: Model resilience when you confront challenges. If you get laid off and don't fall apart, or if you have to start taking on extra work but still manage to get dinner on the table at the same time every night, this tells kids that no matter what happens, Mom can get through it, which will give them confidence that they can, too.
- Focus on the big picture: If your goal is to provide a happy, healthy home for your children, don't feel bad that you can't buy them an iPhone-or go further into debt to get one! The importance of the basics has never been clearer. When the Sharper Image went out of business this year, it showed that maybe people realized they didn't need an endless supply of high-tech gadgets to be happy. The most precious commodity is time. Figure out a way to give that to your kids and it will pay big dividends.
The most important lesson to keep firmly in mind-and to share with your kids-is that the hard times won't last forever. They never do, because change is life's only constant. And it's that knowledge that lies at the heart of resilience itself.
"Resilience is grounded in optimism, in hope for a better tomorrow," says Woolf. "You will find a new job or settle into a new home or, worst case scenario, adjust to living a simpler, less materialistic life. Remind yourself of that. Remind your kids of that. Believing that your circumstances will improve is the first and probably the most important step in making them improve.
"The truth is, resilience breeds more resilience," she adds. "It makes you stronger. And when you look at it that way, you can see that the hardships that help you hone it are more a gift than a curse."
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