Here I sit by a fire, with a cup of tea and a roof protecting me from Pacific Ocean gales that batter my old home. In what should be a tranquil moment, I think about the bills, my mortgage and wonder why I am so lucky to have this creaky old house.
According to Habitat for Humanity our health is directly linked to our housing. According to one study, 1 in 3 city dwellers live in slums which lack water, sanitation or safe housing. In 2005, the United Nations issued a press release stating that 1.6 billion of us lack adequate housing and another 100 million people are completely homeless. The statistics are grim and frightening.
In the United States, the FDIC published statistics showing that one child in every classroom is facing homelessness. Imagine trying to study and attend school when you are afraid your family may lose their home.
FDIC statistics also showed that almost half of us spend more than we earn. A little over half of us live paycheck to paycheck. They report that 42 percent of us don't have enough cash reserves to live or sustain our homes for three months. These numbers add up to a lot of worried families living stress-filled lives.
How do families live with the day-to-day stress of bills, housing challenges and other issues while raising children? While parents may not be able to change the world, end homelessness or have a home in good repair, they can create a sanctuary with what they have.
Tips on dealing with housing and financial stress while being a good parent
Remember your children reflect you
When you are stressed out, your children who are amazing little mirrors, are stressed out. They will mirror your stress and anxiety. Children react to unspoken body language and the energy of a parent under pressure. If your children seem anxious, try working on calming yourself first, then your children. If paying bills or making calls about bills is stressful, try to do it when the children aren't home, or after they have gone to bed.
Don't over-share information
Children will sense your worry and ask questions. When you answer their questions, it is not necessary to frighten children with too much information. Keep your answers short and minimal. Reassure children that you are the grown-up and their job is to be a child. Encourage them to play and trust you. Do your best to handle problems without making children feel responsible for them.
Turn financial challenges into a positive learning experience
. For example, if your child asks for money for a school activity, rather than explaining why you can't afford it, let your child know it's not in the budget, then get creative about ways to find the funds. Help your child work his first odd job like lawn mowing or holding a yard sale.
Find a healthy way to cope with stress
It's acceptable to have a bad day. However, it is not OK to take it out on those around you. The American Psychological Association shares information on handling stress including being aware of what you do to handle stress. Do you have healthy ways to relieve pressure like exercise and creative hobbies? Or, do you do things that actually add to your pressures, like gambling money you don't have, overeating comfort foods, drinking too much or other self-destructive choices?
Break overwhelming tasks into bite-sized pieces
. Sometimes when we feel hopeless about our finances, housing or other life challenges, we throw our hands in the air and give up. Getting our financial or physical house in order seems impossible. Begin chipping away a little at a time. If you feel you need a financial reserve to feel secure, save when you can. If you feel you need to move to safer housing, make a budget and look for small ways to sacrifice and watch your savings add up. Make a visible savings goal that you share with the family. Make trimming the budget a fun family affair as you work toward a unified goal.
Ask for help
When meeting with families in our local shelter, it was my job to list resources. I was amazed at how often people were unaware of the most basic local support systems for financial help and housing. If you are lucky enough to have a family or support system you can work together sharing wisdom, information, resources and, sometimes, expenses.
Improve housing by do-it-yourself household improvement
Learn new ways to repair old problems on YouTube, books, or friends and neighbors who may have skills and talents they are willing to share.
Make the best of what you have
If you have inadequate housing, make it the cleanest and most organized home possible. Remember, this is your family's sanctuary.
To sum it up, your children will be as calm and as positive as you are. Treat financial stresses as opportunities to teach your family to save and work. Remember, they don't need too much information, they just need to know you will be there to take care of them.
"May you always be blessed with walls for the wind. A roof for the rain. A warm cup of tea by the fire. Laughter to cheer you. Those you love near you." - An Irish Blessing