Maxine Acevedo and her 6-year-old cuddle on the couch under a cozy blanket, a sweet moment for mother and son.
But it isn’t without worry.
Maxine is unemployed. She was laid off from her job as a social worker Feb. 27, after massive state budget cuts gutted the Child & Family Resources program.
Despite filling out dozens of applications, the divorced mom of three has not gotten a single call back.
“I’ve never been laid off,” Acevedo said. “I thought I would get a job right away.”
Acevedo has shared the details of her unemployment with her sons. But she hopes not to scare them.
“It’s very tough, but I’m trying to be strong for my kids,” the Tucson native said. “I don’t think they realize what’s going on financially. But they know I’m trying.”
Keeping kids in the know without panicking them is key for parents who have been laid off, says Tucson pediatrician and author Marilyn Heins.
She said helping children through a difficult time requires parents to first take care of themselves.
“When it comes to emotional strength, you have to take care of yourself to have it for your child.”
She said parents are allowed a couple of days of the “economic flu” after a layoff.
But they must rebound quickly.
“You must pick yourself up and be the picture of of strength you were when you had a job,” Heins said.
“You must not go into indulgency mode. You have to look within for your inner strength. It’s there. Parents can’t afford to mope around the house for very long.”
The message must be clear, Heins said. “You have to let kids know things will get better and the most important thing is we have each other.”
Heins suggests being clear to school-age kids about what things the family can no longer afford – music lessons, new hockey equipment.
Older kids, starting in about fourth grade, can brainstorm ways to save money, as well as ways the family can have fun without spending money.
Children who are stressed over financial worries can either become very quiet or will misbehave, Heins said. She advises parents to be concerned when a pattern develops.
Parents should, within reason, share the facts with children.
“They are going to think something worse is happening and that they are somehow responsible,” Heins said. “It’s much better to share it with them.”
And don’t let there be any surprises. “If you know you are going to lose the house, you have to prepare them. You can’t wait for the moving van to show up.”
Heins said single parents such as Acevedo especially feel the devastation of losing a job.
Acevedo spent Monday with her youngest son, Thomas Peele, on his first day of spring break. Her older sons – D.J., 16, and Devin, 10 – were at their dad’s house.
Her kids know there will be no trips for now to the movies or the toy store. And they know there is a chance they might have to leave their two-bedroom apartment on the Northwest Side to move in with Acevedo’s mother.
As a social worker, Acevedo helped mostly single moms find jobs and resources, and manage the stress in their lives.
“Now it’s me on the other side,” she said.
When the kids are in school, Acevedo takes her laptop to the library for Internet access. For some of the jobs she has sought, companies have received 200 résumés.
She knows she might have to take any job possible, perhaps in the medical field.
“That’s not where my heart it. It’s always been in helping families.”
But she’s trying to stay positive.
“I’m just hoping something happens,” she said. “I cannot afford to not have a job.”
Books on tough economic times
Coping with tough economic times can be stressful for parents and kids.
Mary Margaret Mercado, children’s librarian at Pima County’s Joel D. Valdez Main Library, suggests children’s books that deal with tough economic times.
• “Fly Away Home,” by Eve Bunting. A homeless boy who lives in an airport with his father, moving from terminal to terminal and trying not to be noticed, gains hope when he sees a trapped bird find its freedom.
• “Ramona and her Father,” by Beverly Cleary. The family routine is upset during Ramona’s year in second grade when her father unexpectedly loses his job.
• “A Ceiling of Stars,” by Ann Howard Creel. In a series of letters and journal entries, 12-year-old Vivien describes being abandoned by her mother and struggling to survive on the streets of a big city while searching for her family.
• “Manuela’s Gift,” by Kristyn Rehling Estes. Manuela wants a new dress for her birthday, but times are hard and she is disappointed when she instead receives a hand-me-down.
• “Erik is Homeless,” by Keith Elliot Greenberg. A photographic essay about a 9-year-old boy who is homeless in New York City.
• “A Shelter in Our Car,” by Monica Gunning. Since she left Jamaica for America after her father died, Zettie lives in a car with her mother while they both go to school and plan for a real home.
• “Tiempos Duros,” by Barbara Shook Hazen. A youngster is not sure why a thing called “tight times” means not getting a dog.
• “Bird Springs,” by Carolyn Marsden. When drought and his father’s absence force them to leave the Navajo Nation at Bird Springs, 10-year-old Gregory, his mother and sister move to a motel in Tucson, where one of Gregory’s teachers helps him confront his painful past.
• “Trading Places,” by Claudia Mills. When fifth-grade twins Amy and Todd tackle a school project, they also have to cope with issues of friendship at school and problems at home, including their father’s unemployment.
• “Elsa, Star of the Shelter!” by Jacqueline Wilson. Noisy, brash, and a troublemaker, 10-year-old Elsa uses her loud voice to warn of a fire at the homeless shelter where she lives with her family.
Tips for laid-off parents
• Talk to your children about what is happening at a level they can understand.
• Don’t be afraid to tell kids how you are feeling. Share the feelings as well as the facts.
• Encourage them to help find ways to save money, such as cutting coupons.
• Focus on the positive. Make a list of everything good that has happened in your life.
• Stay connected. Don’t hide. Don’t blame yourself for the layoff.
• Talk to your physician if you get into a slump you can’t get out of.
• Eat healthful food. Take a walk every day. Limit alcohol.
For more advice from Dr. Marilyn Heins, go to www.parentkidsright.com.