5 December 2011

Working parents recovering from debt

Last week I received an email from a reader who asked about working parents. She has three children, she and her husband both work (her husband has two jobs) and she wonders if that might be harming her children because she's still at work when they come home from school. Her cousin, who lives near by, picks them up when she collects her own children and they all play at the cousin's house until she picks them up. She said she wants to be a good role model for her children but she has to keep working for another two years - until they have some credit card debt paid off and have made some head way into paying off their mortgage.  I asked if it was okay to reply here and she was happy to share her story with you.

From the details I have it looks to me like "Emma" and her husband are doing a good job recovering from a spending spree. Emma was a full-time homemaker and they got themselves into debt when they moved into their new house. They bought appliances they couldn't afford, put it all on their credit cards and took on the shop finance offer for a house full of furniture. They got to the stage when one wage wasn't making any headway into their debt, they fell behind and it looked like they might lose the house. But they regrouped, he got a second job, Emma went back to her old job and slowly they're recovering. They're making laundry liquid, cooking from scratch, stockpiling and they've cut back a lot. It's taken seven years to get to this point.

Emma, I have always believed that the people who are the most inspiring role models are those who think about what is important to them and who live to those values everyday. You're both doing that. You've provided a home for your children, you've organised safe and secure care for them when you're not there, you're paying off your debts responsibly, and you're looking to the future when you can be the mother you said you want to be - at home with the children and able to help at their school occasionally. You said in your email you started reading my blog about a year ago and you had already regretted going into debt to furnish your home but didn't know how else you could have done it. Now you do, now you wish you'd used second-hand furniture and appliances until you could afford new.

We all know the perfect path to take in hindsight. The real tragedy is not learning from mistakes made. You've done that learning and it's a credit to you both that you recovered so well and will soon be back on your feet again. 

All the while you've been doing that, your children have been watching. You said you told them why you're working, and as they grow to understand the full implications of that they'll be better for it, not deprived. They will grow up knowing their parents worked hard to give them a good home. Me and my sister had that upbringing too, many children do. There are many close and loving families who have to have both parents out working but who come together in the evening and reconnect. These are the times when it's important to sit around the kitchen table, eat together, and ask about what happened to everyone during the day. If you can do that, if you can make that important connection every day, the children will be better for it; you and your husband will be too. It doesn't matter that you're not there when they finish school. What matters is that you've provided a safe place and a trusted person for them to be with and that you're there every day, exactly as you said you would be, to pick them up and take them home. Children need routine and stability and although you're not there when they finish school you've found a way around it and to provide that stability in a safe environment.

Despite what you see on TV, there are few "perfect" homes where mum is waiting with hot biscuits and milk when the children come home from school. We all do what we have to do to get by, which is exactly what you're doing. Don't feel guilty for that, it's a fine example and it's showing your children how to handle the complexities of life. Just know you're doing what you have to do by working, and when you're with the children, make the most of it. Not by giving them gifts or letting them run riot, but by listening, talking, reading and playing with them. Let them help you around the house. Give them tasks that will lighten your load and help build in them a helping attitude. Small tasks like keeping their rooms tidy, setting the table, taking out the rubbish, putting their clean laundry away, feeding the pets - these kind of things will help all of you. Suggest to them they ask dad if there is anything they can do for him too. He's working two jobs and he might have some small tasks for them.

You said in your email you feel you've let your children down and that you should be at home with them. Well I think you've reacted to life. You've been realistic, you've stood up and owned your problems and you've worked out a plan to do something about it. You've taken control of your lives instead of being flattened by the debt. In the process, you've shown your children how to live when things don't go according to plan. I doubt your children have been harmed by you working. I think you should be very proud of yourselves and I hope that when you leave work again you continue to live true to your simple values, even when you don't "have" to.

Blogger Template by pipdig