The typical father spends about seven hours per week in "primary child care," according to a Time magazine story, which is more than twice as much as in 1965. It still doesn't sound like much, and for unemployed fathers, I'll bet it's a lot more.
But beyond the joy of being Mr. Mom, unemployed parents -- whether mom or dad -- have to deal with the extra burden of dealing with kids afoot while searching for a job.
I'm lucky. My wife still has a full-time job, and I'm writing this while she's working and I've put our daughter, 4, to sleep for the night. And because my wife works nights, she's around to take care of our child during the day while I search for full-time work and do some part-time work. By early afternoon, I'm on my own.
The stresses of being unemployed are harsh enough, but looking for work while keeping a house and child (or children) in semi-order is so much that you can find yourself being overtaken by the everyday tasks of life instead of looking for work.
Those are the topics I discussed with WalletPop editor Andrea Chalupa in the weekly podcast "Your Job Will Come."
One of the first things to do, or at least try to do, is not to allow the mental stress of all of this affect your children. This is easier said than done, but there are some things to remember, according to a recent story in the Times-Gazette in Shelbyville, Tenn.:
- Don't beat yourself up over being laid off. Avoid extremes and don't hide the situation from children, who will notice. Don't overwhelm them with adult concerns.
- Talk to your children about their fears, but don't go into grim details because they take things literally. Joking that you'll soon "be in the poorhouse" won't translate.
- While you want to talk to your kids about the situation, don't unload on them. Tell them what your plan is.
- Keep life as normal as you can. You may have to cancel an expensive vacation, but you can still have a more local and fun vacation.
- Keep an eye out for serious signs of depression in the adult who has lost his or her job. Being laid off can be like losing a loved one, so seek help if needed.
Researchers speculated that the deaths from being hit by a car and other accidents happened because the unemployed didn't have a car and were more exposed to road injury risk, to higher risk of dying in house fires because of poor housing quality.
Granted, these cases are extreme and hopefully won't happen in a home where a parent isn't constantly out of work, but they make for a great case to find a job and bring money into the house as soon as possible.
I've written here before about the importance of balancing a job search with real life, and finding time to do nothing but either work part-time or search for a job is important. As strange as it sounds, even if you have to pay to get some free time by hiring a babysitter is worth it in the job hunt.
Paying for childcare while jobless may sound like an unnecessary expense, but if you have to do it because your spouse is working, then it's worth it. Some smart daycare programs are offering free daycare while a parent goes out on a job interview. It's a good way to get parents in the door, a door they might return to and pay for when they find a job and need daycare.
In the end, unemployed parents with childcare duties at home have to admit that there are only so many hours in the day. While getting a neighbor to help for a few hours while you go to an interview or rewrite your resume for the 100th time is surely a help, coming to the realization that this time with your children is limited and should be used wisely by spending it with them, is the best tip I can offer.
I usually try to squeeze an hour of writing in after my daughter's bath while she watches "Sesame Street" on TV. Tonight, as she often does recently, she finds me, grabs my hand and says, "Come hold me." The computer goes off and we watch Elmo together.
It's not a paycheck. But it's close.
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net