03/20/2014 02:20 pm ET Updated May 20, 2014

4 Action Steps to Take When Times Are Tough

Written by Jan Cloninger

Under the best of circumstances, being a parent can sometimes be tough. The expectations, responsibilities and realities of day-to-day life often interfere with the image of what we thought parenting would be like.

When a family faces challenging times -- illness, loss of a job, the end of the marriage, financial stress or a myriad of other problems life sometimes throws our way -- parenting can be even more difficult, especially when there is just not enough time, energy or resources.

As a country, we have just experienced one of the most difficult financial downturns in decades. Millions of families were directly or indirectly affected by it. or many, times are still tough and yet, their dreams and hopes for their families haven't wavered.

How do you successfully parent when so many resources that many of us take for granted aren't available to you? What if you don't have the ability to send your children to the best schools, pay for extracurricular activities that could bring great benefit or give them the things that every other child seems to have?

What's a family to do?

1. Develop and maintain clarity about what's really important. That's often easier said than done, especially when we're experiencing stress. But if we are clear about the kind of character we want our children to have, we can teach and model the values and attributes that are most important to us. It doesn't cost money to be honest, kind, hard-working and principled. Many successful adults have come from families without great means. And many children who have been raised with vast financial privileges have failed to go on to create a life of value and purpose.

2. Focus on quality time together. When we're experiencing stressful times, it's natural to spend every waking minute worrying or feeling fearful about the future. But worry and fear don't solve problems. Giving whatever precious free time and energy we have to unproductive emotions simply drains us more. If we can develop the discipline to do everything we can to solve the problems at hand, then for a few hours a day let go of what might happen in the future so we can more fully be with our family, everyone will benefit. Have a game night. Read a book out loud to each other. Be in nature. Explore whatever your child is interested in together. Sit down individually and as a family and make a list of what enjoyable activities you can do that involve little or no costs. Then, set aside as much time as you can each week to do some of those things.

3. Find support. Maybe your family of origin isn't available to help. Or maybe their worldview isn't one that matches with yours. But if we have just one person we can turn to when we're down, who can help us remember what's important, we are reminded that we aren't alone in our efforts. And if you can't find anyone to fill that role, think about finding articles, videos, or books about on parenting or other people's lives and how they persevered and overcame obstacles to keep you going.

4. Give yourself credit. Maybe you can't do or give everything you'd like to your children. But stop and think about what you are providing and the lessons you are teaching them. What children need most is to be loved, valued, and supported for who they are.

No matter what your circumstances, or whether you're experiencing tough times or not, paying attention to what's really important, focusing on spending quality time with your family, finding ways to support yourself and making sure you're giving yourself credit for all that you are providing your children helps you to feel better about the parenting process. And, it enriches your children in ways that all the materials items in the world cannot do.

To view videos, additional articles, or to contact Jan visit