After three months unemployed, the reality of Sylvain Henry’s job loss hit home.
It was nearly Christmas, and his 10-year-old son wanted an Xbox 360. As a laid-off software salesman, Henry couldn’t afford the gaming console. For the first time, the father of two from Gatineau Que., couldn’t spoil his kids.
“My children still love me, but in moments like that I really feel the pinch,” said Henry, a 50-year-old divorcée. “Suddenly Mommy is richer than Daddy.”
For many families, household tension starts with a pink slip. In January, as unemployment rate jumped to 7.2 per cent, thousands of jobs were lost across Canada. The trauma of being laid off can lead to several problems — anxiety, loss of pride, depression — unfolding at home.
“Unemployment can be a profound loss,” said marriage and family therapist, William Cooke.
“Like any other significant event, it can become a good family bonding experience, or move people apart.”
Since his termination, Henry has become closer with his children, allaying their fears by goofing around with them.
“Right now, I’m shielding them from my worries,” he said. “They have to go to school and live normal lives.” In the meantime, Henry continues his job search.
But those who have difficultly managing their emotions might not be as optimistic. The distress of job loss can lead to marital breakdown, domestic violence or harshness with children, said psychologist Marilyn Miller.
For 26 years, Miller has helped couples and families cope with conflict that might arise from job loss.
It’s typical for the laid off to feel angry, frightened, or anxious. Rather than fight the blues, open up about them.
“By recognizing emotions you diffuse their strength,” said Miller, adding although a spouse might also be afraid, they should promote encouragement.
Instead of comments like, “How are we going to pay the bills?” try rallying with your partner by saying, “We will pull together.”
Carry your weight
Unexpected job loss can make someone feel expendable, but home is the perfect arena to build a sense of self-worth. Keeping up with renovations and chores is a positive way to contribute to your household.
“Do one useful thing a day,” said Miller. “Send a resumé, make a phone call, just don’t withdraw from the world.”
Look at the bigger picture
Consider the current economic climate. Instead of turning to self-destructive behaviour — excessive alcohol or food binges — think of your family. Would you rather lose your job or them?
Fake it till you make it
Pretending you’re in good spirits can elevate your mood, said Miller. Don’t isolate yourself, get dressed, sound enthusiastic and walk briskly. The family can get involved in a joint hobby or sport.
“You can have time alone,” said Miller. “Just tell your family you need to reflect. Don’t take things out on them.”