Aleteia

How to avoid the pitfalls when your son or daughter is unemployed

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Keep this in mind so tensions and misunderstandings don’t develop.

Looking down at the glass she is filling with water, Nicole asks her daughter: “Did you have a good interview today, honey?” Manon jumps up in a huff and furiously leaves the room. “Are you serious, Mom? I am so sick of you and Dad constantly interrogating me! You’ll know if there’s any news when I have some. Not before!”

For several weeks, Nicole and her husband Nicholas have had no idea how to deal with their oldest daughter. She is going through a difficult period of unemployment—long months during which her parents have learned to decipher in her face a whole gamut of negative emotions. Since Manon can’t afford to rent an apartment, she returned to the family home—a situation they accept because “you have to adapt.” Except that now, everyone at home is feeling the tension. And the more tension there is, the more Nicole and Nicholas doubt that they can give their daughter the help she needs. 

“A little help” here and there is not always welcome

These attentive parents have tried everything they can think of. Unfortunately, every time they’ve tried something it unleashed, at best, a skeptical smirk, and at worst, an angry outburst of rage. What the parents are not aware of is that they are somewhat clumsy in their style, in spite of themselves. For example, Nicholas said to her: “They’re not hiring at the bank, why don’t you try a different route?” To Manon’s ears, this verdict sounds like disapproval, regardless of her father’s intention. 

Nicole tried to show her support: “What? They haven’t got back to you yet?!” This apparently neutral exclamation failed its objective. Dr. Michel Debout, a medical psychiatrist, explains: “For someone who is constantly waiting for a response, that ‘yet’ is a way of saying: ‘You’re not getting yourself out there enough!’

Another blunder is what is not said. “It was fine, for example, for my parents to ask me: ‘What have you done today?’. They were expecting me to say: ‘I had three interviews!.’ But all I could say was: ‘I got five rejections!”

Then there were the little suggestions like: “I saw a job offer that you might be interested in.” Or: “So-and-so gave me his contact. Call him and tell him I gave you the number.” If the person hasn’t asked you for this kind of help, it may be counter-productive, because the mechanism of negative thoughts will generate a twisted reaction: “Mom and Dad are really nice for wanting to help me. But it just shows that they don’t think that I’m really capable of doing this on my own. They think I need them. As if I were still a kid.” And this can open the door to more self-doubts: “Maybe they’re right, maybe I’m not really capable of getting a job on my own … or not even getting a job at all!”

Finding the right attitude for our children

As with many young adults experiencing this situation, Manon’s reactions show that her primary necessity is for her parents to have confidence in her. For that there is only one thing to do: loosen their grip on the reins. Give up taking care of everything. Once the young person gets his or her degree, that is the moment to let them fly. And this is not something that can be done authoritatively … So the parents must respect the rhythm of their son or daughter. Only he or she — with God — is in command of the moment when their motivation overcomes the ups and downs of the labor market. 

How can we help our child get their self-confidence back? Precisely by recognizing that they do not need undue help. Respecting their own rhythm is a risk that will bring its rewards when they begin to turn their negative thoughts around: from that moment on he or she will be at a point where they can calmly plan out their professional project. Soon, the motivation, impulse, desire, and courage to take hold of the reins of their life will come out, from deep within. 

Nicole and Nicholas must face a seemingly paradoxical situation: how to help Manon out of her isolation while at the same time respecting her need to deal with this period of life on her own. A young person who is looking for work needs to recreate a strong bond with the family. “In effect, it is necessary for the parents to nourish their son or daughter’s life with something other than the search for a job,” insists Dr. Debout. Even just a few simple moments that have nothing to do with sending out CVs, such as a walk through a forest, going out for coffee, going to see an exhibit, a play, etc. The important thing is for them not to feel judged by the family, and to feel free to open up about what is worrying them if they want to. Most of all they should feel free to relax, which they need very much. “Unfortunately, the family doesn’t always understand that you spend all day trying to make your friends think that everything is fine,” laments Manon. 

What about how the unemployed young person behaves?

Keeping in mind everything we’ve discussed so far, shouldn’t the young person trying to find work also make an effort? Looking back, Manon realizes that she should have, for example, kept some of her doubts to herself, instead of systematically sharing them with her family and friends. With all these worries, how were her parents supposed to loosen their hold? In the same line, the young person stands to gain by getting “distracted.” He or she can organize their life around activities they enjoy, they’ll have extra time to help out around the house, and also get more involved with the day-to-day life of their loved ones, which can greatly contribute to balancing out family relations.

Lastly, the young person can train in their parents in a new way of honoring St. Joseph and the Holy Family. In the novena prayers, why not add a moment of contemplation where each person imagines themselves as Jesus’ adoptive father, who finds himself without a job, for example, when they flee to Egypt? Even in such dramatic circumstances, the Holy Family was able to maintain peace in their home. This attitude of spirit and heart, according to Father Pascal Ide, “starts out as humility and ends up as love.” So let’s give ourselves permission to have a good laugh: in the midst of hard times, it is the promise of a happy ending. 

Guilhem Dargnies